We are the Germans. Our lives were forever altered when our daughter, Emma was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. Throughout her cancer journey we did our best to truly live life to the fullest, making memories every step of the way. We could not have done this without a lot of help from an amazing support system of family and friends. We have learned what it means to be truly grateful and how to cherish every moment. We started Emma’s Hope Foundation to bring hope and healing to families facing a childhood cancer diagnosis.
Emma was diagnosed with stage IV high-risk neuroblastoma in August 2010 when she was just 3 years old. Prior to her diagnosis, Emma was a vibrant, happy and energetic little girl who loved to sing and dance and play dress up. She was, overall, a very healthy kid and rarely got sick, which made a cancer diagnosis even more difficult to accept. But as we sat beside her in the hospital, watching the toxic chemotherapy drip into her veins, we had no choice but to accept that the nightmare was real.
Emma bravely battled cancer for almost four years but ultimately, it was a war she would not win. Emma passed away at home, surrounded by her loving family on September 24, 2014, just 3 days shy of her 8th birthday.
She had spent more than half of her life fighting cancer. We will miss her every day for the rest of our lives.
Emma’s life, although entirely too short, was so much more than her cancer diagnosis. The way Emma bravely faced her challenges, with a wide grin that lit up her face and a positive “can-do” attitude, spoke to just how amazing this little girl was. As a family, we did our best to live as normally as possible through all the chaos and unpredictability that comes along with cancer treatment. When we were home, Emma went to school, took dance classes and piano lessons and had play dates with her friends. We had lemonade stands in the front yard and we went camping in our 1975 VW bus. We made lots of amazing memories together. When it was time to pack up and head to the hospital for more treatment, Emma never complained. She simply went into her room and chose the items she wanted to bring with her to help her pass the time. We had tea parties with all of Emma’s favorite stuffed animals, we painted our nails and wore fancy makeup and had “lights-out” dance parties with glow in the dark accessories and light up toys. We colored, we painted and we did TONS of arts and crafts. We played Bingo and watched “The Dude” on Channel 13 and we watched lots of movies while stuffing our faces with microwave popcorn and boxed macaroni and cheese. We learned how to meditate and use essential oils so that Emma could have some power over the pain and discomfort that haunted her almost constantly. We practiced yoga in Emma’s hospital room and had tricycle races up and down the hallways. We played “I Spy” at least a million times in the family lounge at the end of the hall as we looked out the window over the Minneapolis skyline. Emma was a girl who knew how to make the most of what some would consider to be the most horrible situation. And it was. But Emma never saw it that way.
One day, Emma and I were running errands on a cold and drizzly afternoon when I made the comment, “Wow, this day is just so….blah!” Emma, who had been coloring peacefully in the back seat, looked at me in the rearview mirror and said “You know, Mama…you can’t change the weather, so why don’t you just think about something that makes you happy and focus on that instead.” THAT is who Emma was. Someone that always saw the silver lining in any situation. She taught us all to see the world that way too. Whenever things got hard and we were facing an uphill battle, whatever it may be, we would say “We are the Germans! We can do ANYTHING!” That little mantra got us through a lot of really tough times. It’s much harder to remember those kinds of things now that Emma is gone but that bright and sparkly personality will never truly be lost. The lessons she taught us about love and life and how to overcome adversity will live on in all who had the pleasure of knowing her. Even though we wish more than anything that Emma was still here teaching us those lessons, telling Emma’s story brings those lessons to life for us and we feel so grateful that we have such amazing stories to share.
In honor of our sweet angel, Emma, we started Emma’s Hope Foundation to help create a future where no other parents will have to feel the pain of watching their child lose their battle with cancer. Where no big brother feels the need to explain that he wears pink every day because it was his sister’s favorite color and it makes him feel closer to her to wear it. We want to see new treatment options for children diagnosed with cancer that will both cure them of the disease and allow them to live long and healthy lives, free from all of the devastating side effects that currently plague long term cancer survivors. We believe this IS a possibility and we are determined to do whatever we can to help bring this vision into reality.
For Emma…and for all those who come after her.
The story of Emma’s Hope
Emma’s Hope began in Pepin, Wisconsin in September 2001 when Shaughn and Angie Laehn decided they wanted to do something to give back to families battling pediatric cancer. Their daughter, Emma had been diagnosed with Stage II neuroblastoma in 1999 when she was just 2 years old and even though she was treated and cured of the disease, Shaughn and Angie knew all too well that many children are not as lucky. They decided to organize a community event that would bring the town of Pepin together to help raise money to support pediatric cancer research. They chose to hold the event in September, in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and for the past 15 years Pepin and it’s surrounding communities have come together to walk and raise money for Children’s Cancer Research Fund, an organization which funds cutting edge clinical trials through the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Together, they have raised more than $250,000 in support of this lifesaving research. What makes Shaughn and Angie most proud is the fact that all the money came to Emma’s Hope $25, $50 and $100 at a time from families in and around the Pepin area. There were no big donors or companies. That’s very important to understand. This wasn’t a corporate event. It was families coming together to support children with cancer.
Last year, a few months before the event, Angie made an announcement that 2015 would be their last year organizing Emma’s Hope in Pepin. They had worked incredibly hard on Emma’s Hope over the past 15 years and they had raised an impressive amount of money for Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Emma and her older sister Allie were both off to college and even though the decision was incredibly difficult, Shaughn and Angie knew in their hearts it was the right one. When Chris and I heard the news, we immediately contacted Angie and asked how she felt about us taking over Emma’s Hope and continuing the event in Belle Plaine, Minnesota, where we live. After losing our daughter, Emma, to the same disease that their daughter, Emma, had beaten, we were looking for some way to get involved and help make a difference for children with cancer. We just didn’t really know where to start. Lucky for us, Angie was thrilled at the idea of turning Emma’s Hope over to us! The event that started out in honor of their daughter, Emma, would now continue in memory of ours.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to continue this amazing event that Shaughn and Angie have put so much heart into creating. We are so incredibly blessed to have their support and guidance as we take on this new challenge in our lives.