Bringing a Little Hope and Happiness to Kids with Cancer Through The Magic Yarn Project

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I’m excited to share a spotlight post on The Magic Yarn Project, an amazing organization that is bringing more than just wigs to pediatric cancer patients.


Welcome our guest blogger, Holly Christensen.

I have often witnessed the scary and painful world of cancer as an oncology nurse, friend, and family member. I’ve always held my cancer patients very close to my heart. In 2014 upon learning that a friend’s daughter had been diagnosed with cancer and would likely be in the hospital for a while, I began to think of what I could do to help bring some magic and light to this little girl’s life during the trying days that I knew were ahead for her.

Knowing how difficult it would be for her to lose her beautiful blonde curls, I had the idea to make her a Rapunzel yarn wig built on a soft crocheted beanie.  My experience in cancer has taught me that chemotherapy often leaves skin too sensitive and tender to tolerate traditional wigs, so this seemed like a whimsical and practical alternative to wearing beanies or scarves.  I made her the wig and sent it on its way.

She was overcome with joy.

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My friend remarked at how many other little girls in that hospital would love to have such a special gift as it had such an impact on her daughter’s demeanor and happiness during her treatments.

I began to organize what I thought would be a small project creating a few dozen wigs to send to little cancer patients and put up a request on Facebook for yarn donations. Within hours, I was flooded with responses from around the world—mothers who wanted these wigs for their little girls who have cancer, complete strangers who wanted to help by donating money to buy yarn, professionals reaching out and requesting wigs for their hospitals.  In mid November, GoFundMe featured our project on their blog and our story quickly went viral and was covered by over 100 internet media sources, magazines, and local news and national news stations.

What started as a small project, has snowballed into something much bigger than I ever expected. Along with co-founder Bree Hitchcock, we have been overwhelmed with the donations and desire to help that has come from all over the world.

The Magic Yarn Project was created to answer the call to bring yarn wigs to little cancer fighters all over the world and to help community members get involved in the Magic Yarn Project.

Since we first began a year ago, we have made and shipped off just over 1,000 wigs to children in 20 countries.

These beautiful wigs are free of charge to families, please click here to send in a request. If you are interested in donating or getting involved with The Magic Yarn Project, learn more at their website, TheMagicYarnProject.com and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram , Pinterest, and YouTube.

hollybree-768x1096Thank you to the founders, Holly Christensen and Bree Hitchcock for touching the lives of so many families across the globe.

 

Empowering Hospitalized Adolescents: Spotlight on Wish Upon a Teen

Wish Upon a Teen

As a former Child Life Specialist, I had been aware for quite some time that adolescents were a forgotten population in the medical world. I constantly had to tell my teenage patients bad news about everything from diagnosis, to missing homecoming games, to having to share rooms in a packed hospital with a sick two-year-old that never stops crying.

According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, roughly 70,000 young adults between the ages of 15-39 years old are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. Even though the medical community continues to make great strides in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, it still remains the number one killer, when it comes to diseases, of children and teenagers in the United States—more than Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Asthma and AIDS combined.

You would think with numbers like that, hospitals around the country would know how to treat teenagers and understand how the needs of teenagers are different from those of children or adults. That they’d understand that being a teenager is difficult in general, and then getting a diagnosis of a severe illness like cancer on top of it can make things seemingly impossible. Going through puberty, navigating junior high or high school, formulating plans for the weekend (not to mention for college), and now to add in surgery, chemotherapy, hospital stays, meds, and being sick all the time can really rattle the strongest of people. The sad truth is that most hospitals do not understand what teens need or want.

While working as a Child Life Specialist, I frequently had to tell the teen patients that, in addition to going through difficult procedures, we also had no programs or resources for them. The hospital rooms weren’t any better, there never seemed to be that opportune moment to ask the 16-year-old if he or she would rather have a Winnie-the-Pooh-themed room for her 9-week stay or if Mickey and Minnie were sufficient. On one especially bad day at work, when I had seen enough disappointment, I made a promise to myself, I would find a way to provide the programming and resources that these teenagers needed and longed for.

Wish Upon a Teen Collage

Fast forward to 2011; I was preparing for my first ever Spa Day event at a skin care clinic in Los Angeles. I had achieved my goal, Wish Upon a Teen, the non-profit I had started to help teenagers who were living with severe terminal or life-limiting medical conditions, was up and running. It was my mission to provide programming to normalize their environment to the teenagers that the community was not. My objective for Spa Day was to do more for the girls than just give them a day of pampering. The goal was to bring together a group of girls who were all in treatment for severe life-limiting or terminal illnesses. Many of them were dealing with serious stages of cancer, or awaiting organ transplants. To provide them a safe space where they could hang out, talk, and offer each other support. These girls, due to their medical conditions, were not able to engage in traditional ‘teenage girl’ activities, like hanging out at the mall or going to a friend’s house. With over 15 Spa Day Programs completed in the past four and a half years, we have added several other programs to provide to the adolescent community. This past fall we took our spa days national by launching our Glam Teen Tour, which will bring spa days to teens around the country.

