Like countless artists before her, Riley Woodroof created something positive out of sadness. At age 14, Woodroof and her friend Bridget Smith made a coloring book after Woodroof's dog, Sunny, was diagnosed with cancer.
Around the time Woodroof was brainstorming ideas for her Girl Scout Cadette Silver Award, the highest award for Girl Scouts in the middle school age group, Sunny, her 7-year-old Labrador retriever, was diagnosed with canine melanoma.
The process was traumatic for Woodroof, who lives in New Canaan, and she wanted to create something that would help children facing the same circumstances. And there are many of them: According to the ACF, one in four of the 70 million dogs in America will get cancer in their lifetimes.
"It was my first encounter with cancer. None of my relatives had ever gotten cancer, so I thought it was going to be lethal, and then when I found out that someone could help, it was nice," Woodroof said.
She decided to created a coloring book for children about her experience with Sunny and cancer as a project for the Silver Award.
"Adults usually have a different way of dealing with grief and viewing things like cancer, so a teenager who has been a child more recently understands how to deal with the sadness and unexpectedness of cancer," Woodroof said. "It's a story of how Sunny got cancer and how the Animal Cancer Foundation helped."
Post connected Woodroof with Barbara Cohen, the executive director of his ACF.
ACF is a nonprofit organization dedicating to finding a cure for cancer by funding research in and increasing public awareness of comparative oncology, the study of naturally occurring cancers in human beings and companion animals. ACF provides research grants to medical and veterinary oncology professionals studying comparative oncology models. The organization does not fund research that induces cancer in companion animals. Clinical trials are offered to pet owners in their local oncology practices.
ACF serves as a resource in educating the public and scientific communities to the value of the comparative oncology model not only to discover valuable new ways to treat cancer in pets, but that these advances may lead to more effective, less toxic therapies for people.
Cohen said the coloring book was a great idea and the foundation paid to have the book copyrighted. The books will be distributed to veterinarians in the area to help them explain new pet cancer diagnoses to their youngest clients.
"I loved the concepts that were in it, and I loved the idea that teenagers could address the issue of animal cancer with little kids in a way that adults might not be able to," Cohen said.
Woodroof explained the collaboration with ACF.
"They helped by giving us ideas on how we could write the coloring book and how to get a publisher," she said.
"Neither of us had done anything like this before, so it was a learning process for everyone," her mom, Joan, said.
Woodroof asked her friend Bridget to help with the coloring book. Smith, more skilled at drawing, composed many of the images digitally.
"Reading the words she had written and remembering her situation with Sunny, I put together a few drawings that I drew on the computer and we both fine-tuned them so that they supported the book better," Smith said. "It was a long wait for the publishing company, which was kind of excruciating because it was suspenseful, but it all turned out really well and I'm happy with the end result."
The success of the project did not go unnoticed by the Girl Scouts. Woodroof won the Silver Award for her troop.
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