VB Gives Back

#VBGIVESBACK: Jennifer James

May 1, 2016

We are honored to support The Scarlett Fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as part of our ongoing #VBGIVESBACK program and will be donating $10 of every VeronicaBeard.com order in May to the cause.

Jennifer and Robert James started The Scarlett Fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
(MSK) in honor of their daughter, Scarlett, who was diagnosed with T Cell Lymphoma in 2013. “In my wildest dreams I never thought one of my children would be diagnosed with cancer,” says Jennifer. “This is NYC. I worried about a cab jumping the curb on the walk home from school, but cancer? Not on my radar.”

The Scarlett Fund supports pediatric cancer research and aims to raise awareness through various events, such as the annual Kids Walk for Kids with Cancer which supports pediatric cancer research at MSK. Nearly 16,000 children and adolescents will be diagnosed with cancer this year yet pediatric cancers receive only 4% of the US federal funds allocated to cancer research.

How did you find out your daughter had cancer?

Scarlett, my now 9-year-old daughter, was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma in October 2013. It was just like any other evening in our house. I had just finished reading a story to Scarlett and I was sitting next to her in her bed. I was gently stroking her cheek and tucking a piece of her hair behind her ears when I felt a hard lump on her head that felt like a marble. I moved my hand around her head and I realized that there was more than one. I immediately ran to the living room to get my husband. As he felt her lumps, I whispered above my daughter's head, "Could this be cancer?”

She was diagnosed six days later with a rare form of lymphoma. It literally took me weeks before I could say the word cancer and my daughter's name in the same sentence. I was gripped with fear. Fear of the intense treatments and the painful procedures. Fear of the uncertain future.

“In my wildest dreams I never thought one of my children would be diagnosed with cancer.”

And how did you give Scarlett and the rest of your family this news?

My husband Robert and I were always very honest with our children about Scarlett’s diagnosis. I told Scarlett that I was going to ask her to do a lot of procedures every day (for example, take medicine and get a lot of shots) that she was not going to want to do, but that she would have to do in order to get better. I assured her that I would be there with her every step of the way — and I was.

What were you the most surprised to find out about the treatment of pediatric cancer?

That Scarlett would be in treatment for over 2 years.

What made you want to start the Scarlett Fund?

While I’m grateful for the current treatment because it saved my child’s life, I think we can do better. I wanted to raise money specifically for children and specifically for research to help the doctors and scientists find more effective, less lengthy, and less toxic treatments for children with cancer.

Why is it important to raise awareness about pediatric cancers

Until my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I did not know that pediatric cancer research is drastically under-researched, under-funded and rarely discussed. The market for kids with cancer is too small to attract the attention of big pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children — more than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies and diabetes combined. A lack of funding impedes scientific discovery that we desperately need to improve survival rates and to create more effective and less toxic treatments for these sick children.

“While I’m grateful for the current treatment because it saved my child’s life, I think we can do better.”

What advice do you have for other parents and families going through a similar situation?

While the treatment for pediatric cancer is harsh, I always tell new families that they are going to find strength that they did not know they had. Often, they will find this strength from their own child! Children are incredibly resilient. Scarlett has taught me so much. I remember asking our doctor, “Is Scarlett going to be the same Scarlett after all of this treatment?” He responded, “No, she is going to be wiser and more compassionate.” And he was right.

Scarlett, Robert, Austin and Jennifer James.

Scarlett James

How has going through this with Scarlett changed your outlook on life?

When Scarlett and I go to MSK for her monthly visit, I am inspired. I am inspired to be a better person and to be a better mother. There is a constant reminder to appreciate life. We leave the hospital a little more humble than when we walked in and a little bit more tolerant of the world around us. We leave knowing that things will get better for these children that are falling in Scarlett’s footsteps. We know that people, people like you, are trying to make a difference.


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