Knowing Traci was either a "God thing" or a complete twist of great luck. Opening my email one morning, I saw a headline from Milspouse.com. Clicking on that, I found a blog post written by a Marine wife, recently widowed after an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Moved beyond tears, I began following her blog and then her mother-in-law's blog. I began commenting. I became Facebook friends with her mother-in-law, Tami. And then Tami introduced me to her bestie, Traci. I don't remember the exact progression but our friendship simply grew and deepened (mostly through Facebook posts, texts and blog posts) over the next several years. By that point, Traci had already been diagnosed with breast cancer and I knew her as a breast cancer survivor who was in remission. I launched the Pink Campaign through my Daisy & Elm jewelry site and for several years made a unique piece of jewelry for each day in October. The money raised from the Pink Campaign benefited whichever charity Traci deemed appropriate. She was particularly fond of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and the American Cancer Society and was often interviewed by the local television stations as events drew near. She was passionate about fighting and curing cancer.
But she was even more passionate about her boys.
Her sons and her husband were her life. They gave meaning to her days and, I'm sure, gave her a reason to keep fighting sometimes. Watching her 2 elementary school-aged kids bouncing on the trampoline in the backyard while their new puppy ran circles underneath and Blue observed hesitantly from the porch last fall, it seemed nothing could crack the bubble of childhood joy that surrounded us all. As the sun began to set and the October night chilled us, we coaxed our boys inside for Domino's pizza and baths. Blue and her youngest played in their whirlpool tub, all the while spraying water to the ceiling with a basting syringe they had found in the kitchen drawer. When I scolded Blue for soaking the ceiling, I heard a voice from the bedroom. "Hey it's OK to get water on the ceiling at Aunt Traci's house. It's just what you do." She didn't mind because in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a big deal. She had bigger fish to fry.
At some point, Traci was diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni syndrome which causes multiple cancers to form, usually simultaneously. She didn't tell me the details until we met up in Wamego, KS last fall for the Oztoberfest (not to be confused with Ozfest...which, we all agreed, sounded far less fun as they would not have any of the Munchkins or flying monkeys of Oztoberfest). She already had one tumor growing on her outer thigh, which they couldn't do anything about because she was undergoing treatment for a second cancer that had developed. And the worst part...this was genetic. Her babies may someday experience the same agony.
I thought back to February, 2014. Everything suddenly made so much sense.
Out of winter blahs and boredom, I had posted on Facebook that I was going to shave my head for St. Baldrick's, a foundation that raises money to fund pediatric cancer research. It's the only organization that focuses solely on children's cancer research and they are 100% volunteer-run so the money raised goes straight to grants. There is a tab on their website called "See the Impact". By clicking on that, you can view the grants they've funded, read about their research priorities and meet the pediatric oncologists who are evaluating every trial to decide where each dollar should go. Traci believed that if this genetic mutation was fated for her boys, the only organization that would fund the research that might cure them was St. Baldrick's. I got a text within minutes of my Facebook post. I want to shave my head, too.
We had one month to raise as much money as we could before the head shaving in Elizabethtown, Kentucky around the middle of March. Traci and her boys decided they would shave their heads at home and post pictures (although she first spent about 30 minutes looking for reasonable air fare to Louisville, It did not exist.). We got
Facebook auction (featuring everything from handcrafted burlap wreaths and monogrammed Chucks to Coach purses and It Works wraps) and donated profits from a Thirty-One party hosted by her dear friend, Allison, and random donations by family and friends, we raised over $6000 in 30 days. Our initial fundraising goal was $1000. We had to increase it 3 more times and still busted through our final $5000 mark. We were second only to a team of 15 individuals for most money raised at the event in Elizabethtown. And we didn't look half-bad bald.
In January of 2015 I texted Traci, begging her to do St. Baldrick's again the following March. She texted me back: Ally, it's much easier to shave your head when you don't have any hair. Let's do it again next year to celebrate my 40th birthday because I'm not supposed to see 40. I reluctantly agreed.
Traci passed away 50 days short of her 40th birthday.
Although we hadn't talked about doing St. Baldrick's again since last October, I know that if she had been feeling better these past few months, we would have already been making plans. I think she was making plans of a different sort...ones that kept her from making any promises to me because she just wasn't the kind of girl to break a promise. It's hard to see that now - that she was always trying to prepare us for this day while still living each moment to its absolute fullest. We only saw her vitality, not the frailty that lay just below it. Nevertheless, I made a promise to her and I intend to keep it.
I asked her husband, Brian, and her sister-in-law, Belinda if they would mind being involved in one more head shaving for St. Baldrick's, in honor of Traci. They both emphatically agreed. I was hoping they would. So, once more, The Pixie Chicks page will spring into action, accepting donations for auction items immediately. The auction will begin Friday, March 25th at 8 AM EST and close on Sunday (Easter), March 27th at 9 PM EST. At that point, I will tag the winners and you will have 48 hours to post your payment directly to the St. Baldrick's fundraising page. As soon as I see your payment, I'll notify the person donating the item that they can ship. I am also open to additional fundraising opportunities. I'm setting the bar at $5000 but I would like to blow through that as soon as possible. Hopefully, on April 2nd, we will be having our very own St. Baldrick's head shaving event at Traci's salon with all who want to participate. I hope I have to wait in a long line.
I invite you to come along on this adventure...to donate, to bid, to shave, to pray, to send love, to tell others. If you know me, then you know a little bit of Traci, too, for she is always in my head and quite often in my words. And she's forever in my heart.