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Episode 8: Rhonda’s Kiss, a Mother’s Legacy

We never know when life is going to change in an instant. Kyle Stefanski is one of five children who grew up with a big happy family in Cleveland, Ohio. Kyle’s mom Rhonda was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014 and passed away eight short weeks later. Their family was devastated but knew that their mom, Rhonda would want them to do something positive for others. The result and legacy is a nonprofit called, Rhonda’s Kiss. a nonprofit organization that supports cancer patients with the non-medical expenses that come with cancer.

Families experience loss all the time but not all families take their grief and turn it into something positive for others. I am excited to share the story behind Rhonda’s Kiss and more than that, the beautiful legacy that this mother has left her children and all those they serve through their incredible organization. Join me for an inspiring conversation with Rhonda’s son, Kyle Stefanski about his and his family’s work in creating this beautiful legacy in honor of their mom.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

(Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Rhonda’s Kiss)

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Rhonda’s Kiss does?

Kyle Stefanski: Rhonda’s Kiss raises money for the non-medical expenses tied to cancer.  It’s covering expenses like keeping your lights on, food in your fridge, wigs, childcare, rent, mortgage, and rides to and from the hospital. You see a lot of cancer patients either not going to the hospital because they can’t afford the ride, or stuck at the hospital for hours after their meeting with their doctor.  It’s just all these hidden costs that people don’t even think about because they’re just focused on cancer. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you all knew you needed to act and start  Rhonda’s Kiss?

Kyle Stefanski: So I think it really came about when the family came together maybe a month or two after my mom passed. We were trying to figure out what happened and trying to say that we needed to turn this into something. So we sat down and said there’s so much money going into cancer. Why not put some money into something that we can actually tangibly feel is affecting people? Once funds are donated, the money goes to that partner hospital, and the social workers immediately start executing grants right away to help these cancer patients.

Charity Matters: This is hard work, running a nonprofit, what fuels you when the days are long and the work is hard?

Kyle Stefanski: How do I keep going? That hospital floor, where my mom passed, at the Cleveland Clinic, has stuck with me so, so deeply, I will never forget that feeling. When I walked away from her after she had taken her last breath, and I  just walked by myself through the hallway. I just felt the energies of each room and wanted to remember every piece of it.  So that’s a huge piece for me to always, always, always remember. 

You don’t have to have it emotionally bring you down, but it will never leave. And so I go to bed, it’s a thought of mine. When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thought of mine. That is something that I live with, and everything else circles around that.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Kyle Stefanski: In only five years we’ve been able to donate over $1.5 million through all of our partner hospitals.  The Cleveland Clinic, Cedar Sinai, and the City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic Florida, and we are coming to New York City this spring. When we started the Cleveland Clinic had only three social workers in their cancer department working with patients. Just three workers. Since we’ve started this program that has grown to 28 social workers and that is just one of our hospitals.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kyle Stefanski: Well, this process has taken me on such a spiritual path as well. A lot of it has been opening my eyes because we live in this very capitalistic society. And that’s a big reason why we don’t see the people in front of us and we don’t connect.  There is no human condition to really feel because we’re moving so fast and worried about ourselves. And so when you feel that gratitude, our spiritual side of how we’re supposed to be there for others. You realize we’re all in this together.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Without words

without words

I have to say that in almost four years of blogging, I have rarely been at a loss for words. I sat down to write the other day and there just wasn’t anything there. I mentioned this challenge at our family dinner table and my sons said, “You don’t have to write Mom, its ok if you take one day off.” A thought that truly had never occurred to me.

I had resigned myself to the fact that with two graduations next week and a very full plate at work, I would take today off.  However, the universe had different plans, no sooner had I made that decision, when a friend sent me this video…which of course I needed to share with you.

Tired or not, seeing compassion in action, simply never gets old. It is moments like these that inspire me to do more, give more and use my time showing the world that it is actions not words, that really matter.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2015 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally

If only for a moment

mimi foundationBeing carefree, something all of us remember in our youth and sadly long for, when our life’s responsibilities get in the way. A new video, from cancer survivor and founder of the Mimi Foundation, Myrian Ullens de Schooten, offers this gift of spontaneity to cancer patients. Myrian founded the Mimi Foundation, “Because of this experience my conviction has grown that cancer must be fought not only on the medical front, but on all fronts. Using this principle I want to ensure that all those who have to face this disease receive support, help and comfort.” This project accomplishes just that.

Just that moment of joy, silliness, freedom and the unpredictable. The video is in French with sub-titles, but the language of joy is universal. Take a moment and treat yourself to a small slice.

 

 

It simply doesn’t matter what language you speak or what you look like when you are suffering from cancer. What matters is the smiles, the fun, the joy and the moment that each of these people gave to another.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2014 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

A mother’s legacy of Hope

inheritance of hopeThe other day I received the sad news that a high school class mate of mine had died from cancer at the age of 47. She had battled the disease for almost half of her life. Stephanie, was an only child and a single mother. Upon reflection of her life, I began to wonder what the journey was really like for her and her beautiful daughter.

That lead me to uncover a fact that there are over 700,000 children each year who deal with a parent that has life-threatening cancer. In this discovery, I came across a remarkable woman named Kristen Milligan, who walked a similar path to my friend, as a parent who was ill, and looking for ways to help her family.

In 2003, when Kristen was diagnosed with a rare terminal illness her children were only four, two and seven months.  She wanted to find a great book that helped explain her illness, when she couldn’t find it, she wrote her own.The book was called  A Train’s Rust, A Toy Maker’s Love, the story of a train family whose mother begins to rust, prompting questions of the toy maker about what will happen next. Kristen and her husband Deric, then expanded their mission to help other families dealing with serious illness and in May 2007 began the non-profit Inheritance of Hope.

Their mission was to improve the well-being in the lives of children and families, dealing with a parent diagnosed with a life threatening illness.  They achieved that goal by providing books, family retreats and support that was spiritual, emotional and financial. The Milligans believed that the more the family is helped, the more it helps the ill parent.

Kristen endured her disease for nearly ten years, including six surgeries, twenty-two months of chemotherapy, two rounds of radiation, and two more books. She died on October 26, 2012 and her legacy of hope lives on in every life she continues to touch.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2013 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Big moments in small packages

jeffrey, loyolaThere are so many ways our lives touch others. It seems that the big moments that touch us often come from the littlest people. Last friday night my son’s football team had their first scrimmage. Lined up in crisp new uniforms were 86 big varsity high school football players and in the front of team stood a 9-year-old boy. The 9-year-old is our new team captain. His name is Jeffrey and he is teaching our football team about courage, toughness, perseverance, dedication and overcoming adversity.

Jeffrey knows about these traits because he has cancer.  Less than two years ago, he was a typical 8-year-old boy who loved playing baseball and flag football and then everything changed. Jeffrey was diagnosed with DSRCT (Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor), an extremely rare and aggressive cancer.  In just over a year he has completed about a dozen rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries, numerous procedures and five weeks of radiation therapy.

In honor of our mighty new captain, the team will wear Jeffrey’s initials on their helmets this season in honor of his courage and tenacity, as well as to bring much-needed attention to the lack of funding for pediatric cancer research.  Jeffrey  received the signed game ball and his very own football jersey with the number 11, that represents the date of his diagnosis, 11/11/11.

This little package has already showed our sons how to be strong, courageous, and to face adversity with a smile and can do attitude. Jeffery’s family has a web-site and the quote on the site reads, “Let your dreams be bigger than your fears, your actions louder than your words, and your faith stronger than your feelings.”

We have yet to play our first game but it is already a winning season.

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2013 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.