Berkeley Kellum, 15 years old, is a straight A student at Lancaster High School and is in the Early College Academy there. He will graduate from both high school and Rappahannock Community College with an Associate’s Degree. He’s a baseball player and an All-State swimmer for his high school, and a t-ball coach for younger kids. And now, Berkeley can add childhood cancer survivor to his resume.
The Kellum’s particularly enjoy the ASK 5K & Fun Walk in the spring. Last year, they had more than 40 friends and family members walking in support of children with cancer and this year their team will continue to grow. “This is a beautiful event that really celebrates the kids and recognizes what they go through. It’s something our entire family enjoys!”
Photo: ASK families hugging after the Moment of Remembrance at the ASK 5K & Fun Walk on May 4, 2019.
Written by Rich Catlett, ASK Chaplain
Whether sudden and unexpected or due to a long chronic illness, the death of a child is the most stressful and traumatic event that any human can experience. It is unlike almost any other type of loss because it goes against the natural order that life teaches us. A parent is supposed to bury and grieve the loss of a grandparent, parent or aunt because they are older and have had a longer life. But burying a child is unnatural.
An unnatural event makes us question everything in our lives because it rocks us to the core of who we are and shakes the foundations of our beliefs. Because of this, getting into a natural life order again after the death of a child is incredibly difficult. Life for the grieving family is now more like being in a haze and less like any reality that existed before. The time period after the death of a child is an unnatural state of being, and therefore it is important to remember the phrase, ‘When you are ready’. Here are some examples.
When you are ready…
Part of my role as the chaplain of ASK is to work with bereaved families. You may be hearing from me in the near future as I attempt to offer support to you and your loved ones. Please know, I do not take it personally if you do not respond right away. I will still be available to you ‘When you are ready’.
If you are ready now, please feel free to email me to set up a time to talk. Until then, be patient with yourself as it takes time to heal from such a deep wound.
ASK dads Rich Chandler (left) and Sean Adams (right) reviewing the 5K course route with ASK volunteer Henry Finn.
It’s 4am, and Rich Chandler is busy setting-up orange street cones for the next ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation race. He’s led the logistics for the ASK 5K & Fun Walk and ASK Donut Run for the past fifteen years, and he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
You can see Rich's dedication and team spirit at this year's ASK 5K & Fun Walk which is celebrating 15 years! For ASK parents like Rich, it's so much more than just a walk. Learn more at ASKwalk.org.
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.