I have to tell you about the bravest little boy I know and how he is such an inspiration.
His name is Julien Collot, he’s 8 years -old and he’s been fighting leukemia and then graft versus host disease since he was 3. He’s the son of my amazing friend Jackie Collot. Jackie is working with me on a foundation I founded four years ago, called Project Ladybug. It’s a national organization I set up to raise money for pediatric cancer research and to help make the lives of children with cancer more bearable.
What most people don’t know is that cancer is the biggest killer of children under the age of 15. Every year 11,00 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. The good news is that over 75 percent of these children will eventually be cured.
The bad news is that 25% of children with cancer will succumb. And there still isn’t enough research being done on cures for those stubborn and tragic cases.
When I look at my healthy daughter Lexi, now 14, I think, “There by the grace of God, it could have my daughter” and I need to do more.
That’s why I began working with my mom, sisters and best friends to raise money using Project Ladybug to help children with cancer. Doing that I’ve met so many courageous moms like Jackie, whose children are fighting brave battles against cancer.
Jackie’s son Julien had the most amazing and promising life until he started getting sick around his third birthday. Months later he was was diagnosed with what is normally a form of adult leukemia called AML — acute myeloid leukemia. His devastated parents were given the most terrible news — that he had very little chance of surviving. The doctors couldn’t get him into remission at all.
His only option was a bone marrow transplant and so he was transferred to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City — there we finally got miraculous news for Julien, a bone marrow donor had been found for him. It was a one in six million chance — the doctors only found his match after looking through six million potential bone marrow donors.
Luckily this perfect match donor — a stranger — was found, and Julien survived the risky procedure. Not only survived but appeared to bounce back. His parents celebrated and so did Julien. They finally got to take him home. He was so happy. He climbed up on his swing set and slid down with his arms up in the air, yelling “No more leukemia!”
Those were little Julien’s last carefree days. Later that week when his mom, Jackie, took him for his checkup and tests, their conversation was interrupted when his doctor got a phone call in the middle of their meeting. He turned white as a sheet — the leukemia was back!
Julien’s only hope was another bone marrow transplant. His donor was so generously willing to do it again. “You tell me what I need to do, I’ll cut off my arm right now if it’ll save this little boy,” he said, and he came back and did what he had to do.
Unfortunately, because of Julien’s relapse, this time he had to have an “unmodified” bone marrow transplant in which he had to be given his donor’s entire immune system as well. This made him vulnerable to getting graft versus host disease, which unfortunately he did fallen victim to. Graft versus host disease causes the bone marrow to attack Julien’s body.
Now, he’s been leukemia-free for three years but because of graft versus host disease, he’s suffered a series of complications, all of them life-threatening. Every virus, every disease. No one ever thought he’d make it through — chances were very, very slim — but he’s still with us. I and his mom, Jackie, believe in our hearts, that he WILL make it!
Little Julien has lived in the hospital for the past year. And it’s because of Julien and other children like him, that I want to help and want you to help too. We are establishing Project Ladybug funds in different cities across the U.S., including Chicago, to fund research and to pay for the things that cancer kids AND their moms need to make their lives just a little easier.
We’re raising money to build a playground for child patients on top of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Paterson, NJ.
We’ll set up a room in the hospital for moms and turn it into a day spa so they can get massages and manicures, and, boy, do those moms need the break — they’re living in the hospital too with their children. Jackie herself has bruises on the left side of her body from sleeping in Julien’s hospital bed every night.
We also help families with cancer-stricken children find financial help. You meet so many people who have lost their jobs and their homes because they had to take care of their sick child.
All of us at Project Ladybug work without any pay, so all the money we raise can go to help the children, their families and to do research on treatments. We have close to no overhead.
Little Julien is still fighting to live but I’ve seen others pass away. Children aged 3, 4, 12 and 19 die, and it’s senseless. That’s why we have to find cures. Jackie has also started the Julien Collot Foundation to raise money as well.
You should also seriously consider becoming a bone marrow donor yourself. It’s easy — just a swab of your cheek. Click here to see how!
Please consider donating money or your time to help a child with cancer. I’m so proud of the amount of money raised that goes directly to the kids. We have close to no overhead and our administrative costs consist mostly of the purchasing of tees & slippers etc that we give away with generous donations at our events. Our event costs are even kept at a minimum due to my connections in the industry, being an event planner by trade. I’m also thrilled that while Ladybug’s first two years consisted of only our annual girls’ night out, currently we have an average of two events a month as well as several partnerships with companies selling items ranging from jewelry to stationery, all to benefit the foundation. You can check for updates of events and products on our website. — Jackie Collot & Dina Manzo