My New Year promise is to celebr8 more awesome and to write more about it…here it goes…
I have this friend…her name is Kim. I met Kim in August of my freshman year in college in Naismith dorms. Her and I and our other friend Amy shared mattresses on the floor of the 10th floor during pre-season before all the other students arrived at KU. We navigated being away from home and being on a new team together. We wore “leggings” before leggings were a thing and could pull off a mean sweater set. We lamented at our frizzy, unruly hair and discovered frizz products together. We ordered a minus two minus tomatoes (inside joke…sorry) at Taco Bell way too late at night and when we walked in a room everyone expected us to dance our way around any dance floor. We tormented all our neighbors in Naismith with our colorful renditions of LeAnn Rimes and Michael Jackson songs on a regular basis and laughed at each others stupid jokes that no one else got. At times, I’m pretty sure we annoyed people.
Kim has been my friend for a long time. Kim is so much more than a friend I share silly memories with…she is someone I admire and someone who I believe rocks the awesome so hard that she’s someone we should all know about.
You see, we’ve all heard the cliché phrase, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, right? Well, Kim’s one of the few people I’ve known in life that actually did just that.
You see, Kim’s daughter, Callyn has had cancer…twice!
It was truly a miracle that Kim spotted Callyn’s tumor while taking a picture of Callyn at her brother’s wedding in Omaha. From a series of texts and phone calls and an immediate doctor visit upon their arrival back home, it was confirmed that Callyn had some kind of tumor in her right eye. Dr. Grin, their ophthalmologist recommended they fly to Philadelphia where they specialize in treating retinoblastoma, like they suspected Callyn had.
On September 15th 2015 Kim and her husband Mike (also a stud and supremely awesome) and their two daughters Taylor and Callyn received the devastating news that their daughter Callyn Harper was diagnosed with a rare childhood eye cancer called Retinoblastoma. It was one month before her 3rd birthday. She had a tumor covering the bottom 40% of her right eye.
Retinoblastoma is a very aggressive type of cancer and on the day of the diagnosis they were told to get to Wills Eye hospital in Philadelphia to seek treatment. According to research it’s estimated there are only 300 new cases of RB each year. This news would be those lemons I mentioned earlier…
As I’ve said before, I believe in miracles, and I do believe Kim spotting this tumor in her daughter’s eye and having the right people in the right place helped them get Callyn the help she needed at the right time.
At any rate Kim and Mike’s world flipped upside down in an instant. When I first saw Kim after the diagnosis, she was so calm and handled herself with such grace. I imagined myself hyperventilating and she kept reassuring me and Amy (our other roommate from college) that the survival rate for this type of cancer is very high and that they were hopeful they could preserve her eye.
If you know anything about Pediatric Cancer, the side effects of the therapies they receive to beat their cancers ravage their little bodies. There are long lasting effects for many of these kiddos, some they never overcome. Kim kept saying, if your kids going to get cancer, this is the type you want them to have. I was in awe of her grace.
I held it together in J. Gilbert’s that night, mostly, because she was so composed. When I got in my car, I cried the whole way home. I cried for my friend and her husband and her two sweet girls, who I love. This would impact all of them in ways no one could ever imagine.
The thing is though…even though it meant many sleepless nights for Kim and Mike and countless trips to Philadelphia and medical bills we couldn’t even fathom…this cancer didn’t only change their family life, it changed many people’s lives, and believe it or not…for the better.
I’m getting to that part…I promise.
After Callyn received 5 rounds of intra-arterial chemotherapy, where they literally inject the chemo into your eye, she was said to be in remission in March of 2015 and she still had vision in her eye.
During all of this, it’s important to acknowledge the awesome of all the characters in this story. Let’s start with Mike, her husband. Mike is…in a word…hilarious. He’s just a jolly guy that makes other people feel at ease and always has a smile on his face. Given the nature of this life crisis, it had to be hard to have a smile at all, but Mike held it all together for his girls, Kim, Taylor and Callyn. He continued to get up and go to work (which had to have been a job in and of itself) and helped keep the pieces together for Kim. Everyone who sees this couple together can see that they truly love each other. With a crisis that would tear most apart, it drew them closer together and together they will turn this horror story that had become their life, into a happy ending.
