Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to give the floor to Rebekah, who is our guest blogger and a leader of the 46 Mommas. In this blog post, she shares what she has learned about helping kids with cancer, and keeping her own sisterhood strong.
I am thrilled to be traveling to Washington, DC this summer for our annual Mommas’ event. Ten years have passed since I first read the chat room post suggesting moms should get together and shave our heads. By joining forces, we could bring awareness to childhood cancer and raise $1 million dollars for St. Baldrick’s. I signed on immediately. My daughter, Grace, was two years beyond her brain cancer diagnosis, and somehow, I knew this crazy plan would give me what I needed – hopeful camaraderie, a sense of purpose in the face of the demon that is childhood cancer, and an opportunity to give back.
It was a leap of faith. In September 2010, mothers, strangers all, traveled to Los Angeles from around the United States to stand together in solidarity with our kids. We shaved. We cried. We laughed. We cheered, hand in hand, 46 Mommas on the Stand Up to Cancer stage. We didn’t come close to raising $1 million, but the Momma momentum was undeniable. This synergy has inspired me to return year after year. Our work together on behalf of kids with cancer has made a huge impact.
The more than 200 women who have participated since that first event come from a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles, but we all have childhood cancer in common. Together we have raised close to $2.2 million for research – research that is making the discovery of more cures and less toxic treatments for kids with cancer a reality. This July, we will celebrate our successes in DC at our 10th annual event. Some will be shaving for the 10th time, some for the 1st, and some not at all. What will matter most is that we bring our voices to tell our stories and build more childhood cancer champions on Capitol Hill.
And we want you to join us. Dads, siblings, cousins, best friends – everyone is invited. We will speak with our legislators on Capitol Hill to remind them to make childhood cancer research a national priority and to fully fund the STAR Act that they passed unanimously in 2018. We’ll also ask legislators to increase NIH funding and pass the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA). In an age of such political division, it feels especially meaningful to unite the powers-that-be over an issue so near and dear to us.
Mommas Share Their Thoughts On This Dynamic Group
In honor of our 10th event, we asked returning Mommas to tell us what being a part of this group has meant to them. In their testimonials, they speak of the process of healing, risk taking, their passion for advocacy, renewed purpose and self-worth, empathy, and the power of sisterhood.
Momma Kathleen from North Carolina will be returning to the annual Mommas’ event for the third time. She plans to bring her daughter Lacey and two sons, Collin, who is in remission from ALL and relapsed CNS, and Patrick, who is in remission from Hepatoblastoma. She writes, “Childhood cancer steals everything, our peace of mind, our power over our lives, our ability to protect our children. On top of that it is isolating … so this is a way to meet the other moms who are living this nightmare. We GET one another. The Mommas are my sounding board, the ones who pull me off the ledge when I am going down a Google wormhole of fear over symptoms; they breathe life back into my weary mind and soul. This work with the Mommas gives me back my power. Most of all, it’s given me the ability to show my kids that THEY are not voiceless either. Meeting their Senators and Representatives has given them the ability to recognize the power in their life experiences.”
Momma Katee from New York is the mother of Christopher. This will be her second year with the Mommas. “Being part of the 46 Mommas has been the best thing to happen since my son has been cancer free. I didn’t want to process anything that happened during his treatment. It took meeting this amazing group of women… to truly start the healing process for me. Ten years of panic, stress, and constant worries have slowly started to drift away. I know I have a support team that will lend me an ear or a shoulder to cry on if that’s what I need.”
Momma Jaime, also from New York, was pleased to learn that no one goes to meet their legislators alone. The Mommas are trained in advance and are well supported by the St. Baldrick’s Director of Advocacy Danielle Leach and her team. Jaime was paired with Katee for their first trip to Capitol Hill. This year Jaime is excited to return with her son Caden, an 11 year old survivor of medulloblastoma. She shared, “Caden is currently cancer free. Now we deal with the after effects. That’s why I was moved to go to Washington (totally pushing myself outside of my comfort zone) because there isn’t enough known about the long-term effects of treatment for survivors.”
Momma Erin will travel to DC all the way from Hawaii. This time, her daughter Harper, a rhabdomyosarcoma survivor, will be coming with her. “I learned about the Mommas when Harper was a few months away from finishing treatment. I was feeling some anxiety about losing the security blanket of chemo and clinic visits… and by ‘anxiety’ I mean abject terror! I wanted to continue raising awareness, but I was lost on where to start. I arrived in D.C. and was immediately welcomed into a family I didn’t even know I needed. To be able to point to The STAR Act, something tangible that will make a difference for so many people, and say ‘I helped make that happen’ was healing in so many ways.”
Momma Carla is her own St. Baldrick’s Honored Kid. She was diagnosed with neuroblastoma more than 50 years ago and is a 9 time shavee from Washington State. “Being ‘that kid’ with cancer means NEVER walking away from the fight. Knowing the reality means staying the course for all the kiddos & families. And when you find your tribe where explanations are no longer necessary and love is stronger than any words ever, it’s absolutely priceless!”
Momma Lori from Indiana has shaved many times and is returning for her 4th event. Her husband Joseph plans to shave with her. She, too, believes she has found her tribe. “I got involved after Emily passed away. The bereavement group helped me in ways beyond my expectations. They help me feel normal. Losing Emily will always be painful, but this group helps me to keep her fight going for others by raising money and awareness in a therapeutic way.”
Momma Amy and her husband Brydon from Mississippi are returning for a second year and bravely shaving for the first time. They were just four months into their daughter Gentry’s journey with DIPG when they participated in their first Mommas’ event. Amy shared, “These ladies were instant friends. In just three short months from meeting them, they helped provide emotional support when my sweet Gentry passed away. My husband and I vowed we’d do whatever it takes to bring awareness and attention to funding pediatric cancers. I never meant to be a childhood cancer advocate. I never meant to be a bereaved parent. But I AM. I will fight until I can’t.”
Creating Advocates. Inspiring Change.
It goes without saying that none of us want to have a child diagnosed with cancer. None of us would choose that heartache, but we can choose how we respond to it. We can choose to be advocates. We can choose to share our stories and inspire positive change. We can choose to join forces with people who understand, and in the process, begin to heal.
I am choosing to shave this summer for the 8th time. My daughter Grace, now 17, will wield the clippers. She and I have raised more than $150,000 over the 10 years by shaving heads and wrapping gifts and swimming laps and making art, and we’re not stopping now. We will proudly stand together and share her story with our Rhode Island delegation. She will know that her voice matters. Yours does, too. Join us.
Join the fight against childhood cancer.
Register. Fundraise. Show up and shave.