Facing it head-on…

For the past four years, our advertising program has sponsored a wonderful event called PhilADthropy, an advertising marathon in which our students work around-the-clock for 25 hours serving South Florida non-profit organizations to create advertising and promotions for their causes. We’ve done a lot of amazing work, and I’ve always been extremely proud of what our students have given back to the community. We’ve seen looks of astonishment and tears of joy from our clients who are always amazed at what our kids accomplish in less than a day.

This year, we’re gearing up to do it again. But this time, for me, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. My client and her cause are seared into my heart.

I’m leading a team that will work with The Mystic Force Foundation. I will sit face-to-face with its founder, Sylvia Vanni, whose beautiful son Salvatore lost his battle with neuroblastoma on March 19, 2011 at the tender age of 7.

I’m excited to have the chance to work on a campaign for an organization whose sole purpose is raising awareness of childhood cancer and funding for cures for this insidious disease.

But I’m scared, too.

I’ve never actually stood in front of a parent who’s been through the agonizing and indescribable loss of a young child. Sure, I knew Stuart Santos in high school, but that was a long time ago, before either of us knew anything about childhood cancer. I never had the chance to meet Stuart’s daughter, Isabella, who, like Sal, also lost the battle with stage IV neuroblastoma. And yes, I’ve read every blog entry that Maya Thompson has written about her son Ronan, yet another stage IV neuroblastoma victim, and while his story and his amazing blue eyes are forever woven into my soul, I never met him or his incredible mother either.

But on Friday, February 8, I will meet Sylvia Vanni. I will meet and hug the woman who, in writing about the agony of her son’s death on her Caring Bridge page, had me in tears. Sobbing, actually. My heart hurts thinking about it. But it hurts with a purpose.

Together, our plan is to turn the city of Miami (as well as the rest of the United States) gold next September for childhood cancer awareness month. Our goal is to get past people’s passive consciousness of childhood cancer and get them to see–really see–what this bastard disease is all about. I’m confident that the campaign will be terrific and effective, because I have the most amazing and incredibly talented students in my program. It won’t be easy. Like me, the students on my team are about to come face-to-face with the heartbreak that is childhood cancer. And it will be my job to help turn their heartbreak into effective messages that will resonate with those who don’t know (or who don’t want to know) how serious and awful childhood cancer really is.

I’ve been actively doing my part to raise awareness of childhood cancer ever since Isabella Santos lost her fight. Because I never believed she would die. Because I truly believed she would live to see a cure. Because until her mother’s words broke my heart, I didn’t realize how vicious and unrelenting childhood cancer is. Because once I knew that, doing nothing was no longer an option.

So this Mystic Force Foundation campaign? This is real. This is me, working with my students, putting all of our effort and focus and talent into the process of truly opening the world’s eyes to this awful beast.

And we’ll do it in the name of a sweet, happy, loving little boy named Salvatore Antonio Vanni. A Captain America-loving warrior who fought and fought and fought until he couldn’t fight any longer. An adorable boy who was less than a month shy of his 8th birthday when cancer took him away from his parents, his brothers, his sister, and the rest of his family.

We’ll do this campaign for Sal. And for Isabella. And for Ronan. And for the thousands of other innocent children whose lives were stolen by this merciless disease.

Fuck you, cancer.

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