I was at the boys’ school today, helping out in the library, when I heard one of the middle-schoolers practicing their flute out in the hallway. The sound of instruments being tuned up or practiced always makes me nostalgic for high school marching band.
I started daydreaming about the good old days in the band, when suddenly I realized what song I was hearing; and that brought me back to the present. The song was Firework by Katy Perry. It reminds me of someone very special who has changed my perspective on so many things. Honestly, she’s changed my life. As I exited the library, I searched the hallway for the source of the music and found a young girl and her friend sitting nearby; really focused on getting the notes just right. It brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes.
This post is about inspiration and hope. And Donna. This is Donna. Just pause for a moment and take in the beauty of this girl. Those eyes. Those curls. Gorgeous, right?
Donna is from Chicago. I met her mom online on facebook. Before we officially met on facebook though, I had been following her blog, Mary Tyler Mom. I’ve never actually met Donna or her mom in real life, but I can say I know a bit about them because of her blog and facebook page.
Donna was my kind of girl. We’d have danced together, I bet. She loved to dance and sing. She also loved mac and cheese (“the good kind”) and red popsicles (Walgreens brand only!) and peanut butter. She also loved books. Several at a time, if I recall, and in particular order, too. A girl after my own heart!
She liked all the good stuff and was so full of grace and wisdom far beyond her years. She even knew that black was the way to be fashionable, and at only 2-4 years old! She danced to the beat of her own drum, and that’s what resonates with me so much. This tiny little powerhouse was such an individual and nothing got in her way. Such a bright and beautiful star.
As I said, I first learned of Donna from her rock star mother, Sheila, and her wonderful blog. In some of her posts, I noticed that she’d occasionally and nonchalantly mention that she lost her daughter to cancer. Yep. You heard me right. She lost Donna to cancer. This sweet girl, this bright girl is no longer dancing with us.
I couldn’t even imagine how someone could still be funny after that kind of loss. I know if it happened to me, I’d lose all will to carry on. I’d let the great, dark monster that is depression just swallow me up. I’d not even try to fight it. I’d embrace it, for surely it would be better than facing a life without my child.
Yet, there she was. This incredibly funny and light-hearted woman, able to write humorous blog posts on a regular basis. Posts about poop, breastfeeding, and Gwyneth Paltrow; among many others. How is she still breathing? I wondered to myself. How does she even will herself out of bed each morning? You do what you have to do to survive, I suppose; and by the grace of the Universe, she has a strong and supportive husband and they also have another wee one to take care of, so it’s not all bad in Mary Tyler Land.
This past September, Mary Tyler Mom honored her girl, Donna, by writing her cancer story for all the world to read. You see, September is pediatric cancer awareness month. I bet you didn’t know that. I don’t blame you. I didn’t know either, until MTM enlightened me. Every day during the month of September, Sheila sat down and wrote a blog entry. Each day represented one month of Donna’s cancer treatment. And every day when I sat down to read each entry, I made sure to have tissues nearby because it was inevitable that I’d cry at some point.
Some days were better than others. Some days left me feeling hopeful, thinking that Donna would pull through and come out shining, even though I already knew the outcome. And some days left me feeling so shocked and traumatized that it took me a few hours to recover. “Vicarious traumatization” MTM called it in the beginning of the third post. She apologized to her readers, even. Can you imagine? I was already in awe of this woman and her strength, and here she was apologizing to me and thousands of other readers for putting us through such an emotional ordeal. Bless her (I heart her. Hard.)
It was difficult to read, to say the least; but oh, so beautiful and full of hope, joy and a daily reminder of how fragile life is. I told my husband about Donna and MTM every day. I hoped he would read it and share the experience with me. He just wasn’t ready at the time. He did come around eventually (last month), and was just as touched and affected by it as I was. He even blogged about it. His post went CRAZY and got him over 26K hits on that one post alone. (I’ll write more on that later!)
I was feeling so many emotions that month. I thought about Donna and her mama every day, and looked forward to each new post with a sense of trepidation. I was also planning my upcoming October wedding, which Chris and I were doing pretty much by ourselves (with the help of one really great friend.) Plus, the kids went back to school in September. My baby boy started kindergarten! Reading about Donna every day made me miss him immensely during those long afternoons alone at home. Yet, I read every word. Sometimes, I re-read parts because it just wouldn’t compute. The ups and downs that Mary Tyler Family endured during this 31 month period would be enough to completely cripple and destroy many people, but not Sheila and Jeremy (Mary Tyler Dad). They continuously chose hope.
No matter how difficult things became for them and their girl, they always chose to believe in a future for Donna. Right up until Donna’s last days, she still insisted that she go to preschool (gotta love her spirit!) She sang and danced and laughed and went to the zoo and made her family smile. To quote Mary Tyler Mom, “she lived until she died.”
