At St. Baldrick’s, funding childhood cancer research is our mission. But for six of our staff, the goal is deeply personal — because their children were diagnosed with cancer. Read on for thoughts from these moms on what Mother’s Day means to them, what they’ve learned about motherhood through the good times and bad, and how childhood cancer has changed their lives forever.
St. Baldrick’s staff members and cancer moms from left to right: Robyn with her son Keaton, Nancy with her son, Scott, and Vanessa with her daughter, Aubrey.
Danielle holds her son Mason, who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in 2006. A force to be reckoned with, the little boy faced his cancer with stalwart determination and his signature stubbornness. Mason died in 2007.
Mother’s Day is always bittersweet for me. I will always be a mom to three boys. I just do not have one here with me because cancer took Mason’s life from us. Mother’s Day reminds me of Mason’s laughter, competitive nature, his love for his brother and the family we had. I am Mason’s mom. Cancer made me do things to my son I never imagined I would have to do to my child to get him to survive. Cancer taught me how to be a fierce advocate for my child. Cancer made me live my worst moments as a mom and some of the best. Cancer taught me I had to take care of and protect all my kids, not just the one who was sick. Cancer broke my heart. But being a mom to Mason, Mateo, and Marcus puts my heart back together every day.
Brooks was diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors when he was 5 years old. In May 2016, he passed away at home, surrounded by his family. “He did not like me to be sad,” said his mom, Tracey. “He had a caring and loving heart. He wanted everyone to be happy.”
After Ambassador Brooks got sick, he started painting – a hobby the 5-year-old had never considered before. His art was abstract and vibrant, bursting with life and joy. When he painted, it was as if he dipped his brush into his soul. A little bit of Brooks and his love was in every painting.
It was this art that St. Baldrick’s donor Mary Clency glimpsed when she was getting out of her car at the local craft store – a woman was carrying two bags emblazoned with these colorful paintings. Immediately, Mary knew exactly who it was. The woman was Brooks’ mom, Tracey Blackmore, someone Mary had held in her heart for years, but had never met.
Brooks had brought them together.
Joey Chamness has grown up from being St. Baldrick’s very first Ambassador to become a longtime shavee and the VEO of his college event — helping fundraise for childhood cancer research to the tune of thousands of dollars. Why does he do it? Because this survivor knows firsthand how important it is to find better, safer treatments and cures for kids with cancer.
(Left) Joey rests and watches movies during his treatment for osteosarcoma. (Right) Now a survivor, Joey speaks during a St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event.
21-year-old Joey Chamness considers himself lucky.
Ambassador Julia is a volunteering powerhouse. Bake sales, bingo, fun runs, speeches — she does it all. Why? In honor of Volunteer Week, read on for a heartwarming Q&A that will give you all the answers and leave you wanting to give back too. Join Julia and get involved!
Ambassador Julia goes gold for childhood cancer awareness.
1. What’s your favorite volunteering position and why?
My role as St. Baldrick’s ambassador has become a favorite, but I love any of the volunteering I do that helps sick kids. That’s most of the volunteering I do lately. Helping sick kids is my favorite, because I’m helping them like people helped me when I was on treatment and having so many surgeries. Also, when I grow up I want to have a foundation that helps create programs that make sick kids who are in the hospital happy. In fact, I want to perform for kids in the hospital when I grow up.
2. What is it like being a St. Baldrick’s Ambassador? What’s your favorite part?
It’s really exciting being a St. Baldrick’s ambassador! I get to make fun videos talking to people about childhood cancer and what St. Baldrick’s does, and I REALLY love going to shave events! There’s always a lot of action, everyone is really nice and I get to make speeches. The shave events are definitely my favorite part, along with knowing that I’m helping raise money for childhood cancer research.
Ambassador Julia smiles with a shavee at the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department head-shaving event in Virginia.
3. Where else do you volunteer and how often do you volunteer?
I volunteer at least once or twice a month for several organizations in my community. Once a month, I visit a local assisted living facility with my music teacher and other students from the studio. We spend an hour performing for the residents. I play the piano and sing, and I really enjoy making the older people happy.
In honor of National Siblings Day, we bring you an amazing story of a brother’s love and dedication to honor his sister and raise money for childhood cancer research in her memory. Meet Geordan, a long-time shavee and the proud big brother of Honored Kid Rayanna.
Rayanna and Geordan share a sweet moment.
When Geordan shaves with St. Baldrick’s, his sister is there. When he drives his race car, she’s with him. When he walks the halls of his high school, rocking his bald head, Rayanna is never far away. The little girl is always with Geordan in his thoughts, hanging around her brother just like she did before childhood cancer took her away.
