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How One Mom Uses Her Platform to Encourage Others

Words like “maybe” and “might” can be difficult to hear because they contain no absolutes. They are wholly dependent on something going right by chance or luck. When used to describe the potential success of a medical treatment, “it might” will fall short every time. Possibly, maybe, hopefully…none of these instill confidence – especially in a mother sitting beside her sick child’s hospital bed.

Anita Corsini learned this difficult truth when her son, Rocco, was diagnosed with cancer. After months of struggling with rashes, a distended stomach, and increasing lethargy, a photograph finally drove her to seek answers.

“I looked at a picture of him at the pool beside his friends,” Anita said. “It dawned on me that Rocco’s belly was different. I was concerned because it didn’t look like a normal, soft little belly.”

Her intuition was correct. By the time they arrived at the hospital, Rocco was declining. Doctors found a tumor on his kidney but couldn’t perform a biopsy because he was too sick. A scan indicated Rocco had a Wilm’s tumor, a childhood cancer of the kidney for which the prognosis is very good. He began the standard protocol right away but had a violent reaction to the toxic treatment. While the tumor was shrinking, the chemo caused an unusual reaction. The tumor began flaking off and releasing potassium into his bloodstream – which can lead to potentially deadly heart issues.

Although Rocco was very sick, the tumor did shrink so the doctors scheduled him for surgery to remove as much of the tumor as they could. They also removed a portion of his kidney and a week later discovered that his tumor was not Wilm’s at all. Rather, he had Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There had never been another documented case of this type of cancer being on a kidney and nowhere else in the body.

With this new information, they had to start over – new doctors, new protocol, and new fears.

“I saw how the first chemo devastated him and knew that this one was more aggressive,” recalled Anita. “I looked at the doctor and told her I was afraid this treatment would kill him.”

“It might,” the doctor replied.

It wasn’t said callously or with an intent to scare. It was said in honesty. Anita and her husband, Ken, knew that while it might kill him, it might work as well. It was also Rocco’s only chance. So with prayer, tears, and hope, they proceeded, and slowly Rocco began to improve. Both Ken and Anita are people of faith and they give credit for Rocco’s improvement to a higher power. Over the course of the treatment, things such as the misdiagnosis, his unexpected responses to chemo, and numerous trips to the ER gave Anita the quiet confidence in her heart that God was still in control despite circumstances outside of the norm.

While Rocco’s cancer improved, long hospital stays took an emotional toll. He truly hated being there until a nurse came up with the “Rocco Bucks” system. For every procedure he was forced to endure, Rocco was paid in bills featuring Angry Birds characters. It changed everything. He got to spend his Rocco Bucks on whatever toys and trinkets staff had available and he even got to camp out in his room for a few bucks a night. The distraction kept him going and soon he was cancer-free.

As life slowly started to get back to normal, a production company called the Corsinis and asked if they wanted to interview for a house-flipping show. The family business, Red Barn Homes, has been flipping houses in Atlanta for over a decade. Despite their experience, Anita was so confident that they wouldn’t be chosen that on the day of the Skype interview, she rushed home from the gym and threw her hair in a ponytail. Undeterred, HGTV offered them a show: Flip or Flop Atlanta, which is in now in its second season in the prime slot of 9 pm.

As a special part of the show, Anita decided to add something to honor all children and families who are connected to childhood cancer. Drawing again on her faith, she staged a pair of angel wings for the reveal at the end of every show.

“Angels in the Bible aren’t just messengers. They are powerful warriors who comfort and protect at God’s instruction. I use wings as a symbol of hope and encouragement to all in the community to remind children and their families that they are not alone.”

Rocco is eight now and doing everything an eight-year-old boy should be doing. Mercifully, he has even forgotten most of the hardest parts of his treatment. But his parents haven’t forgotten and are dedicated to helping others who are on a cancer journey – whether it is through service, prayer, or a strategically placed pair of angel’s wings.

