Donna’s Cancer Story: How to Help

Yesterday’s post, the last of thirty-one installments of Donna’s Cancer Story, was titled, The End, but when I shared it on facebook, I wrote, “The End is not the ending.”  The End was the end of Donna’s Cancer Story, but, clearly, not the end of Donna’s story, because here you are.   

Newborn Donna 
In the midst of her vigil, the owner of the studio where she practiced dance called to offer her love and support.  We talked a few moments and I told her that when things calmed down, after Donna died, we wanted to do something to give back to the studio that had shown such love to us, like maybe a scholarship.  Miss Katie loved the idea.  There were two girls that recently had to drop out of their classes because of finances, so there was definitely a need.  “Two girls?,” I asked.  “Yes, sisters,” Katie answered.  “Call them and tell them to come back to class,” I said. 

We wrote a check with funds our friends had raised for us early on that went unused.  It was crystal clear to us:  if Donna could not dance, others should.  And in the midst of such pain, I felt a moment of joy.  Just like that.  When Donna died, others donated to the fund, too. 

The next month, we decided to purchase a dozen personal DVD players for oncology patients at Children’s Memorial.  Donna’s had been such a saving grace during the long hours of treatment, but it was clear that not all families could afford them.  More joy when we heard from hospital staff about what a difference they made to the kids who received them.

A few weeks later, a friend sent along a check for the fund and wrote, “Here is a donation for Donna’s good things.”  Donna’s Good Things!  Of course! 

smiling Donna

Another Cancer Mom and I talked on the phone sometimes about our sadness and our losses and how life moves on, impossibly.  Our kinship had endured the loss of both our kids and to this day I still see her as my teacher, that we were drawn to one another because the Universe knew we needed it.  We joked about the cliche of losing a kid to cancer:  ya gotta start running 5Ks and ya gots to start a charity.  Check and check! 

Mary Tyler Dad and I got serious in the spring of 2010.  A former roommate’s father, neighbors over in Survivors Glen, offered to incorporate Donna’s Good Things (DGT) as a 501(c)(3), pro bono.  We worked to build a web site, but that process was slow as molasses.  Our designer was fantastic and raring to go, but the content was my responsibility and each word hurt like hell to write.  What should have taken weeks took months.  The grief was too fresh and the transition of Donna from live girl to charity icon cut wounds in me. 

During these months a friend in Ohio asked, “What can out-of-towners do?”  Friends had held a couple of small fundraisers in Chicago that we publicized on Donna’s CaringBridge site, and our Ohio friend raised the very real question that with Donna’s support network being Internet based and global, we needed to think about that question.

It stumped me for weeks, and then, like a snap of the fingers, I had it:  there would be Our Good Things and Your Good Things.  In my notes I scribbled, “Imagine a little girl, who despite not being here, is still making things happen, good things, Donna’s Good Things.  We want a movement, not a charity!” 

Peacoat Donna

Here is our official mission statement:

Donna’s Good Things aims to:

  • Provide joyful opportunities for children facing adversity, be it economic, familial, social, or health related; and
  • Encourage Your Good Things by providing an online community where folks can share in words and photos something they’ve done influenced by Donna’s inspiration.

Our Good Things + Your Good Things = A Lot of Good Things!

Our Good Things has thrived with continued donations.  Since Donna died we have:

  • funded sixteen dance scholarships at Performing Arts Limited;
  • donated twenty personal DVD players to individual oncology patients at Children’s Memorial in Chicago;
  • equipped each Child Life Therapist on the oncology in- and out-patient units at Children’s Memorial with iPads for children to have fun and learn about their diagnosis using specialized age appropriate apps (one of the iPads was sponsored by Benny’s World);
  • hosted our annual Happy, Hopeful New Year’s Eve bash on 4 West, the inpatient oncology unit at Children’s, complete with music, dancing, sparkling cider for midnight toast, and massages for the Cancer Parents;
  • sponsored monthly Wiggleworms concerts for younger patients at Children’s;
  • received a grant of $1,000.00 from the DRW Foundation to purchase library books for an underfunded Chicago Public School (surprisingly, this has been really difficult, as none of the schools we have reached out to seem to want them!);
  • participated in Team Dancing Donna in the annual Run for Gus 5K, contributing over $16K to the brain tumor program at Children’s Memorial, specifically Dr. Stew’s own research.

Alphabet Donna

While Our Good Things has thrived and brought us a lot of joy, Your Good Things has not.  I talked about this with a friend who does non-profit marketing and she acknowledged that getting people to do something was hard.  Really hard.  Like, almost impossibly hard.  Sigh. 

