Fight Like Emilie 2019 Year in Review

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Emilie is our amazing forever 10 year-old girl and best friend to her big brother Alex. During the summer of 2016 she began to have headaches while swimming. After an MRI on September 9th, we received the words no parent should ever hear, “Your child has cancer”. We quickly learned that she had a rare brain tumor called a Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) which had no cure and that 50% do not make it 9 months after diagnosis. Emilie survived 14 months. During her battle she had surgeries in Shreveport, Memphis, and San Francisco. She endured many MRIs, countless needle pokes, 40 doses of radiation, and three phase 1 trial treatments. With courage beyond her years, she battled cancer with sass, humor, song, and an occasional dance under her many crazy hats. Finally, her fight came to an end at home on Halloween night, 2017 surrounded by family and friends.  On that night, she passed the baton to her family and friends so that we could continue her fight until the day cures are found for all children. 8 months later, around the time of her birthday, the Fight Like Emilie Foundation was born.

OUR MISSION

The Fight Like Emilie Foundation exists to support research, institutions/organizations, families, and initiatives, as well as to raise awareness in the fight to defeat childhood cancer.

2019 FINANCIAL AND ACTIVITY REPORT

Thanks to each of you we feel that we made an impact in the fight against childhood cancer in 2019.  During the 2019 fiscal year the Fight Like Emilie Foundation raised $13,748.37 from individual giving through Facebook, Amazon Smile, Give for Good, and monies raised through special events. Not bad for our first year. Of the $13,748 raised, we spent $13,034.18. Of that, we are proud to report that 82% ($10,684) went straight to performing our mission and 18% ($2,349) went to administrative costs. Now that this first year is passed, we can and will do better.

FLE Spending $13,034 total expenses Percent of expenses
Direct Family Support $8,050 61.8%
Childhood Cancer Awareness $2,634 20.2%
Administration Costs $2,349 18.0%

WHAT DID WE DO WITH FUNDS RAISED?

A girl in a pink shirt

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ADMINISTRATION COSTS – Since this was our first year, we started off with some one-time administration costs that we could not avoid that included paying for our amazing website developed by Richard Creative. Those costs will be less for 2020 and beyond. As part of our responsibilities in running the organization, a good bit of our administrative expenses went to insurance. Absolutely no monies were used for salaries. This is a good spot to recognize our wonderful board and those who have volunteered their time and effort with us!

SUPPORTING FAMILIES – $8,050 went directly to supporting families. That means that nearly 62% of your support went directly into the hands of families who needed it most. We did this in two ways. First, we gave direct grants to 5 families that applied during the 2019 year. Community Foundation’s annual Give for Good had a significant impact for two of our families as we raised nearly $2,000 total and then added from our own funds to give each family $2,000. Secondly, between Christmas of 2018 and 2019 we sent out Amazon cards to children who were fighting this horrible disease. Of course, those cards were sent out from Emilie.

AWARENESS – 2019 was a great year for us in terms of working on awareness of childhood cancer.

First, it was the first year of our partnership with the intercollegiate debate competition organization, the International Public Debate Association (IPDA). In 2018, with the help and support of friends and the organization’s officers, childhood cancer became its official charity. The mission was for its participating programs to raise funds for their childhood cancer charity of choice. It is estimated that members of the organization raised nearly $20,000 in their first year giving to several different charities. The Fight Like Emilie Foundation awarded participating programs with plaques of recognition and individual participants with commemorative coins.  

Secondly, we made one of Emilie’s dreams come true. During her battle with cancer, she announced that one of her “bucket-list” items was to be in a parade. Thanks to incredible supporters, she and her brother rode in the 2017 Highland Mardi Gras parade. She had a blast. Prior to the start, she asked her father why there wasn’t a float for childhood cancer. I responded, “I guess we’ll just have to work on that”. That was Emilie’s last parade and she never got to fulfill that dream. As a family, we weren’t able to make that happen in the year following her passing. Well, in 2019 we did make that happen. Emilie’s float launched in the same Highland parade that made her wish come true. It was small, just a truck with decorations, but what made it really special is that our first rider was a precocious little girl who just had one of her eyes taken in order to “cure” her cancer. Everything was unicorn themed and everyone absolutely fell in love and awe of our first queen of our Emilie float. Lots of people donated beads and throws to give our queen an amazing experience. Selfishly, it also made Emilie’s dream come true for us.

