'Words Have Power': Area Student Raises Money and Awareness through Essay Contest

The essay below was written by Alec Palmer, a junior at Spring Lake High School, for an assignment in his Advanced Composition class titled "Words Have Power". Students were tasked with writing an MLA Research Paper on a non-profit of their choice, and then deciding the top essays in the class through a voting process. The top three essays received a cash award to give to the organization. Thank you, Alec and Spring Lake Public Schools! 

In life, it seems the most innocent can often be the victim of unwarranted hardship.

Cancer is a disease that strikes with little warning or reason; the journey after a diagnosis being long and emotionally difficult. In old age one can accept this fate and fight cancer knowing they had the opportunity to live a long and purposeful life, but when diagnosed as a child, the challenges yet to come are much more difficult to deal with. The Billy Bear Hug Foundation was created with this in mind, to help give children suffering with chronic illness here in West Michigan an opportunity to find comfort in knowing they are not walking the difficult road through treatment alone. This organization was started by Charlie Wondergem in order to honor the loss of his older brother, and it focuses more on the personal side of cancer treatment, rather than the medical. The Billy Bear Hug Foundation is a nonprofit organization that is partnered with the Grand Rapids Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital as well as Hospice of Michigan, to help provide emotional support and lend strength to children going through cancer treatment. What they try to achieve in the lives of children and families across West Michigan is self-explanatory. “Our mission is simple: to give the cure of comfort to children with life limiting illnesses” (Billy Bear Hug). Whether it’s giving teddy bears to children, granting a child’s final wish, or giving a role model for children to look up to, the Billy Bear Hug Foundation focuses on making children feel less like patients and more like you and me.

Not many people realize, but childhood cancer is a growing problem here in the U.S. and is a subject that cannot be ignored. “In 2014 it is expected that overall, 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before age 20” (People Against Childhood Cancer). This statistic is staggering. So many children are affected by the various forms of this disease, which leads to an even greater need for programs like The Billy Bear Hug Foundation. Think about all of the children that do not have the opportunity to receive the support and strength this foundation offers. With the rate of diagnosis continuing to increase, we need to focus on helping these children through their illness and supporting them in their fight. The Billy Bear Hug Foundation helps bring awareness to childhood cancer, and the very real emotional difficulties that many of the children experience.

When fighting cancer, one of the many problems that patients go through is having to fight off feeling isolated as well as a sense of hopelessness. Depression in cancer patients is a very real and very difficult side effect that can accompany a diagnosis. Carole Lieberman, MD, a psychiatrist, author, and member of the clinical faculty at the University of California’s Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior talks about the many conditions that can trigger depression, and the detrimental effects depression can have on the individual. “Many conditions may coexist with depression. Depression may increase the risk for another illness, and dealing with an illness may lead to depression. ‘Depression is anger turned inward toward the self,’ explains Lieberman. ‘This anger is self-destructive and therefore harmful to the body’” (Iliades). Of all the people diagnosed with depression, 25% of them are people who, at some point previously, were also diagnosed with cancer (Everyday Health). The Billy Bear Hug Foundation helps to lower this number. Defined, depression is, “A condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason” (Dictionary.com) The Billy Bear Hug Foundation provides the crutch to help children, and realizes the need for emotional support many children require as they battle their disease, and help bring a smile to the faces of those who need it most.

Though the Billy Bear Hug Foundation works to bring happiness to children with cancer in a multitude of ways, bringing teddy bears to patients as a form of comfort is one of the best examples of work that they are known for. With donations coming from empathetic citizens, organizations, and companies, this foundation purchases teddy bears to bring to as many children as it can, hence the meaning behind its name. If the money were awarded to this foundation, it could be used to buy a large number of bears to donate to children who are dealing with the complications of cancer related illness. With every dollar donated, it is another step closer to changing the life of an individual who by just having the small comfort of a teddy bear, could feel more secure and less alone in a world full of chemotherapy treatment and constant emotional challenges.

I’m guessing that not many of you have heard of the Billy Bear Hug Foundation, which in itself is one of the reasons I chose it as my topic. I met Charlie growing up, and despite whether he knew it or not, he was a role model for my brothers and me. With the unexpected passing of his brother he started this organization, to honor him in a way that reflected all of the good his brother was hoping to accomplish in the field of medicine. I had the opportunity to talk to Charlie over email and through these words he gave me a glimpse of what his organization was truly all about, as well as what it means to him.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve expanded on our mission to encompass the idea of giving what we refer to as the “cure of comfort” to children with life limiting illnesses. The idea is that we’re sending the message to these children and their families that they’re not alone in this journey. It can be a lonely and often scary time, and just simple acts that allow people to know there are others out there who care about them and what they’re going through can make all the difference. (Wondergem)

Cancer is a terrible sickness that still to this day has no perfect cure. Whether it was a friend, family member, or an acquaintance, almost everyone has been touched in some way by this disease. Sadness and heartache are to be expected, and the Billy Bear Hug Foundation doesn’t try to mask this. The organization knows the road through treatment isn’t all that pretty, and often times there are storms that delay progress. But what the Billy Bear Hug Foundation does know, and tries to pass onto the children affected by cancer, is that sometimes life throws storms your way, and no matter what you will be affected by them. But instead of waiting for the storm to pass, they try and teach children the importance of learning how to dance in the rain.