Cookies for Kids’ Cancer Blog

To Liam…on his 16th birthday.

Filed under: childhood cancer research — The Good Cookies @ 10:52 pm May 12, 2020

Liam, who was the original #GoodCookie and our founder Gretchen’s son, would be turning 16 today! And there’s no doubt he would have been the first in line at the DMV, waiting to take the driving test to get his license.
Not a day goes by that Liam isn’t on our minds. We know the work we’re doing in his honor is exactly what he would want and expect from us. And so today, we asked a few people — from his nurses and teachers to his best friend — for their memories of Liam, their ideas of what he would have been up to on this special day and how he remains such a vibrant part of their lives 10 years later.
We hope you will help us continue the work that Liam inspired. Every child deserves a chance to grow up and celebrate their Sweet 16.

From Amber vanderMeer…

Dear Liam,

Happy 16th Birthday! I am so proud to have known you and grateful for the memories I have of you. I can still you zipping down the halls of MSK on your scooter, playing with Ber at John Jay Park, and celebrating your birthday at Wollman’s Rink. Today we will honor your memory by celebrating the wonderful gift of your life and the huge impact your life has had, and continues to have, on so many. Because your journey, the dedication of your parents, and the work of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, treatment options are available for so many more kids battling all forms of pediatric cancer and there is hope! We will never forget you and we will never stop fighting for this cause.

Today we will bake cookies with love and hope in our hearts in your memory, the original Good Cookie!

With love,

Amber vanderMeer

From Taber Cannon…

Liam and I met in 2008 and became instant preschool best friends. I remember being scared during a fire alarm drill and holding Liam’s hand in line. I remember one day guzzling Horizon organic chocolate milk boxes sitting in a bed next to Liam. I drank so many, I vomited. We were at Memorial Sloan Kettering on a playdate while Liam received treatment. Ironically, Liam was rubbing my back to make me feel better. My first sleepover was at Liam’s house when I was five years old, and I recall every detail of that night. I told him I wanted to marry him. I can remember trying to keep up with him on a scooter and sharing his favorite meal, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. I also remember attending Liam’s memorial service on February 14, 2011.

Every Valentine’s Day I remember my dear first friend.

Now as a teenager, I think about Liam frequently, but I cannot remember as many details about Liam as I would like to. But when I think of Liam, the emotions I feel are as strong as ever. Mostly I feel love and cannot help but smile. I have so many questions: Would Liam and I still be good friends today? What would he look like? I look at a picture of Liam, age six, in my bedroom every day. I will never stop missing him.

From Pat Feiger

A little something about my sweet Liam – 

Liam was in my pre-school classroom when he was three, turning four. There was never a day that he did not come in with a huge smile on his face. Liam’s love for learning and exploring was evident in everything he did throughout the day. It could be trying to climb on a shelf to get a box that was out of reach, or endless questions all morning.

His curiosity was like fuel to him. There was no end to it. He genuinely wanted to know how certain things worked, and why they worked that way. There was no point in trying to say that you would talk about it later, because he would look at you with those beautiful eyes, and say: “Why not now?” “If not now, when?”, over and over again. There was a thirst for knowledge in him that needed to be satisfied.

He eventually learned to take a step back, and wait a little, patiently, a little longer for an answer, especially when I responded by acknowledging I did not know the answer, and I needed to research a little more about it. Of course, he would never let it go, so the research had to happen, no matter what. 

Liam taught me a lot. He was the most resilient child I had ever met. No matter how terrible he felt sometimes, he always came in with that amazing smile, and desire to be there with his friends and teachers. His love for books was palpable. You could see it on his face, and the way his eyes would glow, and his body would perk up, whenever I read him a book. There were always questions: “But why?”, “But when?”. His inquisitive mind was a gift to all of us.

I miss him dearly. He will always be in my heart, and every time a child in my classroom asks: “But why?”, I remember his sweet face looking for answers on mine.

I love you, my sweet explorer, and I love you with all my heart!

Your teacher, 

Pat

From Rachel Roberge…

Liam, you would have been 16 today.