“Rayanna was my only full sibling and now it’s just me,” the 16-year-old said. “I miss Rayanna and wish there had never been childhood cancer.”
The STAR Act — the most comprehensive childhood cancer bill ever introduced on Capitol Hill — was just passed by the Senate and now heads to the House, backed by the support of Members of Congress, families, survivors and advocates like YOU. Why is this bill so important? Rachael Kittleson, the mom to a teen who had a pediatric brain tumor, will tell you …
Rachael (middle) smiles with Kelsey (right) and her little sister, Avery.
There is nothing in life that prepares you for the words, “Your daughter has a large tumor on the left side of her brain.” There is nothing in life that prepares you for telling your husband devastating news about his girl. And there is certainly nothing in life that prepares you for how to keep your teenage daughter calm as you say, “You have to go to the hospital, but you are going to be fine.”
I think back on watching my daughter Kelsey perform on stage or playing on the soccer and lacrosse fields. I think of the cancer breaking into her brain silently and lying in wait, like a burglar.
Kelsey was an energetic teenager and an accomplished athlete, playing both soccer and lacrosse.
For me, three years ago was such a time of pride and excitement as I watched our oldest daughter start to come into her own. She was an honors student, athlete, lead in the school musical, tutor and musician. While she was a normal teenage girl excited about things like her dress and date for her 8th grade dance, there was something else going on with Kelsey. The cancer was barely perceptible and easily dismissed, but it would eventually, most cruelly, take everything from her a piece at a time.
As Kelsey’s spring schedule was in full swing, the tumor started to make itself known in innocuous ways – ways I easily brushed aside as a mother. I had no idea this was the beginning and the beast would be in full control in just a couple of months. As Kelsey’s symptoms progressed, an MRI was ordered for August 27, 2015. That day would change our lives forever.
Leanne gives Ava a kiss on her peach-fuzz head, while her baby sister, Addalyn, giggles.
It turns out that being bald is an instant conversation starter. Leanne, who just recently shaved with St. Baldrick’s, loves it.
“It’s very empowering,” she said. “Honestly, it hasn’t even been a week yet and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about my hair. It just opens the door for conversation and I love that, because I love talking about my daughter.”
Her daughter’s name was Ava – Ava the brave, bald and beautiful.
Ava showed an independent streak as soon as she could sit up by herself. “I’ve never seen anything like it. She just really was her own person,” her mom said.
For Eric Haddad, head shaving isn’t just a one-time deal, because as the dad of a kid who fought brain cancer, he knows firsthand that the effects can last a lifetime. Next month, at the Rocky River event in Ohio, Eric will be shaving his head for the eighth time, while raising funds for research that he hopes will lead to better, safer treatments for kids with cancer.
During a past event, Eric shaves for his son, Shane.
When Shane Haddad was 4 years old, he started fighting childhood cancer. Eight years later, he hasn’t stopped fighting.
Childhood cancer knows no borders – but neither does research. In fact, funding kids’ cancer research saves the lives of kids across the globe. This International Childhood Cancer Day, meet Honored Kid Shauntelle, a 19-year-old from Ireland who left everything familiar behind so she could have her best chance at life.
Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, Shauntelle and her family were able to move from their home in Ireland to Houston, Texas for cancer treatment.
Honored Kid Shauntelle lives about an hour south of the city of Dublin in Ireland. Four years ago, when she was 15 years old, she noticed rashes popping up on her body. She thought she was scrubbing too hard in the shower or was allergic to her body wash.
“For a while, I just didn’t think to speak up. It was a big pain and a big part of my life, but it was a bit embarrassing,” Shauntelle said. “I wasn’t sure if I was doing something wrong.”
My kids are alive. My husband is alive. We are here and we are together. That is what I tell myself when the anger and bitterness take hold. My husband served the United States Army for over 22 years. During that time, two of our children, Collin and Patrick, were diagnosed with cancer.
Patrick and Collin are brothers and were both diagnosed with childhood cancer. Patrick, now 13 years old, was diagnosed with stage II intermediate risk hepatoblastoma, a rare cancer of the liver, in 2010. Collin, now 11 years old, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when he was 2 years old.
While my husband fought on foreign soil, I served our nation as a military spouse and tackled childhood cancer with our kids in North Carolina. As a family, we sacrificed so much for this nation and yet we ask so little in return – just a chance for a brighter future. The Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research (STAR) Act can get us there.
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