Friday, 16 September 2011 00:00
Each year, approximately 12,000 children are diagnosed with cancer, an average of 36 children each and every day. While tremendous advances in treatments have been made, childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease among children ages 1 to 14 with approximately 4,000 innocent lives lost each year. This number is so alarming that September is designated as National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
To recognize this tragic number and raise awareness of childhood cancer, the Hicksville-based Sarah Grace Foundation for Children With Cancer, Inc. is asking the community to observe Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with Gold Ribbon Days. Gold Ribbons, the official ribbon for childhood cancer worldwide, are worn to honor and remember children with cancer and those who lost their battle.
Nine years ago, Matt and Marissa Weippert experienced firsthand the devastating effects childhood cancer can have on a family when their 12-year-old daughter, Sarah Grace, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). The impact the disease had on their family, both emotionally and financially, along with their commitment to keeping Sarah’s memory alive, led the Weipperts to establish the Sarah Grace Foundation.
Since 2003, the all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) foundation has dedicated itself to helping children and their families faced with the challenges and hardships brought upon by childhood cancer. The foundation works directly with social workers and staff members from the Pediatric Oncology Departments at various hospitals, including Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York (formerly Schneider Children’s Hospital), Winthrop’s Cancer Center for Kids, Nassau University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, to offer special programs, meet children’s wishes, and provide financial support to help families offset meal, household, transportation and other expenses such as funeral costs. And, because cancer impacts the entire family and not just the sick child, the foundation also provides for requests made by the siblings.
“Cancer impacts the entire family. Our overall goal is to help families and siblings, along with the child receiving treatment, through this difficult time,” said Matt Weippert.
Most recently, the foundation became the official Long Island Regional sponsor of the Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program. Chemo Duck was created nearly a decade ago by Tennessee mom Lu Sipos after her son Gabe was diagnosed with cancer. Sipos thought Gabe could use a companion to take to the hospital, one with whom he could share his journey back to health and created a cuddly pal intended to educate children with cancer and encourage healing through the power of play therapy. Together, Gabe and Chemo Duck learned all about living with cancer, the treatments he would undergo and progressed through his illness with Chemo Duck by his side.
With Chemo Duck by his side, Gabe successfully beat his cancer and has remained cancer-free since. Sipos continued to make Chemo Ducks for all of Gabe’s friends and in 2003 started a nonprofit business called “Gabe’s My Heart” to get Chemo Ducks out to children all over the U.S. Earlier this year, the Sarah Grace Foundation was introduced to Chemo Duck and over the past nine months has worked to bring the program to local Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, Maimonides Infants and Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and Stony Brook University Medical Center, among others. And, beginning in September 2012, the foundation will also begin sponsorship at Winthrop’s Cancer Center For Kids.
“For years, the Sarah Grace Foundation has supported children, families and hospitals through the exasperating battle that is cancer by providing financial aid, entertainment and relief. Anyone who has been affected by cancer knows that the journey takes a toll; that toll is even greater upon a child,” said Weippert. “We cannot thank Lu Sipos enough for designing such a warm and friendly product to ease the burden of cancer on our great kids.”
According to Weippert, Chemo Duck is designed to ease a child’s tension and anxiety about treatment and their disease. Each duck comes with an arm immobilizer to show the child that their arm must remain straight if they have a peripheral IV and a “Hickman” or “Port” to show the child – in a kid-friendly way – exactly what they will be going through.
“All of these features are presented in a way that is visually appealing to a child, in order to ease their anxiety and help them become more comfortable with the changes that are or will be happening around them,” said Weippert, who added that Chemo Duck is a powerful and therapeutic teaching tool can be used to educate children about their cancer treatment and procedures.
“We remember how difficult it was to explain to Sarah what was going to happen to her. Chemo Duck could not be more perfect in that it can train, educate and familiarize the child with what is happening to his or her body,” said Weippert. “Chemo Duck helps the child maintain a sense of control, which is the primary thing a cancer diagnosis strips from you.”
He added, “The Sarah Grace Foundation is committed to supporting this wonderful program and honored to be the sponsor of the Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program at numerous pediatric cancer centers in our area.”
To fund Chemo Duck and its other services, including The Bead Program and Escape Hatch, The Sarah Grace Foundation relies solely on donations. In recognition of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the Foundation is sponsoring Gold Ribbon Days. Anyone who makes a minimum $5 donation to the Sarah Grace Foundation will have their choice of a Gold Ribbon Pin or Gold Ribbon Magnet. Additionally, the foundation is selling its handcrafted ornaments, designed exclusively for the foundation by Christopher Radko, for $40 each. Two designs – Sarah’s Heart and Sarah Grace’s Angel – are available for purchase.
To support The Sarah Grace Foundation and its many services and programs designed to help children with cancer and their families or to purchase a gold ribbon or ornament, visit www.thesarahgracefoundation.org and click on the “Shop/Donate” tab. Donations can also be sent, payable by check to The Sarah Grace Foundation, to 217 Plainview Road, Hicksville, NY 11801. For more information, visit www.TheSarahGraceFoundation.org or call 433-9745.