Making your mark is all about impact: impacting people, impacting the world, and achieving big accomplishments while you’re at it. To find out how people just like you are making their mark, we’ve interviewed individuals with stories to tell and advice to share. Read on to be inspired, and check back often for more stories that are sure to get you motivated.
When her own daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Janice Slavin was moved to help other families in her home state of Georgia who were going through similar hardships. In order to improve the quality of life of patients receiving radiation treatment and their families, Radiation Vacation was born. The nonprofit organization helps coordinate and fund recreational activities for families visiting the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University for treatment. Read on for more on Radiation Vacation and Janice’s touching story!
Could you give our readers a brief introduction?
Janice: I used to think of myself as a mom and a wife. Normal and average, there was nothing extraordinary about my family. We were happy. We went to church, had family game nights, and played outside. Things changed quite suddenly and drastically when my oldest child was diagnosed with cancer. From that moment on I was a cancer mom. My daughter has been off treatment for several years. Since then, life has taken on a new normal for us, filled with more joy and happiness than I knew was possible.
What is Radiation Vacation, and how did this organization get its start?
Janice: The mission of Radiation Vacation is to improve the quality of life for children receiving radiation and their families in Georgia, by providing recreational activities and offering emotional, educational, and financial support. Radiation Vacation is the only foundation in the state of Georgia to exclusively provide total family support to the pediatric radiation oncology population.
Radiation Vacation believes in keeping families together. Quite often families are separated because of the traveling treatment requires and the need for parents to continue working. Extended family and friends often step in to fill the gap and care for siblings. Radiation Vacations include all members of the immediate family and also those who help care for the children. For example, grandparents that help with the day-to-day running of the household, while mom and patient are far from home, get to participate in a family day at the local amusement park. We believe in providing each family with hope and fun, meeting their needs and filling the gap created by childhood cancer.
How was your daughter Holly’s cancer discovered?
Janice: Our lives changed radically in January of 2009. While vacationing in Florida, we noticed that our 6-year-old daughter’s eye was swollen and that she had double vision. We took Holly to several hospitals in Florida before rushing her home to Georgia. Finally, Holly was admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Egelston. Tests were performed. The doctors discovered there was a mass in our child’s eye muscle. On January 5, 2009, we received the news that every parent dreads hearing: “Your daughter has cancer.” Specifically, she had Orbital Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma. Later, when Holly relapsed, recurrent was added to her diagnosis.
Can you briefly describe your journey with Holly as she battled Orbital RMS and eventually relapsed?
Janice: Over the next two years, Holly had 13 months of chemotherapy, 25 radiation treatments, 7 surgeries, countless scans and procedures, and one relapse. Holly is now 12 years old and a two-time cancer survivor!
Our childhood cancer journey is one we faced together as a family. The four of us felt stronger when we were together, and when we were apart, we felt lost. One of the most difficult times was radiation. My husband needed to stay at home and work while Holly and our other daughter, who was five, and myself traveled 90 minutes away to Atlanta for radiation treatments. While in Atlanta, I took our children to the zoo, aquarium, The World of Coca Cola, picnics, playgrounds, and on other normal family outings. Not all families are able to do activities like these because of the financial burden childhood cancer creates. It was during this time that the seed for Radiation Vacation was planted in our hearts.
What advice can you give to those who have loved ones facing this fight, especially the parents who have children facing it? In what ways can they offer support to their loved ones?
Janice: Simply being present is enough. It’s hard to say the right thing because there is no right thing. Actions speak volumes! My group of friends took turns grocery shopping for me. Another group made meals for us and delivered them hot and ready-to-eat once a week. Neighbors mowed our lawn. High school friends provided Easter baskets. All of these things saved us time, helped us financially, but most importantly let us know that we were not alone and we were not forgotten. Don’t wait to be asked to help and don’t just offer your help. If a friend or family member is facing cancer, just jump right in and do something.
Are there any misconceptions regarding cancer that you would like to shed some light on?
Janice: Childhood cancer is considered rare and therefore gets very little funding compared to adult cancers. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, one out of every 300 males and one out of every 333 females in America will develop cancer before their 20th birthday. That doesn’t sound all that rare to me! Everyday in the United States, 46 children are diagnosed with cancer. Most childhood cancers cannot be prevented by lifestyle or changes in the environment. It is random and it is very real.
How are you and your family using Radiation Vacation to make your mark?
Janice: As a family we feel that we could never thank our community enough for supporting us during our childhood cancer journey. The best thing we can do is give back and help other families. We want to stand hand-in-hand with families fighting for their child’s life.
How can families get involved or learn more about Radiation Vacation?
Janice: Liking and following us on Facebook is a great way to keep up with us and our families! We are always in need of treasure box items, comfort toys, and corporate sponsors for our events throughout the year. These are great projects for schools, churches, and businesses. If you feel moved to donate to a cancer organization, do your research first! If your goal is to help kids with cancer, be sure your money is going to a foundation that does just that!
Thank you so much to Janice for taking the time to share her family’s story. We are inspired by your passion and kindness!