Tuesday, March 29, 2011

St. Baldrick's Event an Astounding Success!!!

Just to ease your minds, no I did not, in a fit of pain induced fury at the powers that be, throw myself off the nearest overpass.  I'm still here and plan to be for awhile.

So, what have I been up to, you might ask?  Well, amazingly enough, I traveled to upstate New York last weekend and attended the St. Baldrick's event in Syracuse with Justin.  What an amazing time we had!  My pain levels were low, for the first time in a year, and we were spending great, quality time with Justin's friend and his wife.  Mike and Christine lost their beautiful 3 year old daughter, Juliana, last July 5th to Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Naturally, a tragedy of this nature calls for extreme measures.  Mike had found the St. Baldrick's Foundation (www.stbaldricks.org), a fundraising group that shaves heads to raise money for research to cure childhood cancer.  He jumped on it with a vengeance, recruiting 21 people to shave their heads for the JJ's Angels team.  I am in awe of what I saw at the Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub and Restaurant in Syracuse on Sunday and the raw, overwhelming emotion that Justin and I felt at the enormous turnout (almost 500 shavees), the generosity of donations (JJ's Angels Team), and the symbolity of what we were trying to do.  Our team was the highest grossing team at the event, pulling in a whopping $23,558 (exceeding our goal of $15,000 by over $8,000!).  The event itself raised $297,529 and donations are still coming in.  Corporate donors matched individual contributions and we are still hoping to top the $300,000 goal for the event.

As most of you know, Justin had been growing his hair out for about four and a half years - almost since the time we moved to Winchester.  He never really articulated to me exactly why he was growing it, but when we were driving back on Sunday night, he did say that his hair made him feel like he was "different."  I think it set him apart from everybody else and he liked that.  But as much as his hair meant to him, Juliana meant more.  On Sunday, Justin got all of his hair chopped off in this ponytail:

It's hard to see in the picture, but there is about 14" - 16"of hair in that bag that will be shipped off to Locks of Love shortly.  Then this:

(Picture by Caurie Miner Putnam)
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think this picture is worthy of some kind of award.  What I see and feel is Juliana watching as Justin willingly gave four and a half years of hair in the hope that the money raised will insure that no child has to endure what she went through ever again.  Our eyes locked as they finished shaving his head and no words can describe what I felt as we both cried copious tears, overwhelmed with the loss of our friend's spirited child and knowing what she has done to bring people together to find a cure. Juliana has inspired love, created friendships, nudged people into generosity, and touched thousands of people who she never got to meet.  Juliana's passing is an absolute tragedy; yet it has brought out the good in so many.  There is no tradeoff here and I know that nothing eases the pain of losing a child.  But one look at Juliana's sweet face is enough to bring out the best in everyone who sees it.  We are truly a community of JJ's Angels now.

Obviously, I have no difficulty writing prolifically about anything, but I am going to let Mike's words speak for Juliana and sum up what he was trying to accomplish.  At 2:00, the event broke for speeches and here is what he said:

Today we are standing up to childhood cancer.  By shaving our heads, we are making a statement that we care less about our outward appearances and more about what lies beneath them.  Invite the stares and glares from people when they look and wonder why your hair is not there.  Hope that this sparks a conversation and then one more person might turn the light on and be made aware of the children with cancer who need help in so many ways.

I am extremely proud of my team of family and friends.  They continue to astonish me and my family with love and support.  Yes, we have raised an amazing amount of money but, more important, they have taken the step to stand up with me and try and make a difference.

JJ will never be forgotten and I will continue to do things big and small that will change and impact the lives of the children and their families affected by cancer.  My hope is others will do the same.

Personally, I also dedicated my shave to not only Juliana, but friends of JJ that are still battling cancer - Jake, Sophie, Jose, Nick, and Madison.

(Mike LaMonica)

For myself, the most emotional moment of the entire event is summed up in the enormous love and friendship that has grown between my husband and his friend, Mike as shown in this picture immediately after they got their heads shaved:

That's Juliana's older brother, Andrew, bottom right, by the way.  Even Andrew is standing up to cancer by shaving his head with his dad.

The friendship that is growing between our two families knows no limits and no boundaries.  If it wasn't for Juliana, the relationship might have been simply a working one between Justin and Mike.  Now, it is a bond that no one can break and we are so incredibly grateful to have Mike, Christine, Andrew, and Daniel in our lives.  And, of course, Juliana, who will never be forgotten. 

If you are so inclined, you can still donate to our event by going to the link above.  Or you can simply donate to St. Baldrick's to help the work that they are doing to end the stain that childhood cancer is leaving on innocent families everywhere.  Please, in memory of Juliana and all of the other children who have lost their battle or are still fighting...if you can't donate, say a prayer for their families and remember these children who so bravely fight the monster called cancer.  And an extremely heartfelt thank you to all of you who donated to our cause.

Juliana - Christmas 2008

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