Several days a month, Brynna Allen can be found pushing her baby dolls through the ASK Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
Katie Barber, ASK Child Life Specialist, knows the name of every baby doll, and can tell if they’re happy or grumpy that day. That’s because Katie has been with Brynna and her family since she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age two, and she touches every family that is treated at the clinic.
“Brynna’s diagnosis was so dire that we were told she may not survive through the night she was diagnosed,” remembers Brynna’s mom, Karen. “We couldn’t know what was ahead of us, but the staff of ASK did, and they’ve been with us every step of the way. Nothing phases Katie, and she’s always there with a smile and an idea to help us through the next phase of treatment.”
From diagnosis to adult survivorship, ASK provides programs and services to help make life better for pediatric cancer patients and their families, including financial assistance.
"It’s never easy to ask for financial assistance, but when we learned about this portion of ASK’s services, they made it so easy for us. For instance, when a portion of our roof needed to be replaced, they not only provided financial assistance, but also gave us recommendations for companies that they have worked with. There was no stress for us, just deep gratitude,” says Karen.
Brynna and her brothers look forward to the ASK events and parties. “The first year of diagnosis and treatment were very aggressive and hard. We couldn’t attend many of the functions, but now we look forward to attending events as a family. This year we’re really looking forward to the Mommy & Me Spa Day in March! I also love that ASK includes Brynna’s brothers in so many events, like the Candy Land party, family picnic, annual Holiday Party, and so much more. It means the world to us that the siblings of these amazing kids, are taken care of and included as well.”
Karen is grateful for the impact ASK makes on her family every day. “ASK provides a tremendous amount of services for pediatric cancer patients, newborn through young adult. Everyone gets the same amazing and supportive care that is above and beyond what we even know we need. Before Brynna’s diagnosis, I’d never heard of the ASK. Now, I can’t imagine going through this without the clinical and administrative staff of the ASK. They are truly amazing!”
“Molly is feistier than ever, and she never ceases to amaze us,” says Molly’s mom, Roxsey. “Cancer made her tougher. She has no fear!”
Being fearless helped Molly fight a Wilms' tumor on her right kidney at age six. While other first graders were having fun on the playground, Molly was in the ASK clinic for rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and recovering from major surgery.
“I want everyone to know about ASK and the amazing services it provides," explains Rosxey. When a family is presented with the overwhelming challenge of having a child with cancer, ASK is there to help the whole family. There is no other organization like ASK!”
Allison was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2010, when she was 14 years old. In 2011, she relapsed and had a stem cell transplant to save her life. She knew she loved life and was willing to fight hard for it, but she had no idea that she would eventually find the love of her life through her cancer diagnosis and volunteerism with the ASK.
As a survivor, Allison became a dedicated volunteer for ASK, wanting to give back to the organization that had done so much for her. She looked forward to being a counselor each summer at the ASK Summer Camp, where she met another volunteer, Henry. He was the babysitter of an ASK kid and was happy to help with the camp when asked by Amy Godkin, ASK’s executive director.
“I felt a connection with the kids that attended camp, year after year,” says Henry. “This is a rare and wonderful organization where everyone is willing to get into the trenches and do whatever it takes to make life better for children with cancer, and I love that!”
Allison and Henry saw each other at camp every summer, and then reconnected Allison’s senior year in college. They started dating and three years later, in October, 2019, they married. “Their wedding was absolutely beautiful and I was so honored to see their story come full circle,” exclaimed Alma Morgan, ASK education coordinator. “It’s a beautiful love story. I believe that we go nowhere by accident – Henry and Allison came to camp for a reason!”
Meet Charles. He’s a typical 17-year-old who is dedicated to healthy living, working out, and eating clean. He’s the picture of health. Except Charles has Metastatic Papillary Thyroid cancer, which has spread to his lymph nodes and lungs.
“Charles refuses to let cancer define who he is or what he can accomplish,” says his mom, Melissa. “From the moment he was diagnosed in late 2015, through surgery and radioactive iodine treatments, he has remained positive and has never used cancer as an excuse to miss an opportunity or a goal.”