 

 

 

The Value of Christopher’s Diamonds

Many people go their entire lives without discovering the things of greatest value. Others have experiences which teach them what is important, and some seem to be born with keen intuition. Christopher Wessels finds great value in the “diamonds” he collects. But the most important thing to him isn’t hoarding his gems, he prefers putting them to work for others.

When Christopher was three years old, a distended stomach sent his family to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed him with a stage IV Wilm’s tumor. He spent the next seven months in a fight that included chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. He became a frequent flyer with trips between the Atlanta and New York hospitals where he received treatment in which he lost a kidney, an adrenal gland, and several lymph nodes. But on March 15, 2015, Christopher was declared “No Evidence of Disease.”

He has spent some additional time in the hospital due to asthma but is doing great today. He is a part of the survivorship program which entails an annual scan to make sure he remains cancer-free. This freedom from treatment has given him more time to pursue his precious diamond collection. Christopher sometimes gets caught smuggling them into the house, and many of the precious stones that make it home go through a special cleansing process along with the rest of his laundry. A six-year-old often forgets to empty his pockets.

Christopher mines these treasures all over the place: friends’ yards, city parks, and family vacation destinations. Rarely a day goes by when he doesn’t spy at least one diamond on the playground at his school. Once he gets his diamonds home, they join a display he has created in his playroom.

These diamonds are extremely valuable to this avid collector. Far more valuable than that, however, are the lives of the young children who, like Christopher, are at risk due to childhood cancer. When he learned he could help other children facing cancer by selling his coveted diamonds, Christopher willingly agreed.

Christopher’s family created a team at CURE Childhood Cancer’s annual Lauren’s Run. Team Courageous Christopher sent letters and emails offering his diamonds in exchange for a donation. Each diamond came with an original certificate of authenticity. His supporters immediately recognized Christopher’s passion and the value of such a prized collection. Orders and donations began pouring in.

The Wessels took time off for a family spring break trip where Christopher admitted to feeling some pressure. At a souvenir shop he showed his mother a bag of diamonds he needed to buy out of concern for the high demand that was outpacing his stock levels.

In the end, Christopher fulfilled all of the orders, and his team finished as one of the top fundraising teams at Lauren’s Run with an amazing total of over $11,000! Christopher is already prospecting for new “diamonds” to replenish current inventory levels for his collection.

Whether it was through his experience with cancer or just in his nature, this six-year-old has a keen eye for what is truly valuable in life and is an example for all.

 

 

Two-Time Cancer Survivor uses her Love for Jewelry to Give Back to CURE.

Paige JansenPaige Jansen is a two-time cancer survivor with a purpose. While going through chemotherapy, Paige was struck as she watched young people suffer through treatment. “How unfair,” she thought. “There has to be something that can be done so that someone at such a young age does not have to suffer.”

Paige’s focus changed from her own poor prognosis – only a 20% chance of survival and more than one cancer diagnosis – to the struggles of other cancer patients. In 2007, she launched Saint Vintage Jewelry, an eco-friendly luxury brand that gives back to cancer research.

Paige works fervently with her team to fund cancer research one piece of jewelry at a time by donating up to 50% of the proceeds to cancer research all year round. Saint Vintage takes pieces of the past and turns them into trendsetting treasures. Known for her hand crafted designs, Paige uses a combination of vintage and antique embellishments, along with semi-precious stones, Swarovski crystals, antique glass, vintage beads and antique pearls, crafting truly one of a kind bracelets, necklaces and earrings. A number of celebrity fans have linked arms with the Atlanta-based brand, including Rachel Bilson, Jaime King, Mindy Kaling, Zooey Deschanel and Giuliana Rancic and more—all in the name of finding a cure.

In addition to funding cancer research through CURE, Stand Up to Cancer, and other organizations, for the last three years, Paige has lovingly donated an exquisite piece of jewelry to each honored mother attending “A Tribute to Our Quiet Heroes,” more than 750 pieces in total.

“Paige is an incredible inspiration and true champion,” says CURE Executive Director, Kristin Connor. “She’s taken her own life challenges and channeled them into something extraordinarily impactful for all who face cancer today and who will face cancer in the future.”