This blog post was submitted as an entry in the Teen Impact contest and awarded as the Grand Prize Winner.
When I was 10 years old, my friend Sydney was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sydney fought against it, but the tumor did not respond to treatment, and could not be surgically removed. The mass wrapped around her brainstem, the area of the brain that controls the vital functions of life such as breathing and blood pressure. Sydney died at the age of 11.
After her death, I felt immense grief for my friend and extreme frustration about pediatric cancer. I decided to turn these negative emotions into positive actions. When I was 11 years old, I founded the Pink Polka Dots Guild (PPD) with two friends. The guild is named after Sydney's favorite color and pattern, which represents both the memory of my friend and the guild's positive approach. My goal has been to raise enough money to find a cure for brain cancer, which is the second most common cancer in children.
Over the years, PPD has held fundraisers from lemonade stands to art expositions to golf tournaments. I have played a leading role in planning and organizing each PPD event. The very first Pink Polka Dots event, a garage sale, raised $9,000, and our most recent fundraiser, the fifth annual golf tournament, brought in over $73,000. The guild progressed faster than I ever anticipated. In five years, we have become 40 members strong, and raised almost half of a million dollars.
I've been astounded by the public recognition that the guild has earned. PPD received an award from a U.S. Senator, spoke at a TED Conference, was featured in Teen Vogue, and appeared on the Nate Berkus Show. Each of these honors has raised awareness and money for our cause.
The initiative that I have taken has truly impacted the world of cancer research. PPD has provided start-up funding for groundbreaking scientific discoveries, such as "Tumor Paint," which illuminates cancerous cells so that surgeons can remove them with unprecedented accuracy. The discovery appeared in Time Magazine, and will be reviewed by the Food & Drug Administration starting in early 2012. If approved, "Tumor Paint" will significantly increase the success rate of cancer surgeries, decreasing the necessity for further surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I am extremely proud to have helped fund the research of this life-saving technology.
Pink Polka Dots has inspired me to be an activist. My experience has taught me that with passion and dedication, it is possible to make an impact in the world. The determination that Pink Polka Dots sparked in me has carried over to all aspects of my life, making me a driven academic, a competitive debater, a scrupulous editor, and a dedicated volunteer.
As PPD's impact grows, it's hard to decide what is more gratifying -- knowing how many cancer patients' lives will improve because of my work, or imagining how proud Sydney would be of all the accomplishments Pink Polka Dots has made in her honor.
Follow Sierra Alef-Defoe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sierraalefdefoe