Our Design My Room ™ program went national this year and we are thrilled to offer it in over 47 hospitals across the country. Design My Room ™ is a hospital room-decorating program for teenagers undergoing long-term hospitalizations (two weeks or longer).  Most of our teens are in the hospital 6 weeks or longer which makes this program vital to the adolescents we serve. Design My Room ™ gives the teen the ability to take back some of the control that they have lost while hospitalized which will give a domino type of effect by aiding in a more positive outlook, which can then help recovery time and the need for lower pain meds. It’s such a fun program to put together as we follow the teen’s lead with the theme that they choose. They get new bedding, instead of those scratchy hospital sheets and blankets. We put fun wall decals up in their room. They get cozy blankets and pillows to cuddle. Picture frames, rugs, lamps and anything else to bring the element of home to their hospital room.

Design My Room Collage

I am so excited to see where the year will take us and our teens and families we serve. It’s been such a fun ride so far! If you or someone you know is either interested in the programs we provide or becoming a sponsor or donor, please email us at info@wishuponateen.org.

Learn more about us at WishUponATeen.org and be sure to follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Michelle Soto

President/Founder

Wish Upon a Teen

261 E. Maple Rd

Birmingham, MI 48009

248-792-2938 office

631-356-4066 cell

 

 

 

 

Giving Back: Spotlight on Sara’s Smiles Foundation

Last spring I had the opportunity to meet Jen Burke, the founder of Sara’s Smiles Foundation at the CLC Conference. She was full of positive energy and compassion to help children fighting and surviving cancer.

 

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Sara’s Smiles Foundation, a designated 501(c)(3) organization, was created by the family of 5 year-old Sara Burke to carry on her memory, spirit, and legacy of hope, determination, and cheer. Sara was a vibrant, energetic, little girl who loved arts and crafts, mac and cheese, music, her Big Wheel, and her big brother and big sister.

Upon being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, Sara and her mother lived at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for seven months. During that time, Sara underwent multiple surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, stem cell transplants, and therapies of all sorts. Despite her difficult, adverse circumstances Sara battled her disease with fierce determination and an unwavering positive attitude, living every moment to the fullest. Although physically isolated, she was able to harness the power of love from her family, friends, and community. This energy filled her heart, brightened her outlook, and strengthened her resolve to fight.

Tragically, on May 12, 2008, Sara lost her courageous battle with cancer. The many, many happy memories that Sara experienced in the hospital are the primary inspiration behind Sara’s Smiles. Our mission is to extend a loving hand in helping to create a warmer, more personal, more empowered experience for children who are struggling with cancer by providing a variety of resources to entertain, comfort, and educate. The three major facets of Sara’s Smiles are our website, Inspiration Kits, and Inspiration Stations. All three are designed to encourage a more positive experience for children and their families.

Our Website:

Our website, www.saras-smiles.org, is designed for both the child diagnosed with cancer as well as his/her family and friends. The website provides information about our Inspiration Kits, Inspiration Stations, and many valuable resources. A comprehensive, user-friendly list of organizations that support and advocate for kids with cancer as well as websites and apps for games, arts and crafts, stress management, and pain relief are also featured on our site.

Our Inspiration Kits:
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Sara’s Smiles Inspiration Kits help cultivate a more positive environment and frame of mind for children who are fighting and surviving cancer. Each Inspiration Kit is designed to be durable, portable, practical, and fun. Our kits contain a sampling of the resources found on our website- items that can help families stay organized, connect with others, and explore creative ways to encourage smiles. Whether in the hospital or at home, we believe that engaging children not only brightens their spirits, but empowers them as well. Sara’s Smiles donates Inspiration Kits to pediatric cancer patients in the many hospitals with whom we are partnered and also upon request free of charge. Kits can be ordered by phone or our website.

Our Inspiration Stations:

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Sara’s Smiles Inspiration Stations are where clouds are lifted and joy is inspired via the creation of bright, beautiful, Inspiration Cards. Inspiration Stations are easy to set up and can be hosted by anyone, anywhere such as at schools, parties, shopping centers, etc. Volunteers hosting Inspiration Stations encourage people to share colorful, uplifting, and positive words, phrases, quotes, and pictures on cloud-shaped Inspiration Cards. The cards, crammed with positive “graffiti,” offer an extra measure of love and support to the patients and families who receive them. The Inspiration Cards can also be used to add a spot of color to the walls of a child’s room. They act as a constant reminder of the strength that lies within each child and the unbroken, loving connection to a community that cares about them. Inspiration Cards are included in our kits. They can also be delivered as a surprise package of love and cheer to a child diagnosed with cancer by family and/or friends. More information on how to host an Inspiration Station or to request the delivery of Inspiration Cards can be found on our website, www.saras-smiles.org.

Click here to learn more about Sara’s Smiles Foundation and how you can get involved or make a donation. Be sure to follow their page on Facebook too.