On the last day of the month, I was so afraid to read that final post. I knew how this story ended. I knew there would be no more whiplash for Mary Tyler Family. Donna didn’t win her battle with the beast. Hope ran out for our girl on October 19th, 2009. She was only 4 years old. Look at me referring to her as “our girl”. That’s what Donna does to you. She sets up shop in your heart and reminds you to not take a single moment for granted. I can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t fall in love with this girl and carry her memory inside them forever. That’s what I mean by “our girl”. By reading her story, we feel like we all knew her; and are saddened by the fact that we never truly will.
I knew I had to do something. Such a tragedy. Such injustice. It’s just not fair! I asked the hubs if we could donate the money we would get as wedding gifts to Donna’s Good Things, the charity that Sheila and Jeremy started after Donna died.
(Taken from the DGT fb page)
The mission of Donna’s Good Things is two-fold:
* To provide joyful opportunities for children facing adversity, be it economic, social, familial, or health related;
* Work to encourage other’s good things and charitable practices by maintaining an online community where people can share in words and photos something they’ve done to benefit others after being inspired by Donna.
I was indeed inspired by Donna, and felt like I absolutely had to honor her memory by helping make other kids’ lives better. The hubs was touched by my sentiment, but reminded me that we needed that money for our family, but we could definitely donate something. That was when I got the idea to donate the money we would get from our dollar dance to Donna’s Good Things. Chris agreed that it was a great idea, and we decided to call it the Donna Dance.
We’d dance to Firework, because about a week or so after Donna’s Cancer Story was over, MTM posted a link to the Katy Perry video saying that she knew that if Donna were alive today, that the two of them would rock out to it. I hadn’t heard the song before, so of course, I had to give it a listen. It was perfect.
Everyone dancing for Donna!
And so it was, On October 29th, I married the love of my life and when the time came, through tears, I gave a brief speech about Donna and Sheila and why we would be donating the money, and I pretty much begged our wedding guests to help. And then we danced.
My dad surprised me when he was the first one to come up; and with tears in his eyes, he paid to dance with me and to honor Donna and support other kids with cancer. Happy tears.
It was such an amazing moment. So beautiful and powerful and overwhelming to see so many of my friends and family up and dancing for Donna. Best part of the night. Hands down.
We were able to raise $131 for Donna’s Good Things, which we plan on giving to Sheila when we meet her next month. Which brings me to the final, uber-important purpose of this post!
On March 24th, there is going to be a shave-a-thon event in Chicago. Donna’s Good Things is participating to help raise funds for St. Baldrick’s. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a volunteer-driven charity that funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government. When MTM posted information about this event a few months back, the hubs was the first one to take notice, but once I found out about it, I was so ready! Bring on the baldness!
Yep. That’s right, folks. My husband and I are getting our heads shaved to stand in solidarity with kids fighting cancer. We’re also raising money, of course. Good deeds are all well and good, but money is what helps fund research that will help find new treatments and one day, a cure for cancer.
That’s where YOU come in! We need your help to reach our goal of $20K! Chris and I have our own team, Blissfully Bald, and we’re planning on raising $2500 to go towards that $20K goal. We already met and exceeded our first goal of $1000, thanks to an amazing blog post written by my hubs (Chris, of From the Bungalow) and our awesome donors who answered our call for help! You know you wanna be in the cool group. Help us help Donna’s Good things help kids with cancer. PLEASE. It’s not my style to beg, but if I have to, I will.(please don’t make me)
This girl. She should still be here dancing. She should still be rockin’ fabulous black outfits and super cute Halloween costumes. She should be with her family, reading books and singing songs. She should be here to help look out for her baby brother and to spread joy to everyone she meets. She should be here so I could actually meet her someday.
But she’s not. And neither are countless other children who lost their battle with cancer. We can make a difference to so many. YOU can make a difference. I hope you’ll take a few moments and donate whatever you can to our cause. St. Baldrick’s is an incredible charity, and they help incredible kids who are fighting for their lives every day. No child should have to do that, but they do.
How can YOU help Conquer Kids’ Cancer?
1. Donate Now to fund lifesaving research
2. Sign up as a Shavee or Volunteer at an 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)
3. Can’t find an event near you? Organize your own event. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation will coach you every step of the way. In particular, they are looking for new events in Maine, Mississippi, Alabama and Utah.
4. Have questions about getting involved? Visit www.StBaldricks.org or contact Heather@StBaldricks.org.
Donate directly to me here.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for the money you will so selflessly and generously donate. Thank you for letting Donna into your heart. A thousand times, I thank you.
Always choose hope. ~Karin
All photos of Donna courtesy of Mary Tyler Mom. Wedding photo courtesy of Limitless Photo.