September 27, 2010

Sunflower Power - How One Cancer Survivor's Garden Inspires Community of Hope

Photo(s) Courtesy: Nancy Siegler

Sunflowers have always made me smile -- I don’t know why, but they just do -- and I hope this story makes you smile too!

Nancy Siegler of Cameron Park, California knows first-hand the hope, strength and power of the sunflower.

Siegler started planting sunflowers last year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She believes it helped her get through some very scary times. Twelve months ago, she had 30 plants. This year she’s planted 310 sunflower seeds. Three of the plants are more than 16-feet tall. "They're magical," she tells me, excitedly. "They make me feel good and give me inner strength."

But sunflowers aren’t the only things growing in her garden.

Who would’ve thought her penchant for these powerful red, orange and gold petals would resonate with so many people and create such huge ripples of inspiration beyond her colorful garden.

"Today, I am doing well," she said. "What's so special is that I have combined the happiness of the sunflower with the awareness of breast cancer into an event to raise money for breast cancer research."

Siegler wanted to share this symbol of hope with her community. Like her garden, filled with 26 species of sunflowers, the idea blossomed. A month ago, she decided to open her garden to the public. Her goal: to raise $1,000 for the American Cancer Society in Sacramento.

“We weren’t sure if anybody would come,” she admits.
But like anything, with love, care and faith – growth is inevitable.
More than 600 people came to bask in the Sacramento sun, share stories and witness these flowering symbols of hope.

She says her event raised a about $5,000 dollars – all from donations. "I was overwhelmed!" she said, in a bubbly voice, as though she just received a huge surprise.

Many people waited in line to meet Siegler and tell her empowering stories of how sunflowers positively impacted their lives. "It makes me feel good, that I'm not alone in this fight and that I'm not the only one who believes in the strength of these flowers… If even for a moment, they make you feel good, it's worth it," she said, passionately.

Since Siegler opened up her private oasis of inspiration to the public, strangers have open reached out – using their talents and resources -- to help her. "One man told me he would come help me with gardening for next year's event -- hopefully in May, depending on Mother Nature --and some children came by and helped me paint the barn."

Do you believe in the strength of the sunflower?

If you don’t, this “Sunflower Floranista” challenges you to take part in her non-scientific experiment: "Add the sunflower to your garden and see how good it can make you feel. Cut some of their flowers and have them in your home. They will bring smiles to all who come.”

Siegler is already harvesting this year’s seeds for next year’s garden. Meanwhile, she has bigger plans to spread the sunflower power. She is working with many breast cancer awareness groups across the country to adopt the sunflower as the official flower.
“I realized that I’m not alone in this… (battle with breast cancer and extrapolating positivity from these plants) 99% of people who have come to my garden tell me they believe in the strength of the sunflower.”

How’s that for flower power?!

What can YOU do to spread generosity, kindness and compassion in your community?

All ideas and projects start off as a thought, a seed – imagine how your passion could blossom into compassion. You may never know where the seeds you’ll scatter will go or grow!

September 6, 2010

Superhero Capes Provide Hope & Inspiration for Sick Children

Are Superheroes for real?

I’ve never met a Superhero before, but now I believe they exist.

I recently flew to South Dakota and Pennsylvania and met the tiniest, bravest, most inspiring Superheroes, including my new Superhero friend, 5-year-old Brooke Mulford.

Wearing her special pink cape, running with her arms raised in the air and screaming with joy, little Brooke forgets about all of the cancer procedures, medicine and treatments she’s had to endure because when the cape is on, this little girl believes she’s “Super Brooke.”

Accessorized in her favorite color pink, Brooke is among 4,000 sick children and their siblings, who have custom homemade Superhero capes. The capes are gifts, sewn with inspiration and sent with blessings of love, from Wonder Capes.

Brooke’s personalized pink Superhero cape gives her comfort, reassurance and power to fight stage 4, high risk Neuroblastoma-- infant and childhood cancer of the nervous system.

All Superheroes need someone extraordinary, to outfit them… Meet Amy Pankratz. By day, Amy is a stay at home mother of three, juggling the normal multiple schedules, obligations and responsibilities: including elementary and preschool school carpools, room mother activities, etc. By night, when her so-called “Love Bugs” are asleep, she sews through most of the night – many times, pulling all nighters.

Amy and her husband Michael call their “hobby” and mission, “Wonder Capes.”
These capes are homemade, beautifully crafted “Superhero” comfort capes delivered to sick children around the world. As a mother of small children, Amy knows how important it is to love, encourage and support all of them. She understands that often parents focus on their sick child, taking away time and attention from their other children - that’s why she also accessorizes their siblings.

