Friday, July 9, 2010

Joy in Volunteering

Because our child who had special needs has passed away, our special need is now living with grief, and the change in our family structure. No one can fill the Katie-shaped hole in our family. I find that one of the most effective coping strategies, for me, has been working to help others who are dealing with pediatric cancer. Some of our friends in the world of pediatric cancer are still living with the disease, or with the concern of relapse. Because of our experiences with Katie on her cancer journey, I am constantly drawn back into that world, through writing, sewing blankets for the hospital, speaking and volunteering.

I meet people in this world of pediatric cancer who teach me, who lift my spirits and encourage me, whose lives fill me with respect and awe at their perseverance, love and courage.

Last week, I had the privilege of volunteering at Camp Goodtimes West, the American Cancer Society’s camp for kids who have cancer (or who are in remission) and their siblings, here in Western Washington State. You may have read what I’ve written on my blog about camp, and about the magic of love that happens there twice a year, for a week in June and a week in July. David and Katie went to Camp Goodtimes West in June of 2007, just before her relapse. She didn’t want to go, but Gregg and I knew it would be a blessing for her and David – and by grace, it was, even beyond what we had dreamed.

Katie relapsed just three weeks after camp ended, and after she had some time to process the fact that she was dying, she asked us to scatter her ashes at camp. We did this last week; it took us three years to be ready to do it. It was beautiful, and I feel peaceful about it, because it was her wish – we were able to grant this wish, and it was held in love by our friends on the camp’s staff. You can read about it here and here.



Yesterday, I went to Seattle to participate in a meeting of the group Seattle Kids CAN (Cancer Advocacy Network). This group of guilds (which support cancer research at Seattle Children’s Hospital) is working together to plan for September, which is Childhood Cancer Month (“Gold = the new Pink”). Our goal is to share our resources and raise awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research. It was very thought-provoking to be in a room with committed, generous-hearted individuals whose lives have all been affected, directly or indirectly, by pediatric cancer. We reviewed a brilliant advertising campaign that is in the works, made by a kind and compassionate creative team.

On Monday evening, Gregg, my mom and I are going to a reception to meet a leading cancer researcher who has come to work at Seattle Children’s Hospital. He will also be advising a foundation that was started by a friend I met through the cancer journey. Carin & her husband Jeff started The Ben Towne Foundation in memory of their son, who died from cancer. I am looking forward to meeting Dr. Jensen and hearing what he has to say.

It’s very exciting to have all of these events occurring in rapid succession – I can see and feel the building momentum of love, passion and generosity of heart, and that makes me happy. It reminds me that there are many people of great goodwill, working on behalf of others -- sometimes because of their own pain, and sometimes, simply because they have deep compassion and want to make a better world.

I hope you are having a great summer!

Karen Gerstenberger writes at


  1. You and your family are making such a difference in the lives around you as well as those who will need future help . I am sure Katie is just so proud of all the work her family is doing for others.
    The most precious gift we can give, is our time.
    Hugs to you and your generous family, Suz

  2. So very sorry for your loss of your precious Katie. Such a poignant post.

  3. I think it's wondrous how Katie's spirit and your love for her are living on and on in the work that you are doing as a volunteer. I admire your strength and love and generosity. Thank you for sharing it with us as well!