Gaylon Hayden remembers exactly when her doctor told her that she had breast cancer.
“It was Christmas Eve 2007 at ten after four in the afternoon,” she says. “I was 51 years old and I wasn’t sure that I was going to live to see another Christmas.”
But, true to Gaylon’s spirit, it was not her doctor informing her that she had cancer that affected her the most. It was something that he said much later, as she was enduring surgeries and side effects—all that threatened her life.
“I remember my oncologist at Vanderbilt told me that when a child gets cancer, it hits them ten times more aggressively than an adult,” she says.
“That stuck with me. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a kid out there going through this, too.’”
“I thought, ‘How horrible that must be, because this is really rough.’”
After years of fighting for her life, with her body and spirit both healed, Gaylon still couldn’t shake the feeling she’d had during that conversation with her doctor.
“It started with me praying and asking God, ‘What can I do for these children?’”
She felt that if she could talk with children who were diagnosed with cancer directly, she’d most like to give them hope that they, like her, could live to see another Christmas.
The children’s book that came out of that conversation, It’s Christmas Again, is a first-person tale that is designed to deliver that message of hope, not only to children diagnosed with cancer, but to their whole family.
When the book was published, Gaylon had another idea for the proceeds it earned.
“I didn’t want any royalty money for the book,” she recalls.
“I took a couple of friends and started a nonprofit called Book for Hope.”
Initially, Book for Hope had one goal—to help solve a problem that Gaylon deemed unacceptable.
“Childhood cancer research receives only four percent funding from the federal government,” she says.
“Cancer research for adult cancers receives the remaining 96 percent. That’s a major difference.”
In addition to the proceeds from book sales, Gaylon and the founding members started fundraising to earn more that they could donate to research for childhood cancers.
As those fundraisers grew, Gaylon and her team met more and more families in the area who are affected by childhood cancer and discovered a need that runs parallel to the need for more research.
They saw families struggling to pay bills while they helped their children cope with cancer treatments. They saw moms who had no reliable transportation to and from long-distance cancer hospitals. They saw families whose bank accounts were so bled dry from cancer battles that they needed help to lay their child to rest at the end. And they simply could not let those needs go umet.
They began using money from their own pockets, giving money for hotel stays and rides to Nashville, Louisville and St. Louis and even paying for the cost of a funeral service.
“In 2017, we finally said, ‘We have got to find a real way to help these families’.”
So, Book for Hope began meeting the many needs of childhood cancer. Still devoting 50 percent of their funds each year to cancer research, the team now directs half to help provide hope to families coping with a cancer diagnosis for their child.
In some ways, that hope is provided monetarily. Families who are connected with Book for Hope, either through Gaylon, a board member or a hospital social worker, are initially given a Book for Hope Emergency Envelope, which contains a pre-paid Visa card, a gas card and a restaurant gift card. Then, for the duration of their child’s illness, they are allowed, each month, to apply for assistance with a need.
“They are able to select what bill we can pay for them each month,” Gaylon says. “We pay electric bills, mortgages, car payments—whatever they need the most.”
It may seem like a small way to help, but for families like the Sielbeck family, that small help goes a long way toward their peace of mind as their seven-year-old daughter, Katherine, heals.
When Katherine was diagnosed with the only documented case of her type of cancer in the world, her parents had a tough choice to make.
“People don’t realize that when your child gets sick, especially with cancer, there’s really no other choice but one parent has to quit their job,” Tara says.
“We were making weekly trips to St. Louis for months.”
“Just now we’ve gotten the okay to come every two weeks.”
It was not only the travel that Katherine’s treatment required. After a risky 9-hour surgery to remove part of her spinal tumor in 2018, Katherine needed full-time care as she recovered.
“She had to learn how to walk and balance again and I needed to be with her for that,” Tara says.
But, perhaps even greater than the financial support, Tara believes, is the emotional support that she and her family receives from Gaylon and the Book for Hope team.
“I can’t say enough things about how great Book for Hope is, especially Gaylon,” Tara says.
“She is such an encouragement, just in everything she does.”
“She’ll drop everything to stop and talk to me.”
“She truly has a heart for these kids.”
Tara may consider Gaylon and Book for Hope a blessing to her, but Gaylon feels differently. She believes she is the one on the receiving end of that blessing.
“You have no idea what these children mean to me,” she says.
It’s why, when she hears the shocking statistics associated with childhood cancer, she is taken back to the feeling she had with her oncologist. And her drive to help intensifies.
“We are so far behind,” she says.
“In the last 35 years, there have been only four FDA–approved treatments for childhood cancer.”
“Forty-three children are diagnosed with cancer each day in U.S.— one in eight of them won’t survive.”
“Last year there were nearly 16,000 new cases of childhood cancer.”
“Childhood cancer is the number one disease related death for children.”
“That is why we walk. That’s why we fundraise.”
“That’s why we do what we do.”
Book for Hope’s signature fundraising event, the 4th Annual Just Imagine Childhood Cancer Walk will be held this year on September 7 at 8:00 a.m. at Bob Noble Park. If you want to join Book for Hope in “imagining a day without childhood cancer” and raising funds for families who are suffering and for research, please visit www.bookforhope.org or Book for Hope on Facebook.
In addition to their annual September walk, Book for Hope hosts numerous fundraisers throughout the year.
Follow them online or on Facebook to learn more about how your donation of time or money can help bring hope to families and children fighting childhood cancer.
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