I have a really wonderful friend named Sheila Quirke. Every time I hang out with Sheila, we laugh and have a good time; we talk and share stories; we trade blogging tips and strategies. And every time I hang out with Sheila, we grieve. We speak of her absent daughter, Donna -- a brilliant sprite of a girl who will forever remain four years old -- the age at which she died from a rare brain tumor called papillary meningioma.
Donna was diagnosed at 20 months and lived another two-and-a-half years. Her life was filled with surgeries, chemotherapies, radiation, remissions, relapses, a stem cell transplant, and multiple hospital stays. But that is not what defined Donna. She was a girl known for her passions -- her family, her dance lessons, singing and playing and flowers and trips to the zoo – and despite her cruelly shortened life, Donna lived until she died.
It is astonishing how often Donna comes to my mind. When I am at Noodles & Co, I recall how that was Donna’s favorite restaurant. I think of Sheila racing to Noodles, because Donna asked for mac and cheese, and time was short, and Sheila was desperate to give her little girl every possible last pleasure. When our family goes to Sheila’s house to help them decorate their Christmas tree, it is Donna’s homemade star that adorns the top of the tree. When I hear Katy Perry’s song Firework, I recall Sheila dancing to the song in memory of Donna at last year’s St. Baldrick’s head shaving event in Chicago. When I am walking down the street or driving in my car, suddenly she is there, a bright light that won’t go out. There are tears through smiles.
Sheila gave me a pair of Donna’s pink snow boots for my 2-year-old daughter Cleo. With plenty of snow these past few weeks, Cleo gleefully stomps around in Donna’s boots, a sight both joyful and tragic. I have stood more than once outside and watched my little girl, knowing that the boots on her tiny feet once belonged to the lovely dancing Donna, and at those moments, I feel Donna’s presence and her absence all at once. She is remembered.
And today, we all get to remember Donna, because it is the Donna Day Campaign!
Sheila now honors Donna’s memory through a charity that she and her husband established called Donna’s Good Things. The charity works to provide joyful opportunities for children facing adversity.
Now there is something YOU can do to help!
How can I help Conquer Kids’ Cancer, you may be wondering?
Last year, one of Mary Tyler Mom’s readers initiated a St. Baldrick's event to both honor Donna and raise some hard core cash for pediatric cancer research. St. Baldrick's, the largest private funder of pediatric cancer research in the US, has raised over $120 million since its creation in 2000.
Please consider doing one or more of the following:
- Sign up as a Shavee or Volunteer at a St. Baldrick’s Event Near You. (Once you find an event, click on the blue box that says ‘participate at this event’. If you want to join the Donna’s Good Things team, when prompted, say you want to join an existing team, and filter for “Donna” at other events) Here is the link to Donna’s team.
- Can’t find an event near you? Organize your own event. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation will coach you every step of the way.
The purpose of the Donna Day campaign is to raise money for Team Donna’s head shaving event on Saturday, March 30th in Chicago. Last year's team started with a goal of $20K, and raised $79K! This year, the team has many fewer heads to shave and has set a goal of $30K. The oldest shavee is 89 years old, and she is doing it with her daughter, a returning shavee from last year.
- More US children will die from cancer than any other disease, or many other diseases combined;
- Before the age of 20, 1 in 300 boys and 1 in 333 girls will be diagnosed with cancer;
- worldwide, a child is diagnosed ever three minutes;
- the cure rate for the most common form of pediatric cancer, ALL leukemia, is as high as 90%, but most other childhood cancers do not have that success rate, e.g., brain tumors have a 50/50 cure rate, and some, like DIPG, are known to be fatal with no known treatment or cure;
- 73% of kids who survive their cancer will have chronic health problems as a result of their treatment and 42% will suffer severe or life-threatening conditions like secondary cancers.
For those of you who would like to learn more about Donna’s extraordinary life and legacy, please see the following:
Donna's Cancer Story is a blog series by Sheila (who blogs as Mary Tyler Mom). The story consists of 32 posts telling Donna's individual story with cancer during her 31 months of treatment.
Donna's radiothon 'story song' is here and is a four and a half minute video with photos and interview with Chicago MIX personalities Eric and Kathy.
This post is dedicated in loving memory of Donna Quirke Lubek Hornik, who lived until she died, and who changes lives every single day. Donna, may your memory bring joy to your parents for the rest of their lives, and may the changes inspired in your name provide some measure of balm to the aching pain of your absence.
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