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Thirdly, we made connections and partnered with some wonderful groups during 2019 to help raise awareness for the fight against childhood cancer. No monies from Fight Like Emilie were used in these efforts, but we are discovering how valuable partnerships are as we fight this foe.

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In partnership with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, as father of Emilie and not as a leader of FLE, our Executive Director, Trey Gibson was sent to the Alliance for Childhood Cancer Action Days in Washington DC where we advocated for the childhood cancer fight. Thanks to Representative Mike Johnson, Emilie’s unicorn Elete and I were able to speak in front of many House representatives about her experience. It was a humbling, yet wonderful experience, and much was learned.

Likewise, we volunteered with the ACS CAN in Louisiana’s Cancer Day at the Capital in Baton Rouge. During that time, our story and presence helped get children included in palliative care legislation.

A PEAK AT 2020 AND BEYOND

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2020 has already turned out to be a unique year. COVID 19 has impacted and changed many of our lives. However, it has not changed our mission. To date, we have already supported two families. We have also significantly raised our game during this year’s Mardi Gras Highland parade. We partnered with Foster-Somerland who built our float and Audio Home Solutions who provided the trailer and sound equipment to create Emilie’s Castle. This time we had two cancer warriors and their brave siblings tossing beads and throws. You all overwhelmed us with donated throws this year and thanks to you our warriors had a great time. We continue our partnership with the International Public Debate Association and encourage donations to any organization that fights childhood cancer. In 2019, the Louisiana legislature created a Palliative Care Advisory Council. That council met for the first time in January of 2020. FLE’s Executive Director, Trey Gibson was appointed to serve. This is in no way tied to Fight Like Emilie, but certainly represents another avenue to help make a difference for all children, not just those fighting cancer. Finally, in addition to supporting families and raising awareness, we also hope, with your help, to advance our mission to support research again.

THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!

All of this would not be possible without your support. There is still so much to do. Unfortunately, every day children will be diagnosed and parents will hear those hurtful words, “Your child has cancer”. It is by far the scariest set of words. Every day we miss our little girl and that heartbreak we feel fuels us to do more. Please keep all cancer warriors in your hearts and please help us help them by donating and sharing that childhood cancer needs more awareness!

Donate at https://fightlikeemilie.org/donate/

Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fightlikeemilie/

FIGHT LIKE EMILIE DAD WILL JOIN LOUISIANA PALLIATIVE CARE ADVISORY COUNCIL

Emilie and Trey Gibson prior to a blood draw in San Francisco, 2017

(Bossier City, LA) Co-founder and Director of the Fight Like Emilie Foundation, Gordon “Trey” Gibson has been appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards to serve on the newly created Louisiana Palliative Advisory Council. Gibson is currently awaiting confirmation from the Louisiana State Senate.

Gibson, who is an instructor of Leadership Studies at LSU Shreveport is the father of Emilie Gibson who was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at age 9. Over the course of her 14-month fight, she received treatment in Shreveport, Memphis, San Francisco, and Houston, all while trying to be a normal little girl.

Gibson states, “During Emilie’s fight, we experienced palliative care, both for her, and for us as a family, from incredible people and at every place we went all the way up to the end. We know how important this is. I am deeply honored by this servant leadership opportunity to represent those with chronic illnesses, especially children and their families, on this council and will do my best to help.”

The Louisiana Palliative Advisory Council was established through legislation in the 2019 session. The American Cancer Society states, “Palliative care can provide better quality of life for cancer patients, and those with other chronic diseases, and their families by focusing on relieving the pain, stress and other symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment.”

Prior to the first meeting of the council, Gibson plans to use social media to reach out to families to gather stories about palliative care to share with members. If any families from Louisiana have a palliative care story they would like to share, please send a private message on Facebook to Trey Gibson. 

