“PLEASSSSSSSSSSSSE help,” the Facebook message started. “Jayden, a little 5 year old girl, has been dealt an unfair hand.”
It was the message at the top of a page – BATTLING CANCER – PLEASE HELP THIS 5 YEAR OLD – created by the non-profit Unique Stars Cancer Group, and it told in instantly heartbreaking fashion the summarized story of Jayden “Baby Jay” Souter, who suffered from Wilms’ Tumor – a form of kidney cancer that targets children.
Help for Jayden, the page said, was needed in the form of mail (“She LOVES to get mail,” it said.) – cards filled with stickers and bracelets and dollars. Anything to make her smile and know she was loved. The information, which included her
, address, marked the event to begin at 9:30 p.m. on April 24 and run through the week. Lawrence, Kan.
Jayden, who was first diagnosed in June of 2009, lost her own fight with Wilms’ on April 25, 2011.
Just about two years after her initial diagnosis, the little “Wilms’ Warrior” and her family will be honored this Thursday night in Lawrence at the 3rd Annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic – an event that supports local families that are battling cancer.
Despite the tragic turn, Brian Hanni, the event’s director, said the Souter family has not stopped its fight.
“The family, (Jayden’s) mother, Erica, her father, Jason, they have had such incredible perspective,” Hanni said. “And, they want her legacy to live on, and they said this is a great vehicle for doing just that.”
Part of her legacy is spreading the word.
“(Her family) wants to increase awareness of just how little money goes toward children’s cancer, whether it is research or just resources for kids who are fighting cancer,” Hanni said. “The piece of the pie of the annual money raised each year for cancer that actually goes to kids and kids’ organizations is staggeringly small, and they feel like by telling their daughter’s story through events like this there can be a heightened awareness of just how small the money is for kids who are going through the fight of a lifetime.”
Staggering isn’t the right word. Pathetic. Numbing. Insane. You pick.
In 2009, the American Cancer Society directed less than a penny per every dollar raised toward children’s research – dedicating $6.2M out of just over $897M. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was only slightly better at .02 per dollar – allocating $6M out of $287.625M. The National Cancer Institute dedicated only 3.6 – 4.0 percent of its entire budget over the past five years to pediatric cancer research.*
There are many lesser-known groups that fundraise and dedicate nearly all proceeds to the cause – upstart groups like Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, but the message is blatantly clear: more, much more, has to be done.
|Groups like Alex’s Lemonade have had to pick up the slack.|
The uphill climb is immense, and the reality is sobering that dollars simply have not, can not and likely will never be raised fast enough to prevent others from enduring what the Souters have already gone through. However, that hasn’t weakened the spirits of Hanni and others who realize now that while the past few years have been very promising for the event, and the family chosen for each Rock Chalk Roundball Classic has been or will be helped in some way, more awareness, and action, will always be needed.
Jayden’s outcome, Hanni said, only helped reinforce that thought.
“If anything, it’s galvanized our efforts to press on even harder and make it an even better event,” Hanni said. “Part of the motivation in voting for (Jayden) when our committee made the picks that we did was that I wanted to treat her to an amazing night where she was the star and she had all these NBA guys paying all kinds of attention to her and make her feel big time.
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t in God’s plan for her to get to be here for this, but I feel like the family has done a terrific job of making sure her legacy is carried on, and hopefully she’ll be there with us and looking down on us.”
So, this Thursday night at 7 p.m. when more than 20 former Kansas Jayhawks – including Cole Aldrich, Scot Pollard, Darnell Jackson, Drew Gooden and others – take the floor at Lawrence’s Free State High School, and a fan has a chance to win a car, and fans can get free autographs and photos afterward…remember what it is for.
“I think all of the above,” Hann said when asked if the money raised would go toward helping with the Souters’ medical expenses or a scholarship fund for Jayden’s younger sister, Trinity. “I mean, they still have thousands of dollars of medical bills that are still piling up. And, on top of that, Jayden leaves behind her younger sister, Trinny, so part of the money will probably go toward helping her.”
And remember, too, that for every story that is told, there are always so many more that are not.
“The thing is, and this is what I would want to impress upon your readers, is that there are 100 kids just like her in Children’s
…tonight,” Hanni said. “Her father told me that the night they checked out, there were 10 girls waiting to come in just like her. Mercy Hospital
|Darnell Jackson at the 2010 Roundball Classic.|
“We don’t realize just how much this affects the little people out there like Baby Jay, and how many kids are going through something that people like me and you couldn’t ever wrap our minds around or even begin to fathom what that might be like.”
While he may not agree, it seems Hanni has been able to wrap his mind around at least part of what’s in front of him. The event began in 2009 because of a
youth pastor succumbing to cancer and Hanni recognizing the financial problems that stemmed from hospital bills. Lawrence
Hanni, who is also the sports director at 1320 KLWN, said he simply saw the need for a fundraiser and immediately went to work with what he had – his connections.
“I believe we all have resources, and in my case my resources are these KU basketball players, the guys who you and me have a chance to talk to on a daily basis,” Hanni said. “Seeing the need that the family had, and trying to think ‘what do I have that I can offer,’ I thought if I make a few calls and round some guys up, maybe we can get them together and who knows, maybe we can put 1000 people in the gym and make some money for this family.”
It was an immediate success.
“We ended up selling out that year and raised $14,000 for them,” Hanni said. “It began something that has become a pretty special tradition now. I truly believe that with every year we’ve added more star power and different elements to the whole evening’s entertainment that’s made it better and better by the year.”
Beneficiary nominations open each January, and the committee makes its selection in March. For more information about the event, including ticket purchasing locations, visit www.facebook.com/rockchalkroundballclassic, or contact Brian Hanni at 785-843-1320.
If you’re unable to support the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, whatever you can do…