The capes are heartfelt inspirations. “I read their story. I think about them. I pray for them while I make it,” said Amy.

I’ve been dreaming about traveling to meet Amy and her family for about a year. There were many challenges to my plans: first funding, then scheduling and more behind-the-scenes logistics etc. Recently, everything fell into place and then BAM! I was on my way to cover one of the most personal stories ever in my 10-years of being a journalist.

How perfect that after nearly a year of trying to connect with Amy and Wonder Capes, that the stars aligned just in time – September, which is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month-- a way to focus attention on the important need to fund the fight against these cancers.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children 1 to 14 years old. On average, 1 to 2 children develop the disease each year for every 10,000 children in the United States. In the 2007, approximately 10,400 children, living in the US, under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and about 1,545 children will die from the disease.

Scientist and Pediatric Oncologist, Dr. Peter Adamson, with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) explains the disparity between adult and childhood cancer, “Cancer is a big problem in the adult population, it is a very small, but very important problem in the pediatric population, so the funding tends to mirror that large difference.”

Dr. Adamson, who is also Chair-elect of the Children’s Oncology Group, underscores the tremendous value and importance in pediatric cancer funding, “when you save a child with cancer, you give them a lifetime – 70, or 80 years.”

Everyone has the power to make a difference to find a cure for this horrific disease. Established well-known pediatric cancer research funders include: Cure Search for Children’s Cancer, CHOP Foundation, Alex’s Lemonade Stand and St. Baldrick’s.

Also this month, the entertainment industry unites for Stand Up 2 Cancer, a celebrity-studded, simultaneous multi-network broadcast show-- just one of the many of the platforms for cancer awareness and funding.

As you will see in our GIG story, we too highlight the brightest STARS and Superheroes on the forefront of research, care and this determined fight.

In my lifetime, it my hope is that you discover your Superhero powers to make a difference and that you’re moved to use them to give back.

GIG “Call to Action”

Since I created Go Inspire Go, my video-based, inspirational website that “Helps viewers discover their power and use it to help others,” I’ve been jonesing to do a story about the fight against cancer.

Covering and sharing this story with you has been a dream of mine, and something I’ve been moved to do, since my father and aunt both passed away, months from each other, in 2001. Back then, I felt powerless.

After meeting Amy, other parents and Superheroes, I finally regained my power. Like the Brooke and the other little Superheroes I recently befriended at CHOP, I too believe in miracles and the positive “power” of the cape!

For many of the sick kids who receive their cape, the Metropolis (and second home) where they fly is the hospital. Hopefully one day, they can fly freely outside and away from the villain they call cancer.

You may not be a sewing superstar like Amy, (I’m no Martha Stewart either); however, I do know that you have it in you to give back, no matter big or small. You can make a charitable donation ---a gift to honor or remember someone- to cancer research organizations, or if you’re on a tight budget, you can volunteer at your local hospital, sponsor, or organize a fundraising event.

Do you have commitment phobia, or hesitate supporting a non-profit, or cause? No worries, be creative. Maybe there’s a family member, friend, neighbor fighting cancer, who you can help with errands, household responsibilities, or better yet, lend your talents (painting, music, etc.) and spend time making your important Superhero smile.

Here’s an example of paying it forward; In the video, you saw that Nick’s mother, Angi Kappenman was inspired by Amy to give back. The Kappenman's donate backpacks to parents of a sick child at a local hospital – in them are activities, such as coloring books, crayons, etc. along with a picture of Nick and a message to “Stay Strong Carry On,” a mantra the family repeats as Nick continues his checkups... The intent is two-fold: to keep kids entertained and to help parents organize hospital paperwork.

It’s obvious that I love talking and revere in storytelling. One of my contributions is using my skills to create videos and blogs that raise visibility and support for amazing superheroes-- many I want you to meet through GIG.

Please view and share our heartwarming video by copying and sending this video & blog link, sharing on facebook, or tweeting.

To all the Superhero families and children who continue to fight, the “C” villain: Stay strong. Carry on. Bless you.

Toan Lam

Special thanks to: Denise Poon with Creative Streamline, Steve Kotton, Dianne Fukami, Phat & Lynn Lam, Yasmine Farazian, Luis Pena, Vera Poon, Keely & Tanya Stevenson, Le Tran, Michael Hang, Allison Tom.