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Tue Apr 27, 2010 2:49 pm

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I was eighteen years old, fresh out of high school with a bright future to look forward to, when I received the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis.

This was a big deal for someone my age to endure. However I chose to fight the battle instead of wallowing in self pity.

After major surgery and four months of radiation treatments, I overcame my obstacle and emerged a new person -- someone who took nothing for granted and a person who learned to appreciate everything and everyone around me.

Years passed and I received my certification in medical assisting, met a wonderful man, moved to New York and got married. Truly, life couldn't have been any better -- however, I still felt something missing and longed to find my purpose.

Having donated to St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, TN, for years, I had always felt a connection and empathy toward the children living with cancer who were being treated there. What a truly magnificent place, especially knowing that no patient was ever turned away regardless of ability to pay. The hospital exuded living, and that is what I was all about.

As my 20-year anniversary of being a cancer survivor approached, I wanted to do something special and unforgettable.

I organized a fund raiser, calling it "A Mission of Love," and thanks to my generous family and friends, raised $4,000 for St. Jude's, planning to deliver it myself. Three quarters of the money would be given as a monetary donation to the hospital, and what was left would go toward purchasing toys for the children. I also had arranged with the hospital a t-shirt painting activity for any child who felt well enough to participate.

Thanksgiving Day seemed the most appropriate day of the year for the mission, and so it was all arranged. My husband and I flew to Memphis with 50 t-shirts and a huge bag of fabric paint in tow the day before Thanksgiving. We went to the toy store and filled three shopping carts with all kinds of toys piled high to the sky. It was as though we were small celebrities when the employees and other shoppers became aware of what we were doing.

On Thanksgiving Day, as we pulled into the front gates of St. Jude, it was quite literally my dream come true. I became extremely emotional, as my eyes welled with tears of happiness.

After dropping the toys off, we went to a lounge area where there were six children waiting anxiously to begin painting. They picked out their shirts and my husband and I helped them get started. To me, it was as though they weren't even sick, and to see them smile was one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received. When the activity was over and we wished the children well, we dropped off the monetary donation to an extremely grateful staff, and then our visit came to an end.

Leaving there that day, I knew I had finally found my purpose.

Going to St. Jude filled a feeling of emptiness inside of me that had existed for as long as I could remember, and it genuinely changed my life.

I was thanked for giving a donation to a charity that saves lives, but being able to give thanks for my experience was priceless.

"All of us are born for a reason, but all of us don't discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It's what you do for others." --

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