Midway through writing Donna’s Cancer Story, when people started asking, “How can I help?’, and commenting, “I want to do something for Donna,” the idea of Your Good Things came back to me.  You, dear readers, are the seeds of Donna’s movement.  You.  Just look what you’ve done in these few days:

  • Amber in Montana who wrote to tell me Donna was inspiring her to quit smoking; 
  • Annie, a local gal, who wants to use her monthly charity group to bring awareness to DGT; 
  • Tracy who will wear a ribbon to honor Donna in next week’s Chicago Marathon;
  • Andrea who made a donation in Donna’s name to Every Child is Born a Genius;
  • Kathy in California who is driving her friend’s mother to doctor appointments after losing her own mother in July;
  • Heather in Michigan who saw the bedtime ritual with her kids as a blessing and not a chore the other night; 
  • Amy in Florida who has signed on to be a Chemo-Angel;
  • Kim from the Junior League here in Chicago who want to partner with DGT in November for a project; 
  • DP from Texas who is now letting her daughters “guide” her as Donna did us;
  • Jamie in Virginia, a manicurist, who did a special black and gold manicure and posted why on her blog to raise awareness about pediatric cancer;
  • and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on!

As the parent of a dead child, the mother of dear Donna, you have no idea how this makes me feel.  Words fail me.  Words never fail me, ask Mary Tyler Dad, but words fail me when I see the effect Donna has had on you.  While I have been so focused on writing and mothering and working these past 31 days, your kind comments and gestures and offers to volunteer and donations have gone unacknowledged by me.  They are overwhelming and astounding and the seeds for the movement that has eluded Donna’s Good Things thus far.  Tomorrow I will start that lovely project.

So to answer the question, “What can I do to help?,” please know that by reading and keeping me company this month, and sharing Donna’s story, you already have.  Talk about pediatric cancer.  Look the parents of bald children in the eye, and smile at that child, knowing they are strong and vulnerable.  And, selfishly, please keep Donna in your thoughts and actions.  Do not forget her.  Remember that a most amazing little girl was here and lived a wise and beautiful life.  Choose hope.  Live until you die.  But specifically, and more concretely, here are some more things you can do to help:

  • If you’ve already done Your Good Thing or are thinking about it, tell us about it!  Go to the Donna’s Good Things’s website and post it, including a photo, if you have one.  There is a new super-cool facebook and twitter share feature, so once it’s been reviewed and approved, you can show your friends and family what you’ve done.  I’ll be sharing some on the DGT facebook page, too;
  • Oh, and speaking of facebook, consider liking the DGT facebook page where we post a Good News Story of the Day.  This is the place to get the most up to date news about Our Good Things, too.  Think of this and the DGT website as our clearninghouse of good.  If you need a little dose of good in your day, stop on by for a boost; if you’re having some trouble choosing hope, as I do some days, pop in and get inspired;
  • Plan a Your Good Thing fundraiser with proceeds donated to DGT, like Miss Katie’s Donna’s Dance-a-thon, which raised $240 for us, or Talia’s 4th of July lemonade stand at the Evanston parade, which raised $65.  DGT can supply you with an electronic kit, including our logo and photos of Donna, to promote it;
  • Consider donating your charitable dollars to Donna’s Good Things — good things cost $.  Your donation, regardless of size, will help continue the good things we are committed to, like dance scholarships, and books and music, and electronics for kids with cancer.  Our Good Things will continue to focus on those things that brought Donna comfort and joy in her life; 
  • Purchase a $10 ‘CHOOSE HOPE’ magnet from Pixeldust & More, our friend Anne’s studio, who photographed Donna so beautifully.  She has posted them for sale at her gallery and will donate all proceeds ($5/magnet!) to DGT, her good thing to honor Donna.  Click on the photo you like, hit “Buy,” “This Photo,” then click the green tab that says “Merchandise” for the magnet;
  • If you’ve read Donna’s Cancer Story, but haven’t shared it, please do so now.  It will remain catalogued on Mary Tyler Mom’s site for the duration.  What I hear from folks is that it moved you, some to hug your kids tighter, some to understand pediatric cancer better, some to enjoy life more.  Pass that on, pass on Donna’s love and wisdom and joy so that more and more and more folks can benefit, as you have, from my brave girl. 