Childhood Cancer Awareness Thoughts from a Daddy

Today is the 3rd day of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and in 6 days, it will be the 3rd anniversary of being told that our daughter had cancer. That was just one of many of the worst days of our lives to follow and I miss my daughter more today than I did yesterday. And since this is Childhood Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to share some insight as to what it is like on the inside to be a parent of a child who has/had cancer.

Attached to this post is one of my favorite pictures with Emilie. I still remember that moment when she put her head on my shoulder. I still feel that moment in my heart. I miss that moment in my heart. I think that anyone looking at this picture right now would see it for all of the love it expresses between my daughter and I. And there are a lot of beautiful pictures of amazing warriors and their families out there that are also full of love. However, for us, as families, that is just part of the picture.

When I look at this picture, I also see that big bottle of water. I would make a bet that no one really looked at that. After all, its just a bottle of water. Well, that half of the picture makes me hate this picture, something that none of you would ever know. 

As Emilie’s parents, and for all of the other parents of kids fighting this horrible disease, we had to watch, sometimes make our children go through terrible things. Specifically, for Emilie, blood draws were a big fear. It wasn’t that she was afraid of needles, just afraid of how many times nurses would have to stick her to find the right vein. Sometimes it took up to 3 times. Once, they even had to bring in an ultrasound machine and dig around with the needle while watching to see if they could get it in. Meanwhile, while Emilie screamed, we could only hold her hand and try to say words of comfort that really meant nothing in the end. Well, Emilie finally figured out that if she drank enough water, maybe, just maybe, they could tap her vein in one stick. It was her strategy and for a girl who won more games than she ever lost, strategy was her thing. It worked more often than it failed. So, this picture was taken far from home and down the street from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital the morning of a blood draw. The bottle of water in the picture was Emilie’s and she was preparing herself for another needle stick. 

I don’t pretend to speak for other parents, but I think they would agree. We are torn between two worlds and it is impossible for some to see. For me, this picture represents intense love and the horrible fight our daughter waged. Nearly every picture of Emilie during her fight has dual messages of love and terror. Even her crazy hats remind us of the joy of her goofiness and the reason for them.

To wrap this up, to start this month of awareness, I wanted to share something from inside the ropes. There are parents who have lost that are trying to put on the best smile possible, while feeling the gut wrenching pain of loss. There are parents fighting who are cheerleading for their child while feeling the deepest exhaustion and anxiety of uncertainty. Though these may be things we all could have guessed at, I hope that this picture and the history behind it, can shed a little more light.

I see that water bottle and all of the memories it represents come flooding back. On a good note, Emilie would call herself a “Blood Draw Professional!” So, her strategy worked more often than it didn’t. I was and always will be so proud of her courage. Still, no child should have to be a Blood Draw Professional. 

I also see Emilie, resting her beautifully goofy head on my shoulder. I would do anything for that moment again.

Bless you all and bless all of the children and their families who have fought, are fighting, and will fight childhood cancer.

#Worthmorethan4
#Endchildhoodcancer

Give for Good Family #2: Fighting for Dylan Crenshaw

Meet Dylan Crenshaw

As most cases with pediatric cancer, it all started with an unidentifiable pain like the one Dylan had in his hip. An 18 year old senior at Haughton High School, Dylan was diagnosed with testicular cancer this past March and began treatment at St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis. St. Jude is a wonderful place, but the relocation and jockeying back and forth between the hospital and home can be a struggle, so we are wanting to support this family in any way possible to make this whole ordeal at least a little less stressful. Dylan is an active guy who loves to bowl, sing, dance, swim and spend time with his best friend Paul.  Please consider Dylan and his family for Give For Good Day. All of the proceeds Fight Like Emilie raises will go to both Dylan Crenshaw’s and Vishwa Pearson’s families to help both of these guys make it through the tough fight they have ahead of them!
https://www.giveforgoodnla.org/fightlikeemilie

Cameron (17 year old brother), Dylan, and Kaleigh (11 year old sister)
Dylan’s siblings are missing their brother!

