Today at nursery school pick-up, my three-year-old handed me a collection of drawings and paintings. Next to me, another parent chuckled and said quietly, “Each week, I have to surreptitiously move most of these art projects into recycling, or else my house would be overrun.”
I, too, have to make weekly decisions about how to manage the inflow of treasured projects, but my view on tossing out art projects was forever altered during a single afternoon.
Two years ago, when my Jewish family received an invitation to bring Christmas cheer to the house of a dear friend who was struggling to feel the holiday spirit, we happily accepted the challenge and invaded.
Our three little girls clambered around the sharp-needled tree with the young son of our friends, hanging ornaments, breaking ornaments, and having a grand old time.
After an hour or two, the tree was almost finished. But it needed something on top. I watched as my lovely friend Sheila carefully opened a box, peeling back delicate paper, and unwrapped a simple star that was clearly handmade by a child.
“Donna made this for our tree,” Sheila said.
Donna. The mere sound of her name created an energy in the room.
Donna, who died at age four of an aggressive brain tumor called a papillary meningioma, after thirty-one months of treatment, including multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and radiation. Donna, who chose life time and again. Donna, who danced until she could no longer walk. Donna, who cried when she was in pain and then jumped up to eat a bowl of macaroni as soon as she felt better.
Imagine if you had to save a lifetime’s worth of art projects in four years, if every trivial childish drawing took on precious meaning, because there would be no new ones flooding in after the holiday season in kindergarten or first grade or second grade or ever ever ever again. That is how it is for Donna’s parents.
I do not save every art project that my kids make. Far from it. But I DO think of Donna every single time I recycle a picture, and I feel a slice of pain, a visceral squeezing in my stomach, when I think of Sheila rewrapping Donna’s homemade preschool star, in order to make it last for Christmas after Christmas.
And although I do not live each day fearing that my children will get cancer, I do know that it happens. Worldwide, a child is diagnosed every three minutes. More children are lost to cancer in the U.S. than to any other disease. There is no reason why it afflicts some children and not others; there is no sense or logic behind why some children suffer so terribly.
We can’t answer the heartbreaking question of WHY, but we can make a difference in HOW the treatment and outcome will play out. Pediatric cancer patients need pediatric cancer research. Too many children are administered chemotherapy that is intended for adults, including the horrific side effects, because the drug companies haven’t developed options for kids. Too few dollars go toward pediatric cancer research. When you donate to the American Cancer Society, you are donating to adult cancer patients. A miniscule percentage of those dollars go to pediatric cancer.
Sheila and her husband Jeremy now honor Donna’s memory through a charity that they established called Donna’s Good Things. The charity works to provide joyful opportunities for children facing adversity and also creates an online supportive community for afflicted families.
Donna's Good Things has a team participating in the annual St. Baldrick's fundraising event during which people volunteer to shave their heads to raise money for pediatric cancer research. St. Baldrick’s has raised over $120 million for pediatric cancer research since its creation in 2000.
The event will take place on Saturday, March 30, 2014, at Candlelite Chicago, located at 7452 N. Western Avenue.
Again, here's the link to their team page and you can donate to the team using the GREEN donate button. Or you can spread the word, and if you're doing so on Twitter, use the hashtags #conquerkidscancer and #donnaday.
Watch this beautiful story song about Donna:
My three-year-old daughter currently has a favorite pair of red shoes. They were Donna’s favorite red shoes. She stomps around in Donna’s pink Lands End boots. She drapes herself in Donna’s teal blue pea coat. I watch my girl play outside, and I think of the little girl who last wore these items. There will be a sweet sadness when my daughter can no longer fit into Donna’s clothes. The beauty of having a child who continues to grow older and bigger, the agony of handing the clothes back to Sheila, a reminder of what she has lost.
Dear dear beautiful Donna, whose star sits atop the Christmas tree. We think of you when we marvel at the art projects our children hand us. We think of you when we see baldheaded children at the park. We think of you when we fasten Cleo’s red shoes, the ones we still call “Donna’s shoes.“ We won’t forget you.
Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.