Then there is the big sister Taylor, who had the fear of having a sister with cancer, but also, had to deal with her parents being gone for long periods of time. In an effort to allow Taylor’s life to remain as normal as possible, they often left her in Kansas when they travelled to Philadelphia for Callyn’s treatments. Taylor never one time complained. She never one time allowed herself to feel sad for herself and did whatever she needed to do for her family. She’s Callyn’s biggest cheerleader and best friend. What a gift and a beautiful (literally and figuratively) blessing to her parents during the hardest time in their life!
We’ll get to Callyn in a little bit.
So while Kim’s daughter battled cancer, Kim hooked up with another bad ass mom that could tell us all stories about survival and being awesome for days, Deliece Hofen. Deliece’s life is like a made for TV movie waiting to happen and she’s an inspiration to anyone who ever gets graced with her presence. Kim and Deliece are a force to be reckoned with.
Kim decided that if her little girl had cancer, she was going to try to change the facts of Pediatric Cancer for other kiddos through Deliece’s organization Braden’s Hope. The truth of the matter is…the facts of Pediatric cancer are far from awesome.
For instance, 1 in every 330 kids will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday…despite that fact less than 5% of all federal funding is dedicated to fighting Pediatric Cancer. Not to mention that 2/3rds of childhood cancer patients will have long lasting effects from their treatment.
Kim and Deliece want to change that, so do I. As a community of people who love children…we simply MUST do better.
So Kim got involved with Braden’s Hope and started working the various events this incredible organization puts on each year.
Then, the unspeakable happened. After 800 glorious days in remission, on June 1st, 2017 they received the news that Callyn had relapsed and the tumor was back. The very next day they were in Philadelphia and a radioactive plaque was placed in her eye to kill the tumor. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie. It looked like a Chipotle bowl taped on her face and Kim, Mike and Taylor (who had to stay 6 feet away from Callyn because of the radioactivity) were confined to their hotel room until the plaque could be removed. Miraculously, on July 19, 2017 they got the incredible news that Callyn was once again in remission.
Most people would complain or cry or say “why me”, but not the Stanley’s and not Kim. Kim decided that they would use their misfortune to do good for others and she and Mike put together Callyn’s Course for Hope, a charity golf tournament that would raise money for Braden’s Hope and for kids everywhere that are battling rare childhood cancers like Callyn’s.
I was fortunate enough to attend the golf tournament and to see the lengths to which she and Mike and many others went to organize an inspiring event and a good time to all who attended. Even though the day started with rain it would end with sunshine in more way than one. Between all the golfers and all the silent auction items, Kim and Mike were able to raise $51,000 for Braden’s Hope…and as Deliece said, “that’s a lot of hope!”
And indeed it was. Kim and Mike are planning the 2nd Annual Callyn’s Course for Hope next year on September 10th and are already planning to make it twice as spectacular and I for one, can’t wait to see how they pull it off.
That brings me to the cancer survivor herself and all the awesome that she spews out into the world. At the age of 5 she’d become a 2-time survivor of cancer. That in and of itself is enough to make her awesome, but according to Kim and Mike, she was also a rock star patient. Callyn never complained and was always so brave when they wheeled her back for surgery away from her parents. Now she is the smiling, beautiful and inspirational face for Callyn’s Course for Hope!
Kim turned the impossible to possible, the horrible to the hopeful and she made some delicious, kick ass lemonade with those lemons life had dealt her and her family.
While the fear of having a kid with cancer, twice…will never really fade, instead of dwelling on it, the Stanley’s are doing good for others and taking the crappy hand they were dealt and using it to inspire others that you can NEVER break the spirit of a fighter!
I’m pretty sure…that’s the definition of awesome!
The amazing graphic for Callyn’s course for Hope Golf event, made to the likeness of our little hero!
The Stanley family with Deliece Hofen and her son Braden (also a cancer survivor) at Callyn’s Course for Hope event. An incredible day for all who attended!
Kim, Taylor and Callyn right after surgery…
The cancer hero children and their family members that joined the Stanley’s at Callyn’s Course for Hope. Each hole was dedicated to a cancer hero or a cancer angel (a fighter that earned their wings). The kids loved to go out and see their picture at each hole, an incredible idea that reminded the golfers why they were there!
Callyn being the best patient, as always, smiling through it all!
Sisters and besties. This one gets me every time.
The Stanley family! Fight on my friends…I am right there with you!
If you want more information on the golf event next September go to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/callynscourseforhope/