1. Purchase a Toy for a Child
Help Santa get ready for the annual ASK Holiday Party on December 8th where over 400 ASK kids, siblings and parents will attend. Purchase a new toy that is $25-$30 in price (no stuffed animals, please) and drop off the unwrapped toy by November 26th at the ASK office (5211 West Broad Street, Suite 102). We welcome your thoughtful gifts after that date, which we'll use for Santa's inpatient visits and to help our kids celebrate treatment milestones and birthdays throughout the year.
Not sure what to buy? Shop our Amazon and Walmart wish lists by using the links below. Also, our teens love gift cards! Their faces will light up when they see a $25 card to shop Target, Walmart, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or anywhere they choose with a VISA gift card.
2. Adopt-a-Family & Shop
This holiday season, ASK is planning to create joy for over 40 families of children with cancer in our community. Round up your family, friends or co-workers and help us make the wishes of an ASK family come true! Your generous gifts will alleviate stress while providing comfort to families taking care of a child with cancer. Here's how:
3. Don't have time to shop but want to help?
Make a holiday gift and let us do the shopping! A gift of $30 helps to buy a holiday toy for a child, $300 to adopt a family of two, $600 for a family of four and $1,000 will help us to make a mortgage payment or to pay a past due bill for a family who needs assistance.
The Baber family is making the ASK 5K Donut Run, presented by Dunkin’, a sweet family affair. This year marks their fifth year as chairs of one of ASK’s signature fundraising events, but their involvement with ASK goes back to 2006.
In 1992, Jim Baber lost his fraternity brother, Tad DuPriest, in a tragic car accident and then his best friend, Chris Cullather to cancer the very next month, he knew he needed to honor their memories and the good work they had started with children’s organizations. Jim helped create the Tad DuPriest Foundation (now Tad’s Kids) in 2006 as an organization that serves children through support, advocacy and funding throughout Central Virginia. “Tad was my little brother in Kappa Alpha Order fraternity at Randolph-Macon College. He was an amazing guy and died while working with kids. I just couldn’t let his name or his memory die,” says Baber.
Jim discovered ASK and the two organizations quickly formed a unique partnership to make lives better for children with cancer. Jim now serves on the ASK Board of Directors and is the longest serving Board member. “My goal is for ASK to become a household name in Central Virginia,” explains Baber. “Unfortunately, many people don’t know how much ASK provides for our pediatric cancer families – everything from snacks and art therapy in clinic to financial assistance and amazing family events. It’s why my family chooses to donate our time to ASK.”
Alex Baber, now age 17, began volunteering with ASK when he was nine years old. He says he saw his dad giving his time and resources to ASK and was inspired to be part of the fun. He now leads several events for ASK and the Donut Run.
“I remember the first time I volunteered for the ASK holiday party,” remembers Alex. “I was blown away by the holiday party and that the kids were just as excited about the presents as they were the food. My dad explained that they spend a lot of time eating hospital food and it really opened my eyes to what these kids go through and how much they give up because they are sick. I knew then that ASK would be part of my life for the rest of my life.” Alex was the 2014 Tad DuPriest Youth Volunteer of the Year award recipient.
Mom Mary Beth is part of the ASK volunteer network, as well. “For us, it’s about families helping families. If we can help alleviate some of the small stresses, then the families can concentrate on the hard stuff and we’ve done our job. It’s a privilege to work with ASK as a family.”
Jim and Alex continue to act as ASK spokespersons, and coordinate the ASK 5K Donut Run, presented by Dunkin’ at St. Christopher’s School, where Jim attended and Alex is a senior. Each year, the Baber family works to expand the event by introducing the “best donut attire” costume contest, the kid dash, and this year, Alex has issued a school challenge to encourage other schools to form teams and join the walk. With a goal of $65,000, Alex is hoping area schools will come out in force and families will choose to walk together.
“Just because we’re fortunate enough to chair this event, we’re not special. We go about our day-to-day lives, and we are just a regular family. We’re proof that any family can make a huge impact by giving their time and helping raise awareness. After all, you’re not that busy if you’re truly passionate. It’s easy to make a difference.” Thanks for making it look so easy, Alex.