When you were six you rode a scooter. Now, you would be learning to drive a car. When you were six, you volunteered to bring treats and candy around to the other kids at Sloan Kettering to cheer them up. Today, you’d volunteer at a bake sale to benefit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer because you’d want to lift up children who still needed your support. When you were 6, and well enough to not be in the hospital, you walked into your Kindergarten class. Today you’d be deciding where to go to college (and I’m certain you would have many offers of acceptance when you applied). When you were six, you’d watch Food Network videos and make their logo your screensaver. Today, you might be applying for a summer job there or at least at a local restaurant. You were a go getter, a foodie too, you would take a job washing dishes if that’s what was offered to start. When you were six, you’d stop by Engine 1/Ladder 24 to have ice cream with ‘your guys’, also known as NYCs Bravest. You were brave too. At 16, you might join them in their firehouse kitchen to cook up one of those legendary NYFD family dinners. When you were six, you’d wear ties. Today you would be fitted for a nice suit, something sharp to make an impression. When you were six, you’d have your first sleepover with your best friend Taber. Yeah she was a girl, but when you’re six, your bestie is your bestie, period. Today you might be going on your first date or spending time with your first love. When you were six you’d hug your sister Ella tight. She would hug you back. At 16, that would remain the same. You were close, very close. 

When you were six, you died of cancer. If you had made it to 16, you would still be working to make the world a better place for others. You’d be doing what you could to achieve that dream. You’re not here, physically that is, but your Mommy is, your Daddy is, your sister Ella is, as are so many people who still miss and love you. We will carry on your dream because you can’t be here to realize it yourself. It’s our forever gift to you Liam. We love you. Happy Birthday.

From Allison Schlanger…

Sam & Ari were in the same preschool class with Liam. They didn’t know Liam had cancer, they just knew they had a new friend. Liam and his sister Ella became fixtures around town and especially at apple seeds, the indoor play space my husband and I launched with our friends Alison and Bobby. We used to call Liam “the mayor”. He would come flying into apple seeds after school on his orange scooter, he took classes, came to our parties and more often, ran around our playground with Ella. He was always there. He asked questions, he gave great big hugs and he got involved. Liam was full of life, energy, happiness and love. And he was simply adorable. Everyone knew him and everyone loved him. Everyone. He was our guy.

Cancer attacks anyone – at any age and at any time. It shows no mercy. No matter how hard you have worked to protect your kids…even if you make them wear seat belts in cars, and helmets on scooters, skis and bikes and you keep them home from school when they are sick. Cancer doesn’t care. Cancer doesn’t care how much you love your kids. How you would give anything to take away their suffering or pain. You cannot protect your child from this type of fate, from this type of suffering, or this type of killer. 

Liam would have been 16 years old today. Our three sons have had Liam in their lives almost as long as they’ve been alive. Our twins, who first met Liam when they were four, are 15 today. Dov, who is now nine, was born the year Liam left us. I’m not sure if it is because they are boys, or if it is because two of them have the same color hair and similar complexion to Liam but I cannot help but track Liam’s life by theirs. On Sam and Ari’s birthdays, I wonder what Liam would be like at their age. Would he play sports? Be into the arts? Would he still love to cook and want to be a scientist? Would he be tall? Maybe he would have even ended up at the same high school as one of my sons and they could have continued their friendship…I’m left in tears not knowing. It’s utterly unthinkable for Gretchen, Larry and Ella. When Dov turned six, I could not help but try to process what Gretchen, Larry and Ella experienced at that exact time with Liam. I can’t. It’s unimaginable.

As my son Sam said tonight, “I can’t believe how much Cookies has done to honor Liam. They are doing the really hard stuff – we are doing the enjoyable stuff — like bake sales and talking to people about Cookies and asking them to donate. Everyone can do that.” He’s right. We can.

We will never stop and neither should you. Kids deserve better. Happy 16th birthday Liam. We love you.

Love like Liam.

From Yichih Lin…

Happy 16th Birthday Liam!

Has it been nine years since you left us? Because it seems like just yesterday.

