‘I remember watching Tessa battle cancer while smiling and making the best of every situation. She wanted to make every moment count. That’s how I try to live my life.’
“My mom had two young kids when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, which is typically found in children. Because of this, she was treated on the pediatric floor at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; her roommates and everyone on the floor were kids. My dad was surrounded by everyone’s parents even though he was there for his wife. Her situation was very rare.
“When she was better, we would help kids with cancer by attending fundraisers and events. I’m 22, and I’m lucky enough that she got to see me graduate from college, something she was told she would never get to see. It shows that research and awareness matters.
“This led me to beginning my foundation, Whip Pediatric Cancer. In 2015, I started an internet challenge with a popular dance at the time, “The Whip and Nae Nae.” I posted a video of myself doing it and I challenged my friends and family to do the same. It exploded on Facebook with more than 10,000 videos submitted using #WhipPediatricCancer.
I have visited more than 150 kids and we’ve become like family.
“We wanted to do more, so we started the Heart of Gold program which teaches kids that you are never too young to make a difference. You visit the Website and request as many hearts as you need for your school or class, and then kids will decorate them. They bring back a suggested donation of $2. We do it every September for Pediatric Cancer Awareness month. Gold is the color for childhood cancer.
“My favorite part of my non-profit is when I get to visit with the kids. I have visited more than 150 kids and we’ve become like family. It’s eye-opening to see what they go through, how resilient they are and how much they appreciate the visits.
“We also visit with the siblings because it’s hard for them too-the family relationships’ focus is usually on the sick kids. We’ve raised more than $750,000 for research and helping families who are struggling because they lost their jobs during COVID.
“Through the kids, I have learned to live in the moment. I have lost 30 kids that I was very close to, but I always remember watching Tessa battle cancer while smiling and making the best of every situation. Even at the end of her life we were baking brownies. She wanted to make every moment count. That’s how I try to live my life.”