Every member of the CURE staff is whole-heartedly devoted to our mission. Each person understands the gravity of our work – children are literally depending on our success. However, for some CURE staff, the fight against childhood cancer is intensely personal. Seven have been in that unimaginable place – seated across from a doctor completely unprepared to hear those awful words: “Your child has cancer.” Each journey was unique, yet these seven emerged from their experiences changed – and forever committed to fight the disease that tormented, and in two cases, took their children.
“Although Mitchell was diagnosed 18 years ago,” said Lisa Odendahl. “I have vivid memories of my world turning upside down with no warning. It makes me sympathetic to families whose kids are going through treatment. Every day I wish I could do more. But, I have reconciled the fact that I can offer a listening ear, encouragement to live in the moment, and a glimmer of hope beyond treatment.”
The ability to understand and offer support as only one who has been there can do is a common theme.
“I have stayed in the same rooms, eaten the same food, know the same staff, and have endured the same sleepless nights,” added Kerry Kavlie. “I have prayed the same prayers. All cancer journeys are unique, but there is a common thread throughout. I now get to be that ray of hope for newly-diagnosed families to offer a light at the end of the tunnel and to care for them when the treatment isn’t going how they had hoped.”
A sense of urgency was also forged by the bedside.
“I can’t unsee what I’ve seen,” said Mark Myers. “The treatment Kylie received was devastating and, in the end, ineffective. She told me to cure childhood cancer, and I am determined that when I look into a patient’s eyes, I can honestly say I am doing everything within my power to make things better for them.”
“My eyes had been opened to a disease that was plaguing children and ripping them from their families forever, and very little was being done to fix it,” explained Mandy Garola. “I wake up each day knowing that I’m working and fighting for children who can’t fight for themselves.”
The experience left many with a pressing need to make a difference for other children and families.
“I was somewhat clueless prior to Katie’s diagnosis. I didn’t know about lack of funding for research, lack of new medicines, or risks of secondary cancers,” Karen Rutherford recalled. “Once the dust settled from our battle, I knew I had to do something productive with what our family had just been through. I know I can’t cure cancer, but I can walk alongside another family battling, be a shoulder for them to lean on, help serve a hot meal, and raise money for the vital research needed.”
We are often asked if our experience makes our job hard.
“It is sometimes so hard to see those sweet bald heads,” said Jenny Wilkins. “I always want to rub a bald head like I did Catie’s. I never do because it’s such a personal thing. But if I close my eyes, it takes me back. And while my work at CURE is focused on events, I still have the opportunity to meet amazing kids and families and that reminds me that God can use the suffering I’ve been through by allowing us to be there for and help others.”
“People always ask me how I can do what I do,” offered Kerry. “It isn’t always easy, but the good days far outweigh the bad. Giving back is not an obligation, it is a privilege. It is putting yourself aside, diving head-first into the trenches, and not turning back.”
“There are certainly difficult, heartbreaking days,” added Mandy. “But when I think of the children we’ve lost and the potential they possessed, it’s easy to press on. I’m better off having known these precious kids in the first place. I’m honored and humbled to be a part of an amazing organization like CURE.”
“For so many of us, this fight is absolutely personal,” explained Kristin Connor. “Nothing about it is a ‘job.’ We all know from our very difficult experiences that our children deserve better. They deserve the chance to grow up and pursue their dreams. We have to do what we can to ensure that happens. It’s not optional; we all feel compelled to lock arms and fight this fight together.”
There’s something special about the CURE staff, no doubt. We won’t stop fighting until every child is guaranteed a cure… after all, it’s personal.