A couple years ago, a fellow ChicagoNow blogger posted a series called “Donna’s Cancer Story.” In it, she chronicled the 31 month struggle that her 4-year old daughter ultimately lost against cancer. Each day for a month, Mary Tyler Mom shared another month of her daughter Donna’s fight. Each day at work, I read that day’s post at my desk over lunch and usually cried. I was so moved that I wrote about why everyone should read Donna’s Cancer Story.
Last year, I was lucky enough to meet Mary Tyler Mom, Donna’s mom. When she reached out to the ChicagoNow community for volunteers to write a blog on Donna Day (today!), I was more than happy to oblige. Of course I was hoping for a music angle, so I sent MTM a note asking if there were any songs that were special to Donna. She graciously responded that she and her husband often sang Bob Marley’s “Three Birds” to Donna. What could be more perfect to comfort a child going through horrific cancer treatments than hearing Bob tell her that “Everything is gonna be alright”?
But Mary Tyler Mom went on to say the following (I won’t try to paraphrase because even in a Facebook message she speaks more eloquently than I could):
Music, though, is how Donna comes to me these days when I need strength. If I hear one of these songs, it feels sent from Donna, like she is stretching through the radio to comfort me. Those are Katy Perry's Firework, Phillip Phillips’ Home, Journey's Don't Stop Believing, and Elton John's Tiny Dancer or Benny and the Jets.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised that music plays a role in Donna’s family remembering her. I often wonder whether artists realize how much of an impact they have on people through their music. After I got MTM’s note about the music that was meaningful to Donna and the music that comforts her mother now, I made a playlist of those songs and listened to it for a few days. In a weird way, I felt like I was intruding on something intimate, that I wasn’t meant to be listening to those particular songs together, that they weren’t meant for me. But I also felt in a small way like it allowed me to know just a little better the girl who I had read so much about.
Cancer sucks, I think we can all agree on that. My grandfather died of cancer when he was in his sixties, and at that time it seemed far too young. But he had nine kids, 20+ grandchildren, started a successful company that has employed countless people over the years, and in general enjoyed a lot of what life had to offer. Donna was just four when cancer took her. She was just barely getting started, and her family will never get to see all that she might have achieved. Cancer sucks, but childhood cancer really sucks.
I think one of the hardest things about losing a child would be to have a “regular” life afterwards and not be completely consumed by the loss. Donna had a younger brother when she died, and her family was recently joined by another little brother, so in that they are a family of four they seem “regular.” But her parents are also determined to honor their daughter, and to that end they started Donna’s Good Things in 2009. Then in 2012, a group of Donna’s followers endeavored to organize an event to raise money for St. Baldrick’s, which is “a volunteer-driven charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers.” This will be the third year in a row that Donna’s Good Things will hold a head shaving event, meant to show solidarity with kids fighting cancer and raise money for St. Baldrick’s. Since this event was founded just a couple years ago, it has raised over $197,000- amazing!
This year’s event is scheduled to be held on March 29th. Please consider offering a donation to this important cause. You can also support the effort by purchasing one of these awesome t-shirts, and 100% of the proceeds from these shirt sales will go to St. Baldrick’s.
If you are lucky enough not to have been impacted by pediatric cancer, please consider donating so that someday others will be able to avoid enduring it as well. Normally I mostly write about fluff (let’s be honest- who really cares if Macklemore is or isn’t gay anyway?), but this is so important.
Thank you so much for reading all the way through! And happy Donna Day to you!
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Filed under: Parenting