"There are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone the light remains.”
Yesterday, I received an email from Cindy Kerr, President, CEO, and Founder of ConKerr Cancer.
Cindy started ConKerr Cancer when her son, Ryan, was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and she began making pillowcases to brighten up his hospital room and to put a smile on his face. He loved it and so she began making pillowcases for other children on the Oncology Unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Since then the pillowcase project, A Case for Smiles, has grown in amazing ways. ConKerr has provided over 300,000 pillowcases made by thousands of volunteers from across North America and in South Africa. School groups, sewing circles, church groups and fabric stores have all pitched in and are making pillowcases for the kids. An exciting new program has been to take fabric and sewing machines to hospitals and sew with the patients and their families.
ConKerr Cancer has been able to make amazing progress towards fulfilling their goal of making hospital stays as pleasant as possible for chronically ill children and their parents. Simultaneously the pillowcase project has fostered a spirit of community and volunteer service in communities across North America. Unfortunately the number of sick children never ends, and we must continue to expand our efforts to help brighten patients’ lives and raise awareness about childhood cancer.
I have joined in the ConKerr effort for the Northern Utah region and have been touched by the caring and generous people involved in the organization. Recently, the lovely owner, Cathie Zimmerman of Thimbles and Threads, a quilt store in Draper, Utah, sponsored a children's sewing class by providing classroom and discounted pillowcase kits to the students. Below, are some of the notes the children voluntarily included with their donations:
ConKerr Cancer: A Case for Smiles
Ryan was a most remarkable young man. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 12, his life was forever transformed. Over six years he fought through 5 recurrences of his cancer, 30 months of chemotherapy, 15 surgeries (including the amputation of his right leg), over 150 days of physical therapy and two broken bones in his healthy foot. Despite all of that, Ryan never let it slow him down!
Ryan loved adventures – big and small. He loved to go new places, to do new things and to launch off anything with a drop –a half pipe, a ski jump or a railing. Skiing with him was both a joy and sheer terror. He was constantly darting in and out of the woods, flying off the nearest bump and speeding down the hill with an incredible grace and aggressiveness. He always wanted to challenge himself with something new – rock climbing, scuba diving, cycling - you name it, he wanted to do it.
Ryan’s courage is nearly legend. His friends were constantly amazed by his adventures and how he would finish chemo one day and ski the next. Few people will ever understand how difficult it was for Ryan to just put on his leg and go through a normal day of school. He was always exhausted and was in pain much of the time. But he would never show it so that he could be with his friends and be in school where he loved to do his photography, hang with his friends and be a part of class discussions.
As a student, he was so curious, so engaging and so kind that he stole his teacher’s hearts. He missed countless days of school yet somehow still managed to keep up with his school work and graduate from high school. Ryan never wanted to be known at the school as the cancer kid or as an inspiration. He wanted to just be Ryan, fitting in with all the other students, no special treatment – except of course, he loved the perks of the elevator key and the great parking spot!
No matter what you are going through, remember what the beginning of spring brings, that sense of hope and chance for renewal.