Give For Good Family #1: Vishwa’s Fight–Help us Support!

Vishwa

Vishwa is the 15 year old son of my amazing friends Parvathy Anantnarayan and Matt Pearson.  He was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in February of this year while he was visiting his grandparents in India. Recent PET scans tell us he is responding well to chemotherapy, which is a blessing and a relief to his family.  Having a child diagnosed with cancer flips the whole family’s world upside down.  Expenses come in all forms whether through the treatment itself; or the travel, lodging, and meals that result because of treatment; or through the regular expenses of life (house and car notes, insurance bills, electricity, utilities, etc).  Especially since Vishwa is in another country, his parents are having to navigate their work schedules back in New Orleans, as well as take time off. The distance is definitely an obstacle that his family has had to overcome.    

I met Parvathy and Matt in Lafayette, Louisiana when we attended graduate school in 2000.  Their house was always kind and welcoming, and Parvathy’s infectious warmth and laughter (and maybe some homemade Chai tea) are what kept me sane throughout our studies.  Whether you give to help them out with living expenses or just to provide them some relief through fun distractions, any little amount will help!   Living expenses are crucial, but so is surviving in spirit, and distractions are what help families fighting cancer to recharge.  I know this because we were in their shoes.  Our child fought and lost her fight with pediatric cancer.  They are a beautiful family.  Please consider becoming a part of the village that sees them through this.  

Our Give for Good site opens officially today, and all of the funds given will go to help families like this one, so please consider making a donation:
https://www.giveforgoodnla.org/fightlikeemilie .

Matt and Parvathy

Fight Like Emilie

As featured in Lola Magazine November/December 2018 Issue

The most unexpected phrase in the world has to be, “We found a mass in your child’s brain.” These words began our 9-year-old daughter Emilie’s trek into the madness of childhood cancer and sent our whole family hurtling out the other side into The Fight Like Emilie Foundation, our answer to destroying cancer forever.

Terror, sheer terror followed that unexpected phrase, and then the thoughts, “It’s not cancerous, it can’t be cancerous. If it is, then it will only be a stage one or two. It has to be.” That is what I told myself on September 9, 2016, after receiving the news in a Chic-Fil-A parking lot. While driving down the road, tears threatened to smear my line of sight while my child sat unknowingly in the back seat — unaware that her world, that our world, was about to be twisted into something I can only explain as the other side of the rabbit’s hole. Somehow, probably since all was unknown at this point, I held myself together. Masked by my sunglasses, I silently cried at every stoplight, and I have no idea if she noticed the occasional gasp for air, but somehow, I made it home.

Avoiding eye contact and silently holding myself together was common in the months that followed because my daughter had the worst of brain tumors, something called DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). I had never heard of the disease, but the average survival rate is one year after diagnosis. Unlike my husband, who soaked up every bit of information he could, I could not look too far outside of our family bubble.

The cancer community has a mantra: Minute by minute. I had to take life minute by minute — make sure she went to her appointments, took her medication, and received the rest that she needed. Always, like most cancer parents, I hoped that the next treatment would be the miraculous answer we needed. We heard so many stories about how that one lucky kid magically responded to treatment against all odds. I hoped that Emilie would be the one.

The crazy thing about our story is that there weren’t many signs pointing toward cancer. All I knew is that my daughter started having headaches, which we called the doctor about, but they were attributed to possible dehydration. It wasn’t until she complained about having headaches with flip turns at swim practice that we decided this problem needed to be addressed because Emilie had found her passion, and we weren’t going to let that love for swimming go to the wayside over headaches. When we saw the doctor and she pointed out Emilie’s lopsided smile, I was dumbfounded. I suppose I was so close to her all of the time that I didn’t even notice what was right there in front of me, nor did I even begin to comprehend the fight ahead. Cancer in general is difficult to understand. Not only does it have so many different mutations that can affect so many parts of the body, but cancers such as DIPG adjust to treatment and find other ways to mutate, adapt, and grow. Then every child responds differently to the disease, as well as to the various treatments.

