Belleair artist Penny Young is helping a young art student learn to paint.
BELLEAIR – The loss of a child is unimaginable and unforgettable. Penrhyn “Penny” Young of Belleair can remember the pain of losing her son Joey to leukemia back in 1971 as though it were yesterday.
Young is determined to do what she can so others won’t have to experience what she did back then. She is spearheading Paintings for a Cause, an auction and fundraiser, which will be held at the Belleair Country Club Tuesday, Oct. 29, 6:30 p.m.
Young’s memory of having her son diagnosed, and his battle to the end, just won’t fade.
“After a routine checkup our doctor noticed Joey’s spleen was swollen and together with some other questionable things, he determined that it was leukemia. He actually came to my house in Clearwater at the time, and broke to news to us,” she said. “Right away we made plans to go to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. I ended up staying there for eight weeks. The whole purpose was to get him into remission right away, which we did.”
But the testing and treatments continued, and Young said it wasn’t easy.
“Our trips were pretty grueling. There was bone marrow testing and whatever new drugs they would try on him,” she said. “That was the toughest part. I developed a real strength that came from this. It was important to learn everything about the disease and keep him happy.”
Between the year Joey was diagnosed, 1969, and his death in 1971, Young said her son lived a fairly normal life.
“Joey was very much a trooper,” she said. “We treated him like any other child. He was a good swimmer and he loved to go to the beach and get involved in everything. He loved going to church and school and he had lots of friends. We just had to make sure that he didn’t come in contact with anyone who had shingles or chicken pox because that would bring him out of remission immediately.”
Young is a painter so her role in the fundraiser is a natural. It is to support the work of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. The executive director of the Foundation, Nancy Crane, said the event is a significant one for the organization.
“We have been active for the past 22 years and we must find new therapies; we must find a cure,” she said. “We’re a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research to eliminate childhood cancers.”
Crane said childhood cancer is different from adult cancer and often people are unaware of the differences.
“People have to understand that funding for cancer is not funding for all cancers. Childhood and adult cancers are different,” Crane said.
She said the drive now is to find less toxic therapies for children who are battling cancer.
“In years past adult cancer drugs have been used on children. They are very harsh and very rough,” she said. “We have to find less toxic drugs with fewer side effects for children.”
The Pediatric Cancer Foundation is now funding for phase one trials in hospitals across the country. That means that new drugs or combinations of drugs will soon be tested for use in children.
“There are not a lot of drugs out there. Recently a 16-year-old young woman relapsed for the fourth time; there isn’t anything else for her. That is devastating and it is not right,” said Crane.
“We think there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I ask doctors all the time whether we will ever find a cure and they always say yes. It will take a lot of money for that. We run our own trials with the hospitals. They are our trials; we call it our Sunshine Project. Last year we were able to give $750,000 to the Sunshine Project. This year we hope to give $1 million.”
Crane said she is often amazed at the way the children handle the disease and the treatment.
“Children are good at it,” she said. “It is rough, it is rigorous and many times it is a very long treatment cycle for kids, but they seem to take it in stride.”
She said families are deeply affected when a child is diagnosed with cancer.
“The entire family is affected, not just the child. Parents, siblings, grandparents. People lose their jobs over it because somebody has to be with the child during all the treatments,” she said.
Paintings from a dozen local artists are being auctioned off and calendars will be for sale at $20 each at the Paintings for a Cause fundraiser. Cost of admission to the event is $75. The event’s main sponsor is DEX Imaging of Belleair. Other sponsors include The Thorn Collection, Coldwell Banker. More information can be found at www.fastercure.org.
Young is more than familiar with the toll a child with cancer can have on the family. She said her family, unlike many others who have to deal with a cancer-stricken child, managed to stay together.
“His Dad, Joe, who has since passed away, was very supportive. We were together the whole time and he was very compassionate. We went to Memphis together often,” she said. “Joey’s sister Heather, who was a year and a half older, was a trooper as well. She knew when he was going for treatment and helped him tremendously. Keeping the faith and making every day count was my philosophy. We have a big family and he may have experienced more love in his short life than many children have in a lifetime.”
The fight for a cure continues and until a cure is found many parents are going to have to deal with childhood cancer. Young said she would be happy to help anyone who asks and knows what she would tell them.
“My approach would be not to try to look too far into the future,” she said. “Don’t surmise what is to come, live in the moment and take each day and make it a happy day for the child. The child can feel what the mother and father are going through. You have to try not to show your fear. I went from fear to courage during that time and I would want to instill that in every parent. That courage is what carries you through.”