I don’t deal well with the prospect of death. Especially the untimely death of a child.
I avoid funerals, have yet to come to terms with the thought of even my own mortality, and I certainly can’t sit through one of those gut-wrenching commercials raising donations for suffering children in the amount equivalent to the price of a cup of coffee a day.
But I wanted to take a minute to tell you guys about the event, the initiative, and the courageous young pediatric cancer survivor that recently changed my perspective forever.
This past Friday, I was invited to attend the “Hyundai Hope On Wheels Celebration Of Life Dinner,” at the Hyatt Regency, San Francisco, to participate in the awarding of a $250,000 pediatric cancer research grant to the University of California, San Francisco and to kick off September as “National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month”. I didn’t know how I’d get through the images of ill children and what I thought would be the inevitable telling of relentlessly heartbreaking tales of the loss of loved ones.
As the father of two young kids and an organizer for San Francisco Dads Group, I understood why I’d gotten the invite, and why my voice was needed to help amplify awareness of the fine work that Hyundai Hope On Wheels® is doing to help end childhood cancer, but my knees were shaking as I scooted them beneath the ballroom table, anxiously wiped my palms along my slacks, glanced uneasily around the room, and buried my head in the Hyundai Hope On Wheels® handout that accompanied my place setting.
“Every 36 minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer,” it began.
“Sadly, 1 in 5 children won’t survive the disease.”
There was an intro video, as the lights dimmed – “Hope on Wheels tells the whole story of pediatric cancer. Even the stories of loss…” my heart sank as images of children lost to terminal illness scrolled across the screen in front of my tear-soaked eyes.
I thought surely I would need to leave but then the mood abruptly brightened – a glimmer of hope, you might say.
“The Children Give Us All Hope
Each day, 43 families in the United States find out that their child has cancer. Cancer’s impact on children can be devastating, but there is reason for hope. Now, thankfully more than 80% of children with cancer survive. And, with our support, member institutions of the Children’s Oncology Groups of America are working toward the day when no child ever dies from pediatric cancer. Children deserve to grow, learn and play in a world free of this disease. These are their stories of hope.”
Little did I know, I was seated at the table of one of the evening’s young guests of honor, 16 year old cancer survivor Nick Norcia, and I joined his lovely family in applause when the house lights turned toward us and he stood to take the stage.
— Mike Heenan (@AHDMatters) September 2, 2017
Nick is an unassuming young man; reminds me of any number of early high school friends. A sincere, ear-to-ear grin and enviable posture hid well any hint of nervousness. In fact, up there on stage, telling the entire room his personal story of diagnoses, over 30 blood transfusions during his years-long battle with leukemia, his recent “return to life” and cancer-free designation, his presence exuded nothing but poise. Bravery. Hope.
The room was long on applause and around it I could see the glowing faces of other, younger, pediatric cancer patients that would later be dipping their hands in paint and making handprints to commemorate their ordeal and their hope for the future – all, moved and inspired by the older, post-survivor version of themselves they could see in Nick.
I talked a lot with Nick and his mother during dinner. Well, listened mostly, to his story of sacrifice during several of his more formative years, forgoing girlfriends, vacations, and routine hanging out with the guys and I can’t say enough about what a source of inspiration this young man is and how proud of him we all felt, vicariously through his family.
Nick is a true advocate, despite the sobering fact that he needs to be 5 years cancer-free before he can even consider adopting the roll in earnest. We’re all rooting for you Nick. These children need you and the Hyundai Hope On Wheels® initiative!
Hyundai Hope On Wheels® is a nonprofit supported by Hyundai Motor America and its more than 830 dealers. Beginning this month, “Hope On Wheels will travel the country visiting children’s hospitals to present research grants and to honor the brave children battling cancer. As part of these visits, Hope On Wheels® will host its signature Handprint Ceremony. During each ceremony, local children battling cancer will dip their hands in paint and place their handprints on a white 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe. Their colorful handprints on the official Hope Vehicle represent their individual and collective journeys, hopes and dreams.”
This year, Hyundai Hope On Wheels® surpasses $130 million in lifetime funding to pediatric cancer research in the United States.
It was an absolute honor to meet Zafar Brooks, Director of General Affairs of Hyundai Motor America, the doctors and grant recipients, and the many children that came out to celebrate life and champion their personal battles. But, it was truly young Nick Norcia that effected honest change, somewhere deep inside of me. I thank you, Nick, for teaching me that the effort for pediatric cancer research isn’t about a personal fear of death or an aversion to thinking about it’s untimely arrival in the lives of the children we love, but instead it’s a challenge to step up and a bonafide beacon of hope for so, so many.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post but the opinions herein are solely my own.