When Anna Day's little sister was diagnosed with untreatable cancer, the elder sibling became determined to make a difference in the lives of others who might too one day suffer from the same disease.
Four years of bake sales later and the now 16-year-old Anna has raised over $40,000 and established a nonprofit, Anna's Bake Sale Foundation.
"We were looking at all the facts of how much money for research comes, and we were really upset about how little funding the U.S., in general, gives to childhood cancer," Anna explained while seated at the Waxahachie Chick-fil-A. "The National Cancer Institute only gets four percent of national funding and is over, like, 24 different types of childhood cancers."
"I wanted to change that and raise awareness and money at the same time," she advocated.
Anna is a big sister to 8-year-old twins, Isabella and Jaclyn. When Anna was in the third grade, the two were only nine months old when Isabella was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma.
It was during that nine-month wellness check that the doctor noticed that Isabella's stomach was hard.
Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body.
"Neuroblastoma most commonly arises in and around the adrenal glands, which have similar origins to nerve cells and sit atop the kidneys," stated the Mayo Clinic website. "However, neuroblastoma can also develop in other areas of the abdomen and in the chest, neck and near the spine, where groups of nerve cells exist."
For Isabella, the cancer is prominent in her spine and stomach. And according to her mother, Leslie, she was diagnosed with "the good kind, with a good prognosis."
"Bella's tumor was inoperable," Anna explained. "The tumor was wrapped around too many things, and so after she went through chemo, we had to stop that because it wasn't working, and she did Accutane therapy, which hurt her more than helped her."
The chemo stopped the growth of the 13-centimeter tumor, but the family ran out of treatment options and realized if there were more funding, then there would be more opportunities.
Another reason why the family is so passionate is that treatment is not specialized for children.
"They are still being treated with adult chemotherapy," Leslie elaborated. "There have only been three in the past 20 years that were developed for kids. So a lot of these kids aren't even dying from cancer, they are dying from heart failure and side effects from these adult drugs."
While Anna and Leslie shared their story and elaborated on the foundation, Isabella played in the Chick-fil-A play area with her twin sister. Once Isabella tired out and needed a drink, she expressed her gratitude to her sister that she looks up to.
"I'm proud of her for making money for children's medicine because a lot of kids have died from using grown-up medicine, and I'm proud of her for raising money for kids medicine," Isabella said.
Isabella underwent surgery in 2017 in New York where a surgeon was able to remove what was equivalