Tag Archives: LLS

On My Honor, I Will Do My Best

tryI put a lot of effort into living–and living right. I live like somebody’s going to be handing out ribbons at the finish line.

This week, I was pretty convinced that if that did turn out to be the case, I would be handed a “Participant” ribbon.  You know, the one in the weird color that’s definitely not blue. The one that they order in large quantities to give to everyone who didn’t win, place or show.

I wasn’t excelling at anything, just participating. My kids were eating a lot of sandwiches. My running shoes couldn’t be located. Tasks at work kept piling up, no matter how hard I worked. I still hadn’t written a book proposal, much less a book. The wreck of a house was just getting wreckier. The Usual.

But one thing was really eating at me–Light the Night. It’s the big fundraising walk held by the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. I raise money every year in Richard’s memory. It’s a way of fulfilling a promise to him, so I’ve tried to give it my all every year. For TEN YEARS.

The first year I walked, I set myself a goal of raising $1000. My friends and family donated $3000. So the next year, I set a goal of $3000 and raised $7000. The next year, a $7000 goal turned into $11,000 raised. The year after that?  We managed to donate $15,000 in Richard’s memory. People are so generous! So this has been a big deal for me for a long time.

When Richard knew that he was dying, and knew that he had been poisoned by toxins in his workplace, he made me promise that I would sue on his behalf after he was gone. He pointed his finger right at my heart and said, “If you win, you keep a third, give my sister a third, and give a third to the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.” I promised. Scout’s honor.

I tried. No lawyer saw a way to pin it down. There’s no suing pockets that deep. So I let the wrongful death go. I started raising money through Light the Night. I had made a promise.

It takes a lot of work to raise those kinds of dollars. I’ve organized bake sales, silent auctions, coin drives. One year I sold sponsorships on my t-shirt like NASCAR. Twenty five dollars to get on the shirt. Fifty to get on the front. Two hundred and fifty to be in the boob area! One year I did a crunches for money–my sister donated enough to make me do 1000 crunches.

Even with all that work, the momentum slowed. The total came in at $13,000 when it had been $15,000 the year before. The next year, it went to $11,000. Still amazing, but…less than it had been. Last year, I couldn’t do a big auction at work that had been a money-maker for years. My total fundraising came in at about $7000.

Seven thousand dollars and I felt like I had let Richard down.  Crazy Alert.

This year, I was having trouble even getting started. July was so busy, I thought I would begin in August. Then the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept the world of charitable giving. So here it was, September 1st and I hadn’t raised a dime. The walk is on October 10th. Gulp.

I wasn’t even participating!

The negative voices started dogging me. “Don’t even bother. You can’t do much at this point.” The evil demon, Inertia, pulled me down.  “This could be the year that you stop.” I was beating myself up because my best didn’t seem good enough any more. And I had promised Richard that I would give something to LLS.

Well, well, well. It seems that ONCE AGAIN, I have failed to take my own advice. Just last week, when I spoke to the senior class at Wesleyan during Fall Convocation, I gave them some simple advice:  Do Your Best. Don’t worry about anyone else’s best–do your best.

We’ve all heard it a zillion times–do your best. But here’s the kicker that I shared with them.  Do your best, but remember that your best CHANGES. From day to day, year to year, maybe even hour to hour.

When I made that promise to raise money for LLS, my life was very different. It was just me and three weiner dogs who didn’t like to go on walks anyway. I had plenty of time to spend on tracking down sponsors, holding events, collecting donations, building a sense of community for the cause. I spoke on behalf of LLS. I taught newer teams how to raise money. I kept planning bigger and better events.

Now, 10 years into it, I’ve got 3 kids, a full-time job, Wesleyan alumnae stuff, a writing gig, and grown-lady bills to pay. I still love the excitement of making a difference, but I make a difference in a lot of ways these days (even if it’s by helping with spelling homework or crafting juicy and delicious blog posts). I’m not shirking my commitment to LLS, but I am giving myself some grace. My best changes from year to year. My best is spread out over so many beautifully creative adventures. boy_scout_with_oath

I’m doing my best in memory of my Eagle Scout. My goal this year it to raise $5000 in a joyful, easy-hearted manner.

And wouldn’t you know, as soon as I got the fundraising website up last night, the donations started coming in–$1430 in the first 24 hours!

So do your best, but remember that your best changes.

“I Want to Help People With Leukemia.”

On Friday night, Vivi walked into the den in her pink penguin pajamas.  Her fist was wrapped around a stack of four quarters.  She leaned against my knee and held out the money.  I opened my hand and she poured the coins in.

“What’s this, baby?”

“This is for my slice of cake.  I want to help people with leukemia.”

In that moment, I couldn’t hold her close enough to show her how much I love her.  I buried my face in that curly head of hair that smells like chlorine and hugged her as tight as I could.  I breathed in my daughter, the first person in my life whom I’ve loved with every cell of my being.

In that moment, I felt joy that she has a generous and loving heart.  I felt proud that she wants to contribute.  I felt sad that she knows so much about leukemia because I am her mother.

I had organized a big cake auction and bake sale at work that day for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.  This is the eighth year of the “Thrilla In Vanilla” and we raised $2435 in four hours.  So for days, Vivi has been hearing about the Thrilla.  She knows that I work with LLS because of Richard.  Vivi knows that Richard’s blood stopped working and it couldn’t be fixed.


Thursday night, my neighbor and friend brought over a vanilla cream cheese pound cake to donate to the auction.  It was still warm from the oven.  The divine smell permeated the house.  Of course, Vivi wanted a slice right away.  I told her it wasn’t for us–it was to raise money for the Leukemia Society.  She nagged, wheedled and puzzled about that cake for an hour.  Friday morning, when I woke her up, she opened her eyes and said, “If I give you some money, can we eat that cake?”  She was SERIOUS.  And she’s sitting on a nice wad of cash from the Tooth Fairy, so I took her seriously.

I kept my eye on the pound cake during the auction and had to outbid a couple of folks, but I won “Vivi’s Cake.”  When I picked her up from school, she asked if I had gotten the cake.  I was happy to be able to say, “YES!!!”  As we drove, I gave the kids some molasses cookies for a snack (sugar rush Friday at our house!).  Vivi asked me who had made them.  I said, “My friend, Denise.  Her husband got a blood cancer but he’s better.”

“How did they fix it?”

“They gave him medicine and his blood went back to being healthy.  The money Mommy raises helps pay for the scientists who discover the medicine.”

“Did your friend’s husband have leukemia or lymph-i-oma?”  I didn’t correct her pronunciation.

“He had myeloma–it’s the other kind of blood cancer.”

Vivi thought for a second and asked, “Is he…the same color as us or a different color?  Is he black?”

“He’s the same color as us.  White people get myeloma, too, it’s just more common in African Americans.”

That’s when when my heart sank because I realized that this six-year-old can name two blood cancers and remembered that myeloma was more prevalent among African Americans….jeez.  She knows way too much about this stuff.  I felt bad that the only reason this information has entered her consciousness is because I brought it into her life.  That’s some advanced Mom Guilt right there.

A few hours later, when we sliced into the pound cake after dinner, Vivi called the end piece with all that golden crust.  Carlos learned to say “poun’ kek!”  It was delicious–sweet and dense and rich.

But even sweeter was that moment when my first-grader, who may know too much about blood cancer for her age, paid one of her dollars for that slice of cake–to help people with leukemia.

The sad scary parts of life will come to her as they will.  I can’t stop that, no matter how hard I try.  But it’s my privilege to teach her that we can keep hoping, and giving, and believing.