November 28, 2013

Today I am Thankful for St. Jude #ThanksandGiving

Last week I packed a few things in a bag, kissed my little monkey goodbye and made a whirlwind trip to Memphis.  Why Memphis?  St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  You've heard of it.  You may have even donated to it before because let's be honest, it's the right thing to do.  But do you really know what they do there?  Or how they operate?

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I for one, certainly did not.  And it would be impossible to share all that I learned without writing you an epic poem.  But I'm happy to share my Cliff Notes because I guarantee you're in for a surprise.  Meeting kids who have life threatening conditions or being around those who do their best to help them is not new to me.  However, nothing could prepare me for what I saw and felt.  St. Jude is all about sick kids and not at all about sick kids at the same time.  It's about kids.  Who are exactly like your children and mine.  And parents, who just like you and me are only as happy as their saddest child.

Which is why I found myself surprised and elated as I ignored the million facts being thrown at me during part of the tour I was on and honed in on the sounds of laughter.  Real, genuine childhood laughter.

Regardless of the reason why kids arrive at St. Jude and what 
they are really there for, what they receive is love, care, 
compassion and most importantly a sense of normalcy.  

Throughout the day I spent on campus at St. Jude with a few other amazing bloggers I always found myself in the same role as the laggard with the camera.  Ten steps behind the group and taking it all in.  How a child might.  Consumed with the bright murals that change seasons as you walk down the hall.  Fixated on the red wagons that dot the hallways to roll special passengers around just like their parents might if they were taking a trip to the park and not to a day of chemo.  The little things.  Things that make kids feel better about where they are.

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Now let's talk about the BIG things.  Like money.  You can't put a price on your child's health.  And I think it's insane for an insurance company to try to.  But they do.  Which is why I couldn't believe it when I heard that

No family ever pays St. Jude for anything.

I know what you are thinking.   Impossible.  Maybe they cover medical expenses, but what about transportation, lodging, food, tutoring?  Yes, it is all taken care of.  For the whole family.  It was repeated over and over to me.  And it took about 5 times and the parent of a patient saying it until I actually believed it.  When you find out your child is sick the things that go through your mind are what is wrong?  Can you fix it?  Will they be okay?  And then the last one - how are we going to pay for this?

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I'm quite possibly one of the least religious people on the planet and all I could think was thank God that a place like this exists.  Because parents who are dealt the hand of fear, heartache and endless worry that come with having a child who is not well deserve a break.  Find me someone who disagrees with that.

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Not only does St. Jude pay for 100% of medical expenses, but they provide the transportation and food for families of kids they are serving.  Kids who are well enough to do so attend school in the hospital.   A school that looks not too different from the one your child or my child goes to except of course for its smaller size.   Which is a really important message if you think about.  It says, you WILL get better and you will want to get back to your friends and not be a grade behind.

Lodging is taken care of by some amazing facilities like Target House, which absolutely blew my mind.  Like everything target touches, it's simply awesome.  Want to feel better about pushing that red cart around and scooping up all of those irresistible extras in the home decor department?  Target House provides long term housing to families from around the world visiting St. Jude for more than 90 days and up to 3 years.  Free of charge of course. There is even international talk time donated so families with relatives far away can stay in touch, and receive the support they need.

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And St. Jude is called St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for a reason.  Because they actually do a ton of research there.  Innovative research that has helped push childhood cancer survival rates from about 20% to about 80% today.  All of the research they do and progress they make they openly share with doctors and hospitals around the world in the hopes of helping as many patients as possible.

One thing that truly struck me was hearing a few different employees at St. Jude who work on the fundraising end of things say

"If I woke up tomorrow and was unemployed because there was no 
need for my job, I would be incredibly happy."

I nearly cried when I heard that, because wouldn't that be such an amazing thing?  I really hope that sometime in our lifetime we will see a 100% cure rate.  Or that cancer will be a thing of the past.  Something there is a vaccine for that's just standard practice.  But until then, there is a LOT of work to be done.  And contrary to what you might believe (because this is what I thought) the vast majority of the donations St. Jude relies on to serve kids does not come from multi-millionaires and the uber wealthy.  It comes from people like you and me.  The average donation to St. Jude is $31.

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$31 is how much one of those plastic toys with lights and sounds costs.  They might even be more than $31.  So I'll challenge you to give one less toy to your kids this season.  Or eat one less meal out and give that $31 to St. Jude where it will absolutely benefit a child more so than a plastic toy ever could.  And if $31 is above your budget I completely understand.  You can give any amount starting at $5 here on the Thanks and Giving site easily.

Take it as a moment to teach your kids about the gift of giving.  This weekend I'm taking Kayla to the toy aisle in Target.  I'm asking her to find a toy that she loves and we'll write down the price.  Instead of buying it, I'm going to ask her to help around the house, do chores and find ways to earn that amount of money to give to a sick child to help them get better and explain how great a thing she'll be doing instead of just getting a toy.

I'd love to hear how you are showing your kids ways to give back this season.  Any interesting ways you are teaching your kids about Thanks and Giving?  Please share!

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