Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Let the Sunshine In!

About halfway through my chemo treatments, sometime in May or June, Cory told me about the Sunshine Kids and that she wanted to put my name in for a trip to Orlando in October. Then, I had no idea the impact that this organization would have on my life.

The Sunshine Kids foundation is an organization that plans events and trips for kids and teens with cancer. They have regional events like going to sports games or plays as well as hospital parties for kids who are inpatient. They also have national trips each year for older kids. Several hospitals choose four patients each and about 40 to 50 kids attend each trip. Locations include Orlando, California, New York, Washington DC, New Orleans, and several others.

Wearing my Toy Story Mickey ears.
In October 2010 I attended the Florida Fun-N- Sun celebration in Orlando, FL. I had so much fun and it was wonderful to be surrounded by people who were experiencing similar things. I finally got my wish to connect with people like me. We all understood each other and medical speak made sense to all of us. It was incredible how quickly cancer disappeared and was replaced by having fun and making friends. The experience was also incredibly freeing as I realized that I could be independent and take care of myself. The trip greatly boosted my confidence and when I got back home I swapped my walker for a cane.

Several months later I received a phone call from the Sunshine Kids telling me that I had been chosen as the 2011 National Spokeskid. It was such an honor to be asked to represent the organization that had given me so much. As a spokeskid I represented the Sunshine Kids by speaking at fundraisers and volunteering at regional events. The first task of being a spokeskid was to attend Prudential Real Estate’s national convention. (Prudential is the Sunshine Kids’ biggest contributor and fundraiser.) That year the convention was in San Diego, California and my mom and brother Brandon came with me. That week was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I spent the week with the 2010 and newly named 2011 spokeskids and their families. It was incredible how fast we bonded with each other. We started as strangers and departed as the best of friends. This trip again boosted my confidence in my abilities when I came home I stopped using my cane.

Me and Katie in San Diego
I became especially close to one of the other spokeskids, Katie Lynch. She had such a warm, sunny personality. She was the person I had been searching for while I was on treatment. Someone that I could connect with. For several months after the trip Katie and I traded text messages on a regular basis, talking about all sorts of things. Shockingly, on May 20, 2011 Katie passed away while recovering from a stem cell transplant. This is what I wrote about her that day: She was such a special girl. I only knew her for three months, but she has changed my life forever. During and post treatment I was searching for someone. Someone who knew what I had been through. Someone who felt what I felt. Someone who was like me. Someone I could talk to. Someone who really understood. Katie was that someone. She radiated her warmth and light all the way from Indianapolis to rainy Seattle. Though I am devastated by her death I know Katie is in a better place where words like "cancer" don't exist.”

Katie and the many other Sunshine Kids I have befriended over the years have made a huge impact in my life. Not only did I no longer feel so alone, I have also made many dear friends.

30 years of Sunshine Kids
The following year Mom and I attended the Prudential convention in Orlando to welcome the 2012 national spokeskids. This year was very special because it was the 30th anniversary of the Sunshine Kids foundation. To celebrate, 30 former Sunshine Kids were invited to the event. It was so incredible to see people who had families and careers, were living successful lives and had been cancer free for 10 or 20 years. It was also incredible to see the impact this amazing organization has had on so many people over the years.

In addition to national trips I have also participated in several local events. Since 2011, my mom and I have volunteered at the yearly regional Sunshine Kids event in Seattle. This past year we were asked to plan events on our own for the Seattle area several times a year. We are both very excited to be able to offer more fun events both in the hospital and out of the hospital for patients at Seattle Children's. So far we have planned two very successful hospital parties and are looking forward to more events in the future.

I can't begin to describe how important this organization and the people I have met are to me and the impact they have had on my life. I am so thankful to be a part of an organization that is doing such important and life-changing work.

Mischief Managed,

Run of Hope Total: $2,170

There is only one week left to contribute to this year's Run of Hope supporting Pediatric Brain Tumor Research

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