“I can’t just go home when I know something is wrong with my baby,” said Bethany to the emergency room doctor regarding her two-year-old daughter Charlotte, or Charlie, as she’s known to family and friends. “We’ve been to the ER at least three times in the last six weeks, and I know something is wrong.”
Charlie had been limping and complaining of leg pain for weeks, and after multiple trips to doctor offices and emergency rooms, as well as hours of online research, Bethany was convinced that Charlie had leukemia. Eventually they were referred to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, where Charlie was diagnosed with pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Bethany’s research and mommy intuition were right, and they received the diagnosis they feared most.
“I like being part of the process,” says Shania. “Now that I’m 14, I need to understand what’s happening and what I need to do to help myself. Sickle cell is a roller coaster because I don’t know what’s going to happen when I wake up. Sometimes I have weird pains and I have to miss school. Not many people know why I’m not in school, but my close friends get it.”
Shania is showing everyone that living with sickle cell anemia is possible – her infectious smile inspires us all!
Shania and her mom, Tai, at the 2017 ASK 5K Donut Run .
Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition that affects the body’s red blood cells. It occurs when a child receives two sickle cell genes—one from each parent. In someone living with this disease, the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle”. When sickled red blood cells travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems such as infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke. The pain experienced by people living with sickle cell disease can vary in intensity and last for a few hours to a few weeks. Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Summer has flown by but we finally got the chance to catch-up with Steve McCoy, who took on the role of ASK Board President in July. Steve is no stranger to ASK and shares why he volunteers his time helping our kids and families. Pictured above, Steve smiles with ASK kid Berekley during the Kourageous Kids Party held on September 8, 2019.
I first became involved with ASK in the late 1990s after a friend who served on the board told me about it. I’d been looking for something meaningful to pull me out of the work bubble I was in as a young lawyer at a large firm. I love practicing law but you do occasionally ask yourself “what good did I do today”? I never ask myself that question after an ASK event.
Early in my initial tenure on the board, I came unprepared to a meeting and a fellow board member let me have it. After the meeting she came over, put her hands on both my shoulders, and said “This is important, you know?” Then she gave me a hug. I was struck by how maternal her approach was and then the penny dropped: she was an ASK mom. My inattention affected her family, however indirectly. I haven’t forgotten that. I saw her recently and she gave me another hug, so either I’m doing something right or I’m on my way out.
At times, charity board service can feel removed from the day-to-day of the group you hope to serve. At ASK events, the person next to me is often a parent, friend of a patient, or patient him- or herself, and I can’t help learning a little more about life with cancer and the ways we might be able to make it just a bit better.
The thing I love most about volunteering with ASK is the degree to which volunteers are able to roll their sleeves up and work alongside staff, families and patients. I love the immediacy of service with ASK. It's also a real joy to work with so many thoughtful and dedicated people. The staff and volunteers at ASK are remarkable.
Missed school days and late effects from treatment can make returning to school a challenge for children with cancer. That’s why ASK is rolling out a new resource to make sure that every child with cancer in Virginia has the support that they need in the classroom. Our new educational toolkit will help guide parents, teachers and doctors in creating a plan to support a child when they return to school.
Cancer treatment can create many late effects that will affect a child’s ability to learn, grow and thrive after treatment. Common late effects include cognitive such as slower processing speeds, short term memory loss, and difficulty multi-tasking. Some cognitive late effects may not show up until years after treatment.
As a student’s course load becomes more challenging, impaired executive functioning skills (ability to juggle multiple projects successfully) can become apparent. Physical late effects that impact a student in the classroom include fatigue, hearing and vision loss, nausea and pain. And then, there are many emotional challenges for young patients. The loss of contact with friends and peers and the quest for normalcy all make returning to school a challenge.
"While not every community has an education coordinator to assist with transition back-to-school, this toolkit gives the medical team, school, parent and child with the support needed to identify accommodations and awareness to ensure academic success," shares Alma Morgan, ASK's Education Coordinator. With over thirty years of experience in helping young cancer patients and survivors transition back to school, Alma has a wealth of knowledge and tips in ensuring an easier return to school.
This toolkit was made possible with a grant from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be distributed through all five pediatric cancer treatment centers in Virginia as patients and survivors return to school.