Kicking childhood cancer one stride at a time
When New Canaan resident Jillian Gould was five years old, she lost her hair. The six-month stint of chemotherapy she endured as a kindergarten student kept her in the hospital every weekend of that summer and fall, according to her mother, Tracey Gould.
"She was a little girl; losing her hair was a big thing," she said.
It started with a stomach ache, Tracey said.
"She was sick one day and I thought she had food poisoning, but she had a tumor," she said.
A doctor diagnosed Jillian with Wilm's tumor, a rare kind of childhood kidney cancer.
"Hers was free-floating and it exploded," Tracey said. "Your life changes in an instant."
Jillian, now a 12-year-old cancer survivor and student at Saxe Middle School, remembers the needles, but little else from her days fighting pediatric cancer.
"It doesn't affect me anymore," she said, wearing a pony tail to hold pieces of thick, brown hair away from her face.
Once all-consuming, cancer is a thing of the past for healthy Jillian and her family.
The five-year survival rate for all forms of pediatric cancer is nearly 80 percent, according to statistics gathered by the National Cancer Institute.
"Whenever you hear the word `cancer' you have no idea what it's about -- you think, `Oh, my God; I'm going to die.' -- because you don't understand it," Tracey said. "For many children who had pediatric cancer, you try and then you start to forget."
Today, it's Tracey's aim to help make pediatric cancer a far away thought for other families, too. She's in her first year working with Circle of Care for Families of Children with Cancer (COC), a non-profit support organization founded by one New Canaan and two Wilton families whose children battled and survived cancer. COC aims to offer emotional, informational and financial support to Connecticut pediatric cancer patients and their families from the day of the diagnosis throughout treatment and recovery.
"What I love about Circle of Care is they supply pediatric cancer patients with so much," Tracey said. "I understand their mission because I've been there.
"When a child is in the hospital, they bring them `bags of love.' They have this thing called purple pages, which gives parents sources for support they can call because when you're in the hospital and you have no idea what's going on, your life changes. They supply computers for kids and they pay a certain amount of people's medical bills for them. That's something that helps because a lot of people have to stop working."
In June, COC will partner for the first time with Team Connor, a pediatric cancer family and financial support organization named after a young Texan boy who succumbed to neuroblastoma last July after a four-year fight. Team Connor will host its sixth annual three-day continuous run, launched by two New Canaanites, to raise funds for both organizations.
"In order to increase their presence here in Fairfield County, because it's a Texas-based foundation, [Team Connor] kind of brought us into the fold," said COC co-founder Liz Salguero, adding, "I think consolidation of the message we have in common to support families is always a good thing."
The 500-mile relay kicks off at the New Canaan High School track on Friday, June 4. The 60-hour race continues through day and night until the post-race party on Sunday.
"Team Connor is honored to be able support Circle of Care in their efforts to help families that are dealing with the crisis of a child's cancer diagnosis," said relay co-founder and New Canaanite Tonya Russo. "The work that Circle of Care is doing in lending financial support and providing information to families who may not even know what they need is so important. Circle of Care is right there on the front lines. We are truly honored to be able to help them in their efforts."