Shared by Ari & Sam Schlanger and Maddie & Sydney Berna with their moms Alison & Allison (family co-owners of apple seeds)
Every year in May, we encourage our family, friends and the apple seeds community to support us in our efforts to raise money for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. It’s the cause closest to our hearts since Gretchen and Larry (Witt) are our friends, but mostly because their son Liam, who would have been 10 years old this past May, was our children’s friend. Not only did they all go to school together, but Liam and his sister Ella also spent much of their free time at apple seeds, our NYC indoor play space. We called Liam “the mayor of apple seeds.” Everyone knew him. Everyone loved him. Liam would ride his orange scooter down the hall, giving hugs to all his teachers, peppering them with questions about science class and rolling around with Ella in the playground. He had an infectious energy, personality and smile that drew people to him everywhere he went. We all miss him in a way that’s hard to explain, and he comes up constantly in our thoughts, conversations and lives.
In May, we hosted our annual bake sale at apple seeds. But, this year, we decided to add another element to our fundraising/awareness raising effort. We encouraged our four older kids — Ari, Maddie, Sam and Sydney — to run a 5k race with us to raise more money. They hesitated a whole 1.7 seconds before saying yes, and we were off!
With an email, a photo and a plea to friends for help, they raised over $10,000 in just two days! Over Memorial Day weekend we all ran the 5k race together. During the three-plus miles, the kids barely stopped running, with mentions and reminders of Liam along the way. It was as if Liam kept us all going. It was as if those four young kids knew the difference they could make for children just like Liam, children who have a chance at life. It was as if they knew that running and talking about him and helping his parent’s organization would keep his memory alive.
As they crossed the finish line, they asked, “How much money are we up to now?!” Now, $11,548 dollars later, they feel proud of their contribution to fight childhood cancer, and they are already planning ways they can continue to make a difference.
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer was kind enough to ask our children to present their check for their donation.
They know that if Liam were still with us he would have been running that 5k with our group. They’ve seen first-hand the fragility of life and the enemy that is cancer, and they are determined to make a difference.
The name Liam means strong-willed warrior or protector. When my friends, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer founders Gretchen and Larry Witt, named their son nearly 10 years ago, they could not know just how aptly it would apply.
In Liam’s life, he embodied the meaning of a warrior. He was a 3, then 4, then a 5 year old child fighting the beast that is cancer in a way that no adult could. He looked it in the eye, with his shield and sword, and fought his best fight.
His enduring smiles told the world that he was doing OK, despite his tragic sentence. His enduring friendship told me and my girls that he was grateful for his life, despite his short window of opportunity to embrace it.
In Liam’s death, he continues to be a protector. This is clearly apparent in the way that the kids and parents who knew him infuse his memory into their lives. I, for one, carry Liam with me every single day. It’s hard to explain exactly how he runs so deeply within me; it’s sometimes a subconscious feeling. I know and feel that I hug my children a bit harder because of him as I know and feel that I seize each day a little more spontaneously as he did. And my heart cherishes this world more passionately because he was in it.
Everyone chooses to race or run a marathon for different reasons…my reason was simply to experience it. I admit I did the marathon for me, as a personal challenge, as well as to provide a healthy example to share with my three kids. But as marathon weekend approached, I kept looking for strength to battle feelings of anxiety, and I found myself turning to Liam. I kept thinking about life, how short it is, and how I want to make every day matter. I kept thinking about the people I surround myself with and how each of them plays a distinct role in the experience of my life.
I kept wondering why certain people have to fight for their precious life and why cancer rips so many of those lives away. I thought about my friend Julie’s daughter, diagnosed last month with liver cancer and my friend Reem’s daughter, diagnosed last month with leukemia. Two children in one month, in my small circle, having to stand up with a shield and a sword to fight this #1 disease killer of children; the monster that is childhood cancer. I thought about the thousands of children who have to look cancer directly in the face and fight it. Like a warrior. Like Liam.
The fact is we can all do our part. Together, we can actually make this better. There are too many kids fighting their brutal battle against cancer every single day. It is the #1 disease killer among children. These children are victims as cancer indiscriminately rips away the core of their innocence and childlike happiness.
What’s apparent is that there is one thing that CAN help – money. Money for research, money for trials that will test new treatments. Treatments that could save many children’s lives or treatments that won’t cause the horrific secondary side effects faced by the lucky ones who survive. It is up to us to help. All we have to do is give.
Liam guided me through those 26.2 miles and I believe that he carried me through the crowds. I found myself unconsciously touching Liam’s photo on my back at various points throughout the run. I grabbed for him during the difficult moments, like that sneaky hill on 5th Avenue at mile 23.
But I grabbed for him during the joyous ones too, like running off the 59th Street Bridge onto 1st Avenue and feeling the throngs of the city’s energy surround me. He was there for it all.
Liam continues to live up to his name, Prince Liam the Brave, warrior and protector. The marathon was a reason for me to celebrate his amazing life, but it, I think, is somehow a microcosm of how we all live in this world. The ups and downs, the triumphs and travails, the mile 23 moments…
Through it all, it’s helpful to be reminded of the really big lessons the littlest people can teach us — to love the life that we have, to appreciate those around you, and to always, always, Love Like Liam.
– Alison Berna
Be a Good Cookie™ – Make a donation today – and make a huge difference in the world of childhood cancers. You can donate in someone’s honor, and even select the type of pediatric cancer your gift supports.
And if you’re training for an upcoming race or want or are interested in coordinating your own fundraising event, we encourage you to join Team Good Cookies. Supporters nationwide, from Alison to the group of 40 that recently ran the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, are proving that you don’t need to bake to Be a Good Cookie™.
We’re excited to introduce “Team Good Cookies,” where individuals and groups can raise funds for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer while training for a race or athletic event. We encourage everyone, whether planning an event, training for an event, or if you’ve been thinking about running a race, to use this opportunity to make a difference while you do. Click here to learn more about Team Good Cookies and how you can join!
Here’s a sneak preview of a few events coming up this fall in support of Team Good Cookies: