Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ribbons to remember, ribbons to raise awareness

EDITOR'S NOTE: At Anderson’s Candy Shop, we do special orders all of the time. Actually they are my favorite orders to fill. Bacon-bit dusted caramels, mango-flavored chocolates -- as a former journalist, I’m a sucker for a good story and these types of orders always come with good ones. One of the best stories this year took me by surprise. It did not come from a customer, really, but came from a young woman I work with at the candy shop nearly every day. Her's is the picture at the top of this blog and the following is, really, her story.

Just after Easter I took a phone call from our longtime customer and friend, Derrick Wolff. He is a firefighter/EMT with the Lake Geneva Fire Department and he needed chocolate “awareness ribbons” to sell as a fundraiser for his Walworth County Wisconsin Relay for Life team.

I took the order while making a batch of candy and then passed the project off to our chocolate-molding extraordinaire, Bethany Galla.

Beth is 21 and has worked at the candy shop for five years. She is fun, creative, attentive and cheerful, and I figured that she and Derrick would hit it off and the order would be relatively simple.

What I didn’t think about was that Beth is a cancer survivor herself. Because of this she felt inspired to take this order to another level.

On Friday, July 20, Wolff and his Relay for Life team will have 600 chocolate ribbons to sell -- about 400 of which are dyed and flavored to represent seven different kinds of cancers including green for kidney cancer, white for bone cancer, and gold for childhood cancers.

Over the years Beth has shared bits and pieces of her cancer story with our Candy Shop family and her survival story has given me immense respect for her strength and resilience.

Now I would like to share that story with you, our extended family.

I asked Beth last week to write some notes about her experience with cancer as a young child and the following is from what she wrote:

“Before I was a year old, noticeable bruises appeared under my eyes.

Doctors declared it food allergies and instructed my mother to remove solid foods from my diet and reintroduce them one by one.

This was not a good enough conclusion for my parents, however so my mother took me to get a second opinion from another doctor.

After a few more tests, I was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma.”

(In simple terms, the doctors had discovered a cancerous tumor. It was caused by abnormal nerve cell growth. Normally, these immature cells grow and mature into functioning nerve cells. But in Neuroblastoma, they become cancer instead. Early symptoms can include bone pain, difficulty breathing, pale skin and bluish color around the eyes, and loss of movement of the hips, legs or feet. This type of cancer usually occurs in infants and children and the cause is unknown. Eventually, Neuroblastoma can cause liver and kidney failure, decreased resistance to infection and organ failure. Beth’s symptoms did not surface until after her cancer had advanced.)

"The bruises and lethargy didn't manifest until the cancer had already spread to multiple organs in my body, including my liver, abdomen and bone tissue.

The cancer was in the fourth stage. I remember being in the hospital, though it is quite vague.

I remember I lost all my hair because of the chemotherapy. On top of the chemo treatments, I underwent radiation and finally surgery.

I have a huge scar on my abdomen as a constant reminder of my early childhood horror."

If you met Beth, you would never guess she went through trauma as a child. Even her voice is happy. But earlier this year when one of our dippers, Colleen Vineyard, organized her own Relay For Life team, Beth brought some of her old photos in to share.

In Beth's "before treatment" pictures there is a sad and sick looking little girl. In the "after" pictures is a child which resembles the bright and sweet person we all know and love today.

As I have watched Beth labor for more than 20 hours on the ribbon order during the past month -- carefully mixing the colored chocolates and pouring each mold, then wrapping her masterpieces and tying them with bows -- I am deeply touched by the love she has poured into each piece.

When a project is as personal as this one was to Beth it really shows, in the best way possible. Beth’s creations are as beautiful as she is.

For the past month, every time I have walked past the chocolate-molding room filled with Beth’s colored ribbons I have been struck with emotion. We all have our own stories.

I see the pink ribbons and my heart tugs as I am reminded of my mother who I lost to breast cancer in 2009. Sometimes I smile because the white ribbons remind me of the love of my grandpa, who suffered from bone cancer.

Always I am thankful for Beth.

“It is scarce these days that any family escapes the devastation that cancer springs upon them.

"It is so prevalent and we need to band together to raise awareness and continue campaigning for research of cancer treatments."

For me, Beth's passion for raising awareness to cancer has turned Derrick’s ribbons to something more than just chocolates. They have become sweet reminders of the resilience, dedication and strength possible in people and have made me feel extra proud to be working with a person like Beth.


If you have time, please consider taking a moment to support Derrick Wolff and his Relay for Life team by following this link: