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Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

U.P. Lions Clubs doing their part to help families navigating childhood cancer

Four-year-old Rylan, who is being treated for high-risk neuroblastoma at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, is pictured. Rylan and his family are one of four U.P. children who have been provided assistance through the Upper Peninsula Lions Childhood Cancer initiative. (Photo courtesy Christine Smith/District 10 Lions Childhood Cancer chairman)

ENGADINE — September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the Lions Clubs of the Upper Peninsula are doing their part in supporting multiple initiatives to help U.P. children and their families who are currently battling, previously battled or have tragically lost their battle with the dreadful disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14 behind car accidents, making cancer the leading disease-related cause of death.

ACS estimates that 11,050 children under the age of 15 in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and 1,190 children will die from the disease, or 10.7 percent.

The District 10 Lions Clubs, which consist of the 54 Lions Clubs across the Upper Peninsula, have identified at least 10 families within the U.P. who have a child battling cancer in 2020. Four of those families have received assistance from the District 10 Lions Clubs so far.

“In the Upper Peninsula, the first and most important thing is the District 10 Lions’ Childhood Cancer initiative and support of our community and families with children who are battling this disease,” said Christine Smith, chairman of the District 10 Lions Childhood Cancer initiative. “We now have the funds and other resources to help those who are affected. We are searching for kiddos and families who need our help. This could be kids who are fighting cancer currently, those who are in remission, or the families of those who are deceased. Anyone who has been affected is eligible to receive our help.”

The District 10 Lions are currently working with three nonprofit organizations to support U.P. children affected by the disease, including ‘Kids Kicking Cancer,’ ‘Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan’ and ‘Camp Quality.’

Kids Kicking Cancer, based in downstate Southfield, was founded in 1999 at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. The now-global organization teaches martial arts as a therapeutic to over 7,000 children battling life-threatening illnesses in 90 hospitals and program locations spread across seven countries.

The organization’s mission is to “ease the pain of very sick children while empowering them to heal physically, spiritually and emotionally,” according to its website. Children battling cancer are able to learn breathing techniques, meditation and traditional karate movements that empower them to teach others and thus gain purpose within their lives.

“Our young cancer patients teach other children with challenging illness and even adults how to breathe in the light and blow out the darkness,” the website states.

U.P. children now have the opportunity to participate in Kids Kicking Cancer for free, thanks in part to an unlikely ally, the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has changed the way Kids Kicking Cancer operates. Before the globe came to a screeching halt in March, the organization held in-person classes and locations varied from day to day. Now in the age of virtual programming, online martial arts classes are available to any child who enrolls, no matter where they’re located in the world.

Here in the U.P., the program has been made free through the District 10 Lions Clubs and a generous grant from the Graymont Community and Economic Development Fund, which is administered by Lake Superior State University, as well as other area fundraising efforts.

The grant awarded $7,500 to the District 10 Lions Childhood Cancer Program, and in a separate fundraiser, the Marquette, Gwinn and Engadine-Naubinway Lions Clubs held a returnable can drive. The clubs collected, counted and sorted over 80,000 cans for a total of $8,172 raised.

Not only will the $15,672 raised help offset the cost of Kids Kicking Cancer for families, but the remaining money will also directly help to assist families affected by cancer in other ways as well.

Children battling cancer, their siblings and any other child with a serious illness are eligible to enroll in the Kids Kicking Cancer program. Each child receives a martial arts uniform and a backpack full of gifts and can participate in the program for as long as they’d like, even after cancer treatments stop.

The second nonprofit, Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan, provides wigs and other services to children and young adults dealing with hair loss due to cancer, burns or other serious illnesses. The organization was founded in 2003 by Maggie Varney and operates primarily as a Wellness Center and Salon in St. Clair Shores in metro Detroit.

“Every wig provided is custom-fitted, age-appropriate and individually cut and styled as requested by a child or teenager to help them feel comfortable and confident,” according to its website.

The District 10 Lions Clubs are now encouraging U.P. hair salons to become Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids salons, meaning hair can be directly sent to Maggie’s for wig creation. The clubs are calling it a “Hair-Raiser,” and U.P. residents are also encouraged to donate their hair.

“Wigs can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 and are not covered by insurance,” Smith said. “Six salons have registered in the U.P. so far since we started this campaign at the beginning of September.

“Two children from the U.P. are currently having wigs fabricated for them and they can also benefit from the other services the Maggie’s provides.”

The campaign started at the beginning of September, and will continue on even after Childhood Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close. Therefore, salons and individuals can register whenever their schedule allows.

The final nonprofit initiative is Camp Quality, founded in Sydney, Australia in 1983 with the first U.S. camp held in 1986 in Missouri.

Each Camp Quality location hosts a week-long summer residence camp for children with cancer and their siblings along with a reunion later in the fall at no cost. Other events include family weekends, holiday parties, day trips, winter weekends and more that provide fun and friendship according to Camp Quality’s website.

“When a child is diagnosed with cancer, in a lot of ways, childhood stops,” Smith said. “Vacations, family time, crafts and campfires are replaced with doctor visits, chemo, isolation and restrictions. Camp Quality breaks down those barriers for children and their families and restores the childhood experience with new friends that can relate and care. Kids are free to be kids again.”

In Michigan, there are currently four camps in the Lower Peninsula. The District 10 Lions Clubs are currently working with Camp Quality and Bay Cliff Health Camp in northern Marquette County to develop a camp program within the U.P. this spring.

“It would be the first of its kind in the U.P.,” Smith said. “It would serve children with cancer or a blood disorder from ages 4 to 17 and their families. Our goal would be to offer this experience, hopefully a family fun weekend at Bay Cliff, sometime in the spring. It may be face to face, it may be virtual, but at this point we are all committed to this project and any way it can happen.”

The District 10 Lions Clubs are searching for children battling cancer, in remission or siblings of deceased children in the U.P., eastern Wisconsin and parts of Lower Michigan to attend the camp or the family fun weekend.

“This is a great and safe way for children with an illness to have fun,” Smith said. “All with the assistance of medical staff and trained companions.”

Lions Clubs International is the largest service organization in the world with over 1.35 million members and 46,000 clubs spread across 206 countries.

The Engadine-Naubinway Lions Club has also been named a recipient of the 2019-20 Childhood Cancer Hero Club banner patch. Only 22 clubs in the state are awarded this honor each year.

For more information on Kids Kicking Cancer, visit www.kidskickingcancer.org. To learn about Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan, visit www.wigsforkids.org and for information on Camp Quality, visit www.campqualityusa.org.

If you’re a U.P. family with a child currently battling, previously battled or who’s passed away from cancer, don’t hesitate to reach out to the District 10 Lions Childhood Cancer chairman Christine Smith at 313-682-8900 or lionchris906pcc@outlook.com. Smith says that privacy is respected and personal information remains confidential.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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