When I pass by the PDH hallway, I can still see you “scoot-walking” your prohibited scooter in the clinic with your mother behind you, shrugging her shoulders and saying, “Sorry you guys…it is Liam…” and we would just shake our heads. 

The infamous fire chief announcement throughout the MSK premises–I still don’t know how you did it! What did you do and say to make that happen?  It just sums up who you were–a go-getter, a fighter with an infectious smile that made ANYONE around you do ANYTHING for you.

How are you doing up in the place some call heaven? Are you making tons of friends? I bet because who does not want to hang with a superhero! I wonder how tall you must be now, a handsome fellow like you. 

You must be so so proud of your mother who continued your fight, the fight against not only neuroblastoma but all childhood cancer on your behalf. Ella, your sister, such an accomplished equestrian, always has an orange ribbon at the end of her ponytail because orange is your favorite color. And your father, a silent pillar that holds everything and everybody together.  

Happy 16th Birthday Liam. Thank you for having given me the honor and the privilege to take care of you. 

We miss you EVERY SINGLE DAY!

With lots of love, 

Yichih 

From Michelle Rotman Jassem

Dear Liam,

It’s nearly your 16th birthday. 16 is major. I have one of your kind living in my house. Your birthday is extra rough for your mom because it falls so near Mother’s Day. Your mom and I have been friends for a very long time. We go waaaay back to before either of us had kids. I remember when you were little and your mom called to ask me if Piper was changing her sleep patterns or if her food likes and dislikes had shifted. See I was a little ahead of your mom as my daughter Piper was born about six months earlier than you. I reminded her that you guys were toddlers and your patterns were unpredictable, but your mom had a hunch. She’s a smart cookie that Gretchen. 

I remember the day she called to tell me you had been diagnosed with cancer. At the time​, I worked at Oprah Magazine. I raided the Style closet and pulled everything out that would make a kid or a mom with a kid in the hospital happy. You were only two so I threw in some stuffies, board books, lip gloss, a cozy blankie for you, a sweatshirt for your mom. We had everything in that style closet! You get the idea. I was on board project Liam and Gretchen immediately. That’s what friends do. They help one another through difficult times. All throughout your illness your mom was steadfast in protecting your emotions. Her main objective was to keep you safe. She treated you to the most ordinary life possible. She loves you so very very much. 

I’m not sure if you remember this Liam, but during one of the glorious times when you felt happy and well​, Gretchen hatched a ridiculous plan to bake and sell over 96,000 cookies to raise money for pediatric cancer research. She was big on bake sales. She and your dad had learned that it didn’t take that much money to get an idea off the shelf and into a clinical trial that, if everything went right, would save your life. I think at the time the price tag was about $100,000. She raised over $400,000 right out of the gate! Shortly thereafter Cookies for Kids’ Cancer was born. 

I’m pretty sure I hosted one of the very first bake sales at our nursery school on Sullivan Street. I have hosted at least one bake sale every year since. My apartment was home to two week-long photo shoots to create the amazing Cookies for Kids’ Cancer cookbooks. My family thanked me a lot for that as we got to sample all of the cookies and our apartment smelled like heaven! And then​, when we launched the Chefs for Kids’ Cancer galas, I wrangled all of my friends to help set up and attend the event. I have always been in deep. 

Sadly Liam, your physical self did not survive, but your life is as important today as it was the day you were born. Your mom and dad are fighters. They can not, will not give up. They are in it for the long haul and their commitment to you is as strong as ever. You have ignited a fire in many thousands of people all over this world. You​r short presence on this earth has served to gather some of the greatest minds in pediatric cancer research and what they think about is you – and thousands of kids like you. And their families. And how they can help save lives and keep families together. You did that Liam. You are the spark. I know that your spirit guides the progress of where Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is going. 

I’m sure your parents indulge in imagining who you would have become. But the great thing is, Liam, we can all see who you are becoming right before our very eyes. You are the wise decisions that the CFKC medical board makes when choosing which idea to recommend towards trial. You are the flash in the pan when a great chef makes dinner for one of the guests at our annual Chefs dinner. You are the smile on a passerby’s face who just picked up a cookie at a bake sale in Richmond, VA. You are the good news when Dr. LaQuaglia tells parents that their child is doing just fine. And most of all​, you are the light in Gretchen and Larry and Ella’s eyes. You are what pushes this mission forward. 

Liam, I am happy to know you. And I want you to know I’m still here. 

Love,

Michelle

From Colleen Margiloff

Dear Liam –

16. It is one of those ages that everyone talks about. It’s one of the big milestone birthdays – 1, 10, 13, 16, 25, 30, and then every decade after that. It’s hard to believe that you made one of those milestones and were this close to the next. And yet….your impact will make more of a difference than all of those milestones combined for most people. Heck, for 99.99% of people.

As people age they think about legacy – the worry about, they craft it. But not you. You just lived. And by living, you began that legacy. You touched people everywhere you went. There wasn’t a stranger who didn’t become a friend. Everyone had a story of the boy who loved to ask questions. And you listened to what they said. In a world where people listen to respond, you listened to understand.

And when you left us – when you were take from us, there left in the ashes was the burning embers of Cookies for Kids Cancer. I remember during the beginning thinking, well this is it. Statistically, this is the kid I know who got cancer. I didn’t expect it to be close, but now I could check that box and look at my kids and friends kids and think, “well, phew, their safe now.”

But it didn’t work out that way. It started popping up. Someone posting about a good friend of theirs with a sick child. Another asking for a friend of a friend. It just happened yesterday. Again. And again. And again.

Cancer doesn’t stop. Like you didn’t stop with your love of life. And now we won’t either. We won’t stop because you had to. We won’t stop because if you were here you wouldn’t and you wouldn’t let us. We won’t stop because every time we tell someone your story, every time we do a bake sale or send someone cookies, what we are really doing is sharing a little piece of you so that you never really leave us.

Happy birthday Liam.

From Alison Qualter Berna

Dear Liam, our sweet, brave Liam,

Tomorrow you would have been 16 years old. You left this world when you were 7. 

The unfairness of it all, the way that cancer rips through a precious life… it made me sad for a long time. Seeing your dad, mom and sister Ella suffer so deeply, feeling the void that was suddenly left in our days without your enthusiasm, it was impossible to process. I was angry experiencing how cancer could be so devastating, ripping away such a brave, sweet soul from a loving family, a boy that meant so much to so many.

As the years have passed, I’ve learned that you did more in your short time here than most people do in a lifetime. You impacted so many families, teachers, organizations, and firehouses! This is in part thanks to your mom and dad’s tireless efforts to give you everything a child could have or want, to normalize your world. If two people could move mountains it is your mother and father, and they did this for you to create not only a sense of normalcy during your treatments, but also to give you a lifetime of experiences into your young, precious life. The bond you shared with your parents was palpable, and while I know you’re still watching them, I wanted to tell you that they have been moving mountains ever since you left this world. Their mountains get bigger as cancer affects more and more children. Cancer is the #1 disease killer of children and all it takes is funds, research, treatment, and dedicated people like your family to win the battle. I can assure you that your parents have not rested a single day in the past nine years so that other kids don’t have to experience the pain and suffering that your family endured when they said goodbye to you.

It’s working. Cookies for Kids Cancer keeps growing. It is now a global organization laser focused on finding treatments. The amazing team your parents mobilized so many years ago has saved countless young lives. They are tireless in their efforts and they are making a huge difference. 

Every year on your birthday, I write you a note and I went back on the letters to find a common thread among them. In just six years, you taught us with your zest for life in the face of your deadly disease that positivity is an option for us to consider, even when faced with pain. Enthusiastically running into apple seeds to play in the playground, or hugging Maddie, Sydney and me every morning at preschool drop off, you were seemingly unfazed by the treatments you were undergoing, reminding us to focus on your radiant light instead of your suffering. I am still holding on to that light. I use it in my parenting, never sweating the small stuff, reminded of life’s fragility. I use it when I experience my moments of synchronicity, reminding me that the universe has our back, looking up at you with gratitude. I even use it when I shop, searching among a variety of options in a store for example, and always, always choosing orange. Nine years later, Prince Liam the Brave, you inform so much of who I am, who my kids are, and the way I look at so much of my life.

I have one story I want to share this year, but I’m pretty sure you already know it because I believe you were there. 

In the fall, I signed up for a race in NYC called Tunnel to Tower at the request of my sister. She asked me if I could join her in the race at 11pm the night before as she wanted the support. The 5k race is organized every year to honor the firemen and women that gave their lives in service on 9/11, and the day is profound. It is a moving tribute to the first responders, the fallen heroes, and I was in awe of the people running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in their full, heavy fire uniforms, paying tribute specifically to Stephen Siller, the fireman who did that same run through that same tunnel on that fateful day, losing his own life trying to save others. 

Halfway through the midtown tunnel, I jogged my way next to the only fireman I saw running solo, most were in groups. I approached him to find a huge, welcoming smile and the word “Califon” on his back. I grew up in NJ but had never even heard of the town of Califon until I met the Witts and got involved with Cookies for Kids Cancer, Califon is its headquarters. I said to him, “Are you from Califon? That’s where my friends live, and it’s where they based their nonprofit, Cookies for Kids Cancer.”  He nodded and smiled.  

Then, surprised, I exclaimed, “And I see you are number 44! That’s actually the number of the street that they live on in NYC!”  And again, he simply smiled. 

Then I said, “What’s more is that their son died of cancer when we was six, but had always wanted to be a fireman. In fact, he still has a fireman’s locker at Ladder 1, Engine 24 on West 31st Street, created by the fire guys in his honor. He died on 1/24, as if to call Ladder 1, Engine 24 into the light, and his memorial service was at St. Francis Church across the street. The entire firehouse showed up to honor his short yet influential life. I’ve come to appreciate firemen even more because of him.”  Once again, this lone fireman with a Califon jacket and a 44 hat calmly and simply smiled.

As we jogged slowly, me in my grey sneakers, him in his black boots, I said, “By the way, I’m Alison! What’s your name?”  

“Liam,” he replied with another smile. 

I can’t remember if the pause was felt by everyone, or just me. Could everyone in the middle of the tunnel see the light that seemed to be shining down on him in the crowd? Could they hear him say Liam as powerfully and firmly as I did? Could they sense the slow motion run that seemed to come to a halt in that one word, Liam?  

It turns out we had both signed up at 11pm the night before and I said that I’d look him up the next time I was in that part of NJ. After saying goodbye as I ran ahead to catch up with my sister and friend, I felt breathless. 

About two miles later, as I approached the finish line, I sped up to cross it. Among thousands of people running in one of the biggest 5k races in America, I looked to my right as my foot stepped over the finish line and saw Liam crossing it at the exact same time, his old black boot next to my new grey sneaker. We finished almost in sync, Liam by my side saying, “Hi again! Congrats!” only to disappear again into the crowds of service men and women. 

Was that you Liam? Was that my gentle reminder that the universe is taking care of us and most of all, that it’s taking care of you?

Thank you sweet, brave Liam. For teaching me and my kids so much, for showing up in ways I least expect and for reminding me about the power of love. The love you showed to so many in your short time on this earth. That love continues to infuse through your family, through Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, and the hundreds of lives that have been saved because of its work. 

May we always Love Like Liam. 

Alison 

P.S. I just found out from a friend that fireman Stephen Siller, to whom this race honors, was the son of lay Franciscans, growing up under the guiding philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, the name of the church in which your memorial service was held. St. Francis’s inspirational phrase was, “while we have time, let us do good.” Stephen’s family said that he lived in this way. That his life and death serve as a reminder to live life to the fullest, and to spend our limited time here on earth doing good.  It is no surprise this was meant for you, Liam. This was your legacy. 