Pink Cowboy Hat

Raising awareness about pediatric cancer was the ultimate goal of Donna’s Cancer Story.  It was my belief that if folks could come to know Donna, they would come to know pediatric cancer and what a beast it is.  I think it worked.  Your unfailingly kind comments and hearing from other Cancer Parents from every neighborhood of Cancerville, tell me it worked.  There are two charities we support that excel in their efforts to increase awareness and research funding for pediatric cancer.  They are:

  • CureSearch, which is a “national non-profit foundation whose mission is to fund and support children’s cancer research and provide information and resources to all those affected by children’s cancer.”  CureSearch also manages the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), the largest cooperative research entity in the world, of which Dr. Stew and Children’s Memorial is a member hospital.  95% of every dollar raised goes to program expenses; 2% goes to fundraising expenses; and 3% goes to administrative costs.   
  • St. Baldrick’s is a “volunteer-driven charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives.”  To date, St. Baldrick’s has awarded over $76 million in research grants to over 230 COG institutions.  78% of every dollar raised goes to research; 19% to fundraising expenses; and just 3% goes to administrative costs. 

Tell ’em Donna sent you!

Okay, dear reader, from the bottom of my broken, damaged heart, I thank you.  Mary Tyler Dad thanks you.  439,392 page views later, yes, I think it worked.  It worked, because of you.  I am endebted to you for bringing me into your home and cubicle and bathroom stall and soccer field and car and kitchen.  If only I had bought stock in Kleenex, I’d be a rich lady. 

Know that what you’ve done, willingly witness Donna’s life and death, took guts.  You did it.  You are amazing.  Never forget that. 

Red Hat Donna

 RIP, Donna Lubell Quirke Hornik, 20 July 2005 – 19 October 2009

We’ll meet you there, girl.


22 Replies to “Donna’s Cancer Story: How to Help”

  1. My good thing? It just hit me. Easy. I now know where to pledge my annual charitable contribution at work. $$ out of each paycheck will be sent to an account & then sent quarterly to DGT’s fund. Best.investment.ever.


  2. My love to you all. I knew I wouldn’t be able to read an entry a day so I saved it all up for this weekend. Seriously, my love to you all, and especially to Miss Donna …. I know where you are, you are in every sunny day, in every trip to the park and in every pebble on every beach … and oh so deep in the hearts of every person who has read these words of love and pain, of suffering and hope. My heart has expanded to include all of you, for all time. May Donna’s Good Things carry on the legacy of hope for time immemorial.


  3. I love that you mention St. Baldrick’s! For my birthday in March i am becoming a shavee. I have been affected by childhood cancer! My boy friend growing up had cancer when we met. He was told at age 11 he would not see 12, he was almost 23 when he passed. We met at Childrens Hospital in Oakland Ca and remained friends after i moved across country. Years ago someone also sent me a link to pray for a little boy, Colman Larson. I plan to Shave in memory of them both and would love to add Donna as well!


    1. Coleman Larson’s Mom and I are Internet friends! She has taught me so much, as we’ve been communicating since 2007. Team Larson taught me to “Neva give up!” What a small world the Internet creates. Jessi, we would be honored to have you shave for Donna in the company of Coleman and your friend. Thank you.


  4. Thank you for posting this! I have a little girl who I hope the world for and want to teach her Good Things as well. Her first lesson is that we are going to share the wealth with Donna’s Good Things. Thank you for sharing Donna’s story and I look forward to reading your blog.


  5. So awesome to see the impact that your story and one amazing little girl has had. I’ll definitely get a picture of Donna’s ribbon Sunday. There will, not doubt, be more Good Things to come!


  6. Thank you for sharing your story of love and strength, it is truly inspiring. I have teared up a number of times while reading Donna’s story but today I broke down thinking of Donna asking to go to Target and giving you the concert as it is such a typical 4 year old thing to do (my 4 year old son’s favorite store is Target too). Your story has helps me realize that every day is a gift and we should cherish this time with our kids. I wish you the best and I know Donna will live in your heart always.


  7. I also want to add, the beautiful photos of Donna and the rest of the family really brought this story to life (for me) and pulled me in. Thank you again for sharing and I hope this experience of sharing your story helped to ease your pain some.


  8. My sister and I both followed Donna’s story. I heart you MTM. Sweet Donna, you have forever changed my life. Tonight, my family and I are going to celebrate my 5 year anniversary of my brain surgery and recovery. From now on, we are going to “Live until we die.” Donna would approve, I think.


  9. As I said before…Donna won’t be forgotten. Somehow, I managed to fall in love with a little girl I’ve never met. I’m spreading her story all over my Facebook page so that the people I love can have the same opportunities I did to learn and love and rediscover what’s important. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


  10. The photo of Donna in the pink sweater and hat in this post is one of my faves….but of course I think that about most of the adorable pictures you have posted of her.

    My heart knows she is physically gone from this world but her spirit is so strong here still. So many good things done in her name, so many of us still being touched by her story…. I am not a religious person but I do believe that there is life after this one and Donna is still doing her very important work.

    My heart was filled with Donna as I read each entry in September. I laughed, cried and saved her beautiful pictures so I will never forget how amazing her little face was.

    I wish I had money to support her “Good Things” but for now I will have to settle for doing my own good things in her name.

