Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2017

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Foundation helps young cancer patients tell their stories


Larry Cruikshank / Special to the Home News

Counselor Kimberly Smith assists Yajaira Hernandez as the 11-year-old pulls up a photo of herself in the hospital with no hair. The picture is one one many Hernandez used to create a story book at the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation

Janene Valle, left, watches as her daughter Jade Lucas creates a story book at the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation. Launch slideshow »

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For more information contact the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation at 735-8434.

On the pages of "Tribute to Kayla," a young girl's parting words to her family are printed, uttered two days before her death. Memories like these are tucked inside the books at Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, which tell tales of painful treatments, grievous loss and the empowerment of perseverance and survival.

Once a month, cancer patients and family members gather to write "Stories About Me" on computers, as they emotionally process their bouts with cancer.

Volunteer Mary Riesgraf Hansen helped start the program after her daughter, Grace, underwent brain surgery in 2006. She was told her daughter likely had lymphoma, but doctors discovered instead that the three masses around her brain were cysts.

She works for Bind My Memories, a company that allows people to self-publish stories, and wrote one of her own, "All the Things I Love about Grace."

"I wanted to help," Hansen said. "Every person has a story."

Upon receiving more than $50,000 in donations, the foundation was able to let others share their stories.

On Saturday, Kira Butcher was still grappling with the loss of her beloved grandfather. Both share an unusual bond: thyroid cancer. The seventh grader at Frank Garside Junior High is now in remission, and is seeking a permanent connection with her grandfather through a book, filled with pictures and memories.

"I'll always have him close," Butcher said.

Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation counselor Kimberly Smith said the process is helping Butcher grieve, while leaving her with a lasting legacy.

She is writing about "how much I miss him and wish he were here to have seen how strong I was," Butcher said. "He could've been in the hospital the first and second time (she underwent chemotherapy)."

While she misses the companionship of her grandfather, Butcher finds solace in the new friends she makes at the foundation.

"Coming here helps a lot," Butcher said. "I get to meet a lot of people that understand (me)."

Dominique Quattrini's odyssey with cancer began when she found a lump on her neck. The ninth grader at Silverado High School underwent high doses of treatment for three months last year and is now in remission from Hodgkin's lymphoma. This month, doctors thought it had recurred, but a biopsy returned negative.

Her mother had originally intended to write her story, but Quattrini objected to the use of pictures showing her without hair. However, when work constraints made the task difficult for her mother, Quattrini embarked on the book -- and along the way grew comfortable using those same pictures.

"I didn't want people seeing me that way," she said. "But I can't hide it forever. I'm more confident than in the beginning."

Smith said Quattrini is now able to recount the episode's physical and emotional impacts.

"The way I handled certain things -- it's amazing to look back at the pictures and see how strong I was," Quattrini said. "I'm able to express my feelings and not keep emotions inside of me."

Hansen said survivors like Quattrini garner strength through their stories, and others who read the 50 books at the foundation become inspired, as well.

"They learn from the stories," she said.

"They want to make books and express themselves," Smith said.

While Hansen said the experiences of her daughter had a profound effect on her, she said the other stories of survivors also leave an imprint.

"There's barely a Saturday I leave here without crying at some point," Hansen said.

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or

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