When I learned that I was chosen as one of ten honorees for the L'Oréal Paris 2014 Women of Worth award, I was immediately overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to represent my cause. But, in my mind, I am not a woman of worth as much as I am a part of a powerful community of worth. My story as a "woman of worth" begins and ends with hundreds of other women of worth. My role, every step of the way, has been to be open to learning from, collaborating with and building a community through women who have embraced the fight against childhood cancers and said, "I know I can help."
Three months after my then four-year-old son Max was diagnosed with brain cancer, and with the support of a number of extraordinary women, the MaxLove Project (MLP) began. We started with a partnership with the Cloud b company, maker of beautiful plush sleep toys that project stars on to the ceiling. When I asked if we could purchase several Twilight Turtles to give to Max's friends in the hospital for cancer treatment, their visionary founder, Linda, agreed and filled our garage with them, free of cost.
Another essential step for Max, and the mission of MaxLove Project, was our connection with an extraordinary healer, Ruth McCarty. We are fortunate to be at CHOC Children's Hospital, which supports inpatient Traditional Chinese Medicine, overseen by Ruth. After seeing Max's response to Ruth's treatments, we began to ask why all families fighting cancer don't have access to this. As we built our nationwide network and community, we witnessed overwhelming inequities. The odds disproportionally affect children of disadvantaged populations. With disproportionate access to whole-body wellness, therapeutics meant to heal, the odds are stacked high against our kids. Not just the odds that diseases and treatments present, but the additional challenges in access to the non-toxic complementary therapeutics that help our kids stay strong in the fight. Inspired by Ruth's work at our hospital, we decided that MLP had to have as its central mission the goal to support families fighting childhood cancers with integrative treatments like acupuncture and also evidence-based nutrition, healthy sleep, physical activity, and stress management. Thankfully, a community of amazing women agreed that we could do something about this and took up the charge by my side.
Through the work of Ruth, Max's oncologist, Dr. Shen, and so many of their amazing colleagues at the hospital, we dove head first into creating programs that could help families across the country and the world. Today, inspired by a number of incredible women -- chefs, dietitians, and doctors -- who have offered their time and expertise, we offer cooking classes, fund private individualized nutritional consultations for families, send out "Fierce Foods Kits" filled with educational materials and healthy, kid-friendly products and fund an online support group for parents monitored by a wonderful professional anticancer dietitian. We also fund essential research on nutrition and cancer through the St. Baldrick's Foundation, the largest non-governmental funder of childhood cancer research in the U.S. But, we could not have achieved a fraction of what we have without the women of worth who've supported us.
There are dozens of game-changing women I should name who have pushed, pulled, propped up, protected and supported MLP and the work we've done: Diana, Erin, Gina, Maggie, Adrianne, Dr. Shen, Julene, Tina, Blakely, Miriam, Tiffani, Kerri, Beecher, Robin, Kathi, Paula, Ashly, Bridget, Melissa, Jackie, Jamie, Cheri, Lu, Heather, Christy... These women have shown me that behind every woman of worth is a community of hope.
All of these women are powerful game-changers and, for me, no women are more inspiring, or have had a bigger impact on MLP, than the mothers of children who have fought and are fighting cancer. Their grace and strength set a standard that I try to meet through my work at MLP. The incredible community of cancer "Mommas" and "Momcologists" inspire my work day-in and day-out and, without this community of worth, our personal journey fighting cancer would have been even more difficult. Through them I have learned that there are tremendous gifts embedded in every struggle.
Two of these special women of worth, to whom I want to call special attention, are Kristine Wetzel of the McKenna Claire Foundation and Cindy Campbell of the Ty Louis Campbell Foundations. Both are moms of extraordinary children whose lives were stolen by aggressive and lethal pediatric brain cancers. Both started nonprofit organizations that fund research in cutting-edge brain cancer treatment. Both invest in hope through their own pain. Rather than "moving on," whatever that means, they have decided to embrace the childhood cancer community and work to ensure a future in which no family will have to endure what they have. Together, we are all essential pieces of a much larger puzzle of hope. Together, we are forging new paths and making tremendous breakthroughs for our kids. We are intent on taking this overwhelmingly painful challenge and making it into something that helps others, something that matters and makes a difference.
We won't let cancer just take and take and take, so we give. United, women of worth are building a community of hope. We will overcome these overwhelming odds, because our kids are worth it.
This post was brought to you by L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth, an initiative started in 2005 that honors 10 amazing volunteers combatting disease, poverty, sex trafficking and addiction with $10,000 grants each year. Go to WomenofWorth.com to read their stories.