By Zach Fox Staff Writer Nov 22, 2016 at 7:43 AM
Gerry and Debora DiStefano still vividly remember walking into a Christmas-decorated New York apartment for one of the most stressful weeks of their lives.
The DiStefanos’ daughter, Rachel, had to be taken to New York last winter for a cancer operation. Rachel, 15, had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. During her fight with cancer, she underwent eight surgeries, 49 total weeks of treatments and a leg amputation.
The DiStefanos ability to go to New York for Rachel’s treatment was funded by the Children’s Security Blanket, a Spartanburg-based nonprofit that helps families handle the financial hardships caused by childhood cancer.
It was one of the last trips Rachel took before losing her fight with the dreaded disease.
“I miss her every day, but I know where she is now,” Gerry said.
The owner of that New York apartment is now helping other families handle their children’s battles with cancer.
The donor, who wished to remain anonymous, committed $1 million a year for multiple years to the organization, which helps families with everything from travel costs to food and care.
“It’s a financial burden, it really is, a child with cancer like that. They have no cures in sight for this, so for the organization to stand behind us like they did, it was such a blessing,” Gerry said.
Laura Allen, executive director of the Children’s Security Blanket, said the organization has grown by leaps and bounds recently.
In October, the nonprofit’s services expanded into Western North Carolina, where it is already helping eight families as they face the cancer fight.
“What it means for this organization is that we can serve hundreds more children and continue to expand our footprint into other areas,” she said. “For the first 15 years, we were in Spartanburg County. We’ve expanded into the entire state.”
The donation came after Allen put a request on Facebook to find a place for the DiStefanos to stay while they were in New York. A friend of a friend answered it, and the DiStefanos were there not much later.
Allen visited the apartment owner to thank him in person.
“He asked us, what would we do if he gave us a million dollars,” Allen said. “He liked our proposal, and here we are now.”
Lee Blackwell’s daughter, Hope, recently graduated from North Greenville University.
Hope was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer, in 1993. She was the third child ever served by the Children’s Security Blanket. Over a two-year period, Hope spent 190 days in a hospital.
“The Security Blanket was always there for us,” Blackwell said. “They’ve always been there. I can remember, just the little things.”
Now, Hope is a college graduate ready to become a teacher, Allen said. She said Hope’s story is proof that when families are able to fight the effects of cancer, they can win.
Debora DiStefano said the organization plays a major role for the families it works with, often when they most struggle.
Gerry said seeing the organization that helped his late daughter so much get such support was a blessing.
“It’s nice to know there are still benefactors out there that really care,” he said. “For someone that has a child that is sick, that is gravely ill, that’s one thing. For someone else to see that and do something about it, it’s a blessing to the organization and it was a blessing to us.”