From Linda D’Andrea…

As one of the Neuroblastoma Nurse Practitioners, I had the pleasure of taking care of Liam on most days he was in clinic. A part of this disease means your day to day activities are sometimes dictated by treatment, blood counts, how you feel, and things even more outside your control, like whether or not there is a delay in radiology, how long the line is in the IV room, how much of a back log there is in pharmacy, or if your type and screen has expired in the Blood Bank. Through all of it…the hours upon hours spent in the clinic, the accessing of the Mediport, the chemo, the antibody, the “owies”, the inpatient stays, and so much more, there was a little boy, a happy, bright, vibrant, brave, and full of life and love…little boy…a little boy who lived a life of “adventure” as he knew it in and about the hospital, around the city, and even in his beloved country life in New Jersey. A little boy, who was also a budding scientist.  He would come into the exam room and proceed to tell me that he knew how red blood cells were made and then go on to explain it. He would show me what he was trying to grow in his Petri dish, and what he was planning on looking at under his microscope. He would hit up every doctor to take him into a laboratory or a place where he could learn or see something that interested him. 

Taking care of Liam, wasn’t always easy. The first thing you had to do was find him. He had friends scattered throughout the hospital. Often times we would have to call up Gretchen or send her an email saying “where are you guys, the blood is here” or “the chemo is ready” and they would be visiting friends in the donor room or in radiation oncology or the cafeteria. Liam had a way of just pulling people in and engaging them. 

Sometimes, taking care of Liam, also got you in a little hot water. He was definitely what you would call a “scooter boy”. He and Ella, on many an occasion were caught “scootering” down the day hospital hallways. The director of the day hospital would always come find me and let me know they were again “scootering” and of course I would have to talk to them about it. They both adamantly insisted they were in fact “scooter walking” and actually went on to convince me that this was an acceptable thing.  Then one day, I remember riding the C elevators in the hospital from the 1st floor to the 9th.  The doors happen to open on 2 when who goes literally speeding by on his scooter, helmet on his head of course, but Liam. I remember thinking to myself, that is most definitely not scooter walking, but I couldn’t help but smile, which was usually the effect Liam had on me. He made me smile, with his actions, with his words, with his heart.  

In in-patient pediatrics at Sloan, there is a tradition known as the Friday night candy cart.  A group of volunteers come in and load up a mobile cart with the most amazing candy, chocolate, and snacks. They go room to room and offer up as many tasty treats to every child, parent, or visitor on the floor. One day, Liam and Ella decided to create their own candy cart. They went down to the gift shop and bought up a slew of treats then came back to the day hospital, loaded up the radio flyer and started working their way around the clinic and offering up treats to anyone interested. There were smiles from ear to ear all around the day hospital that day and Liam and Ella loved it. 

Liam also had a creative side. During long treatment days in the day hospital or in-patient stays on M9, there were endless activities and projects. He and Gretchen would decorate his room in different, elaborate themes. During one particular inpatient stay, they made a 6-foot high replica of the Empire State Building which still resides in the Pediatric Day Hospital. 

It is the simple things I will remember most.  Our conversations, the sight of him listening to his Jack Johnson tunes, the endless itouch and ipad games about food, zombies, and angry birds that he tried to teach me, and the spirit and bravery I saw in him. Liam was a true warrior. He fought with all his might and loved with all his heart. 

From Berly Isaak

It is remarkable how a child can change the world.

Michelle shared Liam’s story in 2007, how bravely he was battling cancer. Tears rolled down my face as I massaged my belly. My son David was coming in 5 months and I couldn’t stand the thought of little boys in the way of such a disease.

In the summer of 2009, my best friend Meredith was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her daughter was 2 at the time. When I told her about Liam, she was angry, saying, “No child should suffer this!” 

Liam’s example of bravery inspired and activated Meredith. She became “A Good Cookie,” among with several other cancer causes, to lead the charge for funding detection and treatments.

The Mother’s Day after my best friend passed away, I took up her torch with Cookies for Kids Cancer, learning more about Liam’s grace in the face of such a tough killer, wanting to help children and their families who I imagined were much like my own.

On Liam’s 16th birthday his courage still inspires. 

I see Meredith’s determination in her 13-year-old daughter’s eyes. 

Their souls very much help guide us from another realm.  It still resonates in our own hearts. Their stories make us proud.

In a universe where everything seems to go away, it’s miraculous how the vibration of our love lingers. It will not end.

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