    We love you Donna!!!!


  11. Did you try Manierre? They are an underfunded Chicago Public School that seems delighted to work with local do-gooders. Every year there’s a Manierre Santa program to get toys for the younger students for the holidays, and they also have buddies come in from Open Books to read with the kids.

    If the school won’t take it directly, maybe donate it to Open Books, as that will probably accomplish the same ends: CPS kids + books = Good Thing.

    Thank you for posting this whole story, btw. It has really affected my month, but I didn’t know what to post til now.


  12. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was late in reading it because I don’t do well with things like these. But ultimately a few days ago, I started the read.

    Donna has stuck with me non-stop over the past few days. I think it hit home more because I am the mother of a 2 1/2 year old. She’ll be 3 in February. I’d read Donna’s story late at night in bed and want to rush into her room and hold her close. I thought about not reading the stories anymore once I got to Blooming in Bloomington. Wasn’t sure how much more I could take. But, out of deep respect for Donna, and for you, I trudged foward. I owed her that at least.

    Donna is such a beautiful vibrant girl, and she has touched so many people’s lives. I hug my daughter a little tighter each day, and I make sure to dance with her every time she asks. Never wasting a moment. Living.

    I’ll remember her always and will burn a candle in her honor.


  13. Thank you. Cancer has torched (not touched) my life too. You pinned beautiful words to a hateful disease. Thank you. You are a strong, amazing, warrior. Your story will help others find the light that is so often dimmed with diagnosis. Thank you. Thank you for choosing hope and bubbles!


  14. MTM,

    Thank you so much for opening up your lives to us and sharing your family’s story. You not only spread awareness of and inspired action on childhood cancer, but you also let us get to know a fabulous girl who set an example of “living until you die.” We’ll never forget her. I appreciate how you used your writing talent to share horrible details upfront without shocking us, get emotional without getting maudlin or victim-y, and even make us laugh. Best of all, you gave Donna dignity by rendering her as a person and not as some helpless thing for us to pity or coo over. Clearly, you and MTD treated her as a person with real thoughts and real interests, and you let her stake her claim in the world. And I appreciate how *you* are the one leading *us* forward with your attitude of choosing hope — it’s just priceless. But it’s not a phony attitude/platitude — you get discouraged, but you’ve figured out how to lean on people and draw strength from them. Your resilience is an example for the rest of us. Your attitude helps us remember, besides the fact that we can press forward to fight childhood cancer, that the ultimate lesson of Donna’s life is not that she died but that *she lived.* It helps me remember, I am alive!


    1. Wow. That was lovely. I sound awesome. I want to meet me some day! Thank you for your kind words, and for grasping the whole intent of my writing of Donna’s Cancer Story. You make me proud. Thank you for reading, Chris. It is much appreciated.


      1. Oh, MTM, you’re welcome. You’re a giver and it seems easy for you, and I think we need to encourage people like you to keep on contributing. It’s undercover revolutionaries like you who will quietly change the world.


      2. Undercover revolutionary? That is awesome. My cousins are gonna make merciless fun of me at Thanksgiving.

        All kidding aside, Chris, I will simply say thank you. The mere fact that people read what I write kind of astounds me.


  15. I just finished reading Donna’s Cancer Story and want to Thank You from the bottom of my heart for sharing your precious baby girl,and your dear family with all of us!!! Like others before me have written,I will hug my 2 boys a little tighter,show them everyday how much I love them,and tell them about a little girl named Donna who Inspired so many others to “Live Until You Die”!!! Much Love to You All~~Lisa from Staunton,Virginia:)


  16. Today, I took the time to read this in its entirety, to watch the life and death of Donna, the struggles of your family, your friends and your beautiful daughter. This, this beast that came in and changed your life, the life of your family in such a difficult way…to share this could not have been easy and I applaud you. I felt your overwhelming sorrow, your distress, your anguish and ultimately your hurt, all through your words and pictures. It made me hug my daughter tighter. I read part of this story to her, tho I know that she doesn’t understand it, she will one day and I’ll let her read it again then. She’s 2 now and I’m thankful that shes a healthy happy normal child. My daughter loved the pictures of her. I’m thankful most of all that you decided to, even in your time of sorrow, find a way to help others who are going through this experience now as you did with Donna. I pray someday for a cure for cancer, most of all pediatric cancer, that no child should have to go through all of this, that no child or adult should have to suffer through this pain and that their families should not have to watch them helplessly as doctors attempt to do this or that to find a cure or to extend their lives for a few more weeks or months. I pray for your family and my family as well and I sincerely from the bottom of my heart thank you for sharing Donnas story with all of us and offering us ways to help that we didn’t even realize would be helpful.


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