After being diagnosed with neuroblastoma at age 18, Kayla Funk started her nonprofit, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, to raise awareness and money for childhood cancer.
“One child is one too many,” Funk said. “Please join us in our fight.”
Now she has been cancer-free for two years, but the fight for many others continues.
“Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is not only a reminder of my own journey, but it’s also a reminder that it’s still out there, and there are kids suffering from something that we need a cure for,” she said.
Morgan Perry, Kayla’s sister and senior in human development and family studies at Auburn University, is the president of OHOH’s Auburn chapter. Like the families of the 15,780 kids diagnosed each year, September is meaningful to Perry.
“Our family didn’t know what this month meant until my sister was diagnosed,” she said.
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Now it stands for all who have fought, who are fighting and who have passed away. To support childhood cancer research, Perry began wearing gold ribbons at her half marathons.
“Every time we run, we are fundraising for the kids,” she said. “I started to love it because I realized that races are hard, but these kids fight harder.”
In June 2017, Funk ran her first half marathon with Perry in San Diego.
“We never thought she’d be able to walk again, [so] being able to see her cross the finish line was the most empowering thing,” Perry said. “Our motto is ‘we will because they can’t.’”
On Sept. 15, 2018, she ran in Philadelphia and raised $130. OHOH is based out of Birmingham, but its Auburn chapter hosts local benefit nights, puts together hospital bags and fosters community with local families. Donating is not the only way to make an impact, though.
“Differences happen because of you, not because of your money,” Perry said. “Showing up is the first step, whether it’s with your wallet or not.”
When OHOH first began, Perry said she saw the city wake up when it came to childhood cancer awareness. But when Funk got better, people stopped giving as much.
“Let’s stop focusing on one kid and focus on the fact that it’s a community of kids who need our help,” she said.
Putting an end to childhood cancer is a goal that can be accomplished. Over the span of 40 years, the survival rate for children with cancer has gone from 10 percent to nearly 90 percent, according to CureSearch for Children’s Cancer.
However, radiation and chemo treatments often have residual effects on children.
“Not only do we need a cure, we also need a cure that doesn’t cause health issues for the rest of their lives,” Funk said.
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