Emilie had radiation at St. Jude in Memphis, immunotherapy at Benioff Children’s in San Francisco, then more radiation in Shreveport, followed by immunotherapy at Texas Children’s in Houston before her fight came to an end. Throughout most of the journey, most people could not tell she was even sick because outside of a lazy eye and a drooping mouth, she functioned like every other normal kid. She went to school when she could and kept up with swim practice. Because of her seemingly normal demeanor, some of her schoolmates had a hard time understanding that she was even sick, but they didn’t see the in between times when her life was anything but normal. We were lucky in that the immunotherapy available had very little side effects, but even so, Emilie’s daily routine was often uprooted with a nomadic quality of traveling back and forth from hospital to hospital hundreds of miles away.

One incident far from home regarding an expired vaccine set us on edge wondering if Emilie was going to receive the treatment when she needed it or if we were going to have to wait until a new batch came in. Our room had a large window that looked out over San Francisco. I can remember my chin on her shoulder and my arms wrapped around her while she was kneeling backwards in her chair, looking out over the city. In a most serious and grounded manner, she asked me, “Don’t you just wish this was all a dream?” Oh how I wished with all of my heart that all of the blood draws, long, drawn-out shots, midnight ER runs, surgeries, steroid side effects — rage, constant hunger, sleepless nights, lost energy — and that horrific tumor that never stopped completely growing — that all of it had been a nightmare that our whole family could have woken up from at that very moment.

Unfortunately, it was a harsh reality that smacked us in the face every single day, and all we could do was put one foot in front of the other. Emilie definitely did that, and when she could spontaneously sing and dance while facing the hard truth in front of her, she did. In her last few weeks, she would often say, “Mom, you know what is stuck in my head?” and I would answer, “Let me guess, a song of some sort?” and she would break out singing the chorus to “Fight Song,” or something from Moana. She had an endless playlist in her head that changed with her mood, but reflected an amazingly strong outlook regardless of the fact that her body began to shut down. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that her balance began to waiver, and by the end of the summer, she was using a walker. DIPG attacks the computer center of the brain, shutting down all gross and fine motor skills. The child eventually becomes bedridden, where the parent has to bathe, feed, and change the child because she can no longer do for herself. We were lucky that the last stage only lasted a couple of weeks, and thankfully, we believe Emilie did not suffer much, sleeping a majority of the time until she passed away October 31, 2017.

Once cancer has entered the picture, it is impossible to ever see the world the same again. We walk on the other side of the looking glass, and cancer is the monster we see everywhere; therefore, we cannot ignore it. The only way to make sense of what happened to our witty, spunky, competitive, Hulk-smashing and unicorn-loving girl is to turn her tragedy into a catalyst for good. The Fight Like Emilie Foundation is our answer to continue the fight because Emilie was always putting others before herself. She would have jumped at the chance to help other families struggling with cancer, which is what we aim to do. We want to give money to research to end this disease, make sure that people understand how complex DIPG and all cancers are, and we want to help families make it through survival mode when they find themselves hurtled into the unknown.

Our first move as a foundation has been to form an initiative with the collegiate International Public Debate Association. Teams from various schools across the nation are choosing their own childhood cancer charities and using debate to raise funds. We have also donated money collected through Facebook and restaurant fundraisers to the Michael Mosier Foundation, a charity that gives 100 percent of its proceeds to research hospitals devoted to cures for DIPG.

One of Emilie’s bucket list wishes was to be on a Mardi Gras float and while walking past all of the floats the day of the parade, in true Emilie style thinking about all of the other kids fighting this disease, she asked why there wasn’t a float for Childhood Cancer. To promote awareness and to make her dream a reality, we are working to make that happen. We plan to grow with our fundraising efforts, and there have been ideas regarding future golf tournaments, game nights, along with more restaurant fundraisers.

If you would like to become a part of the fight, The Fight Like Emilie Foundation can be found on Facebook (@fightlikeemilie), and our email is fightlikeemilie@gmail.com. This is just the beginning. Having been through the hell of losing our joy and heart, our purpose is clear, and we won’t stop until cancer is defeated for good.