April 18, 2018
To Steve Janett and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices NJ Properties,
I had the honor of accompanying four patients to the Sunshine Kids 2018 Winter Games in Beaver Creek, Colorado earlier this month and I wanted to thank you for your support of the Sunshine Kids. Words cannot express how powerful this experience was for me, the patients and families, but I will do my best to explain how much you have changed our lives.
As you can imagine, a cancer diagnosis at any age is devastating, but it is particularly heartbreaking for teenagers. Rather than thinking about prom dates and sport practices, these young men and women are concerned about bone marrow aspirates and remission. They have been robbed of their youth and robbed of their livelihood. These teens spend countless hours, weeks and even months in the hospital as they fight this relentless disease and I have seen some patients wither away as they become only a shell of who they used to be.
Then these bright young men and women come to Sunshine Kids and get their livelihood back in a once in a lifetime experience. My group met others who are like them; others who understand the metallic taste of chemotherapy as it travels through their portacath, and understand the pain and discombobulation after waking up from extensive surgery. Sunshine Kids gave my group the chance to connect with other young adults outside the hospital who also have battled cancer. Patients who were so quiet and withdrawn in the hospital environment talked openly about their diagnoses and treatments during this trip. They felt loved and supported because they realize they are not alone.
But it is not only the patients' lives that were changed from this trip, it was also the families back home. As a social worker, my job is to support the family from time of diagnosis, throughout treatment and even after treatment. Children are an extension of their parents and whatever happens to the child, happens to the parent. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, the family's entire world collapses and parents will sacrifice anything to prevent suffering for their child. And yet when a child has cancer, parents do not have control to save their child from suffering or even to save their life. Unfortunately, not all patients are cured and some succumb to this illness despite their valiant fight. But even for those who do survive, parents watch helplessly as the child experiences great pain and sadness. In light of all the patient endured, the parents deeply cherish their child's memories of the Sunshine Kids trip. I frequently contacted my group's parents during the trip and the parents tearfully explained how appreciative they were of this opportunity as they saw photos of their child and heard their child's voice over the phone excitedly sharing about their adventures from the day and the friends hey made from across the country. Sunshine Kids supports and comforts the families who have been fighting alongside the patient throughout all of treatment and reminds the families that life is beautiful despite all the ugliness they must overcome.
Lastly, I want to share what this trip meant to me. I have seen my group so sick during treatment even intubated in the ICU. And then I saw them skiing down a beautiful mountain in Colorado with smiles on their faces, laughing with Brenna Huckaby and Noah Elliot. I cannot begin to explain the warmth in my heart and love in my soul in that moment. My group also told stories of their journey throughout treatment and I witnessed relationships blossom between young adults who fought a similar fight and it brought them together. Years of therapy and counseling could not replace this connection and inspiration. The greatest lesson I learned is cancer does not limit you, it simply changes the course and Sunshine Kids makes that change much better.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your steadfast support for these young adults and their families. You have changed my life, the patients' lives, and the lives of their families.
Young Jae Lee, LCSW
Licensed Clincal Social Worker
Children's Cancer Institute
30 Prospect Avenue | Hackensack, NJ 07601 | 551.996.5437 | Fax 201.487.7340