When I was in Kindergarten, my friend Aly, who sat on top of the monkey bars everyday at recess, passed away from Leukemia. How could there be a sicknesses that didn’t go away with a few meds, watching my favorite show, and hugs from a mom? What a confusing and unfair world. I remember sitting at her funeral with my friend Hannah and not understanding all of the sadness going on around me. In my 7 year old mind, I just did not understand why she would not be able to sit on the monkey bars with me during recess anymore.
Her loss stayed with me, so I decided to volunteer at The Ronald McDonald House at Texas Children’s with my mother to help give back to those impacted by this horrible disease. During one of my regular volunteer shifts on the oncology inpatient floor, I picked up a census from the front desk and my world was immediately shaken. My friend and teammate, Gabby, had just been admitted. I remember walking back to the family room in a state of complete shock. I made eye contact with my mother as tears started rolling down my face. How could this be happening? Again, it just did not make sense and was not fair. This is Gabby, my teammate who was supposed to be joining our team in a tournament that weekend. As I stepped out of the family room, Gabby and her parents were walking down the hallway to their new room. I stood there in complete shock and totally silent, fighting back tears. Gabby’s face had zero emotion. She was in complete shock and I will never forget the look on her parents faces. How could this be happening? I gave them both a huge hug while muttering, “I’m so sorry,” as tears poured down my face.
My natural instinct in a crisis is to go into “fix it” mode. How devastating to know I couldn’t “fix” this for her! That is my biggest struggle. I absolutely had to do something, so I decided to design a shirt the day after Gabby was diagnosed that said “Team Gabby” on one side and “STAY STRONG” on the back. My mom helped me purchase around 100 to give to Gabby’s family and friends who had been gathering at the hospital to show support. It was this single decision throughout this whole experience that paved the way for me to realize how one small thing can make a huge impact. That initial 100 quickly grew to over 2,000 shirts that covered Gabby’s high school and community. When Gabby passed away, she had made such and impact that she filled both a church and gym with standing room only to hear her service. It was Gabby who inspired the community by her perseverance and faith and the shirts only helped make that impact visible to the entire community. Some of Gabby’s final words and her message to those she left behind was, “To Be A Beast.” This phrase has stuck with me and inspired me throughout all of the wonderful struggles that come with starting a non-profit. To me, “Be a beast” means never give up when things don’t go your way and to fight through them like hell. Gabby lived these words. The day after she was diagnosed, she went into a ten hour surgery that left a scar that wrapped around her abdomen. Within around 10 days, she was back in the batting cages doing what she loved most. This is how I aim to live my life.
These two losses inspired me to start ColorCancer. In the beginning it was just a concept, but I knew I had to do whatever I could to make a positive impact in the lives of those facing cancer. As I began the process of launching ColorCancer, I again had my world turned upside down. Ruel, my friend and teammate, had just found out he had aggressive Stomach Cancer. Life isn’t fair! The earliest days of ColorCancer involved him laying on my couch and giving me his opinions on what I should do with the organization. The room was always filled with a lot of laughs whenever he was around. I’m still in shock to this day that he is no longer with us. He would always joke that he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad and married to a rich wife. If he were still here I’m sure I would be watching this scenario happen in real life as engagement and baby announcements flood my newsfeed. But it’s not. All I have are small reminders from Facebook that suggest inviting him to an event I’m creating, and each time the reality sets in again that he is no longer with us.
I’m not sure how to wrap this up into a nice little blog, but these are all the reasons that I push forward with all that I have to make ColorCancer a success. I would never tell anyone that starting an organization is easy. It is incredibly hard work. Each day is either the worst or best and you will feel like a complete failure at times. You will second guess each and every decision you make. You will read into each and every reaction you get from new people that hear about your organization. It will keep you up at night. But it is all worth it. I would have never predicted that ColorCancer would be where it is today. We are making a HUGE difference in the lives on individuals with cancer and it’s only the beginning. I will continue to persevere and “Be A Beast” until I know ColorCancer will continue providing free at-home care supplies to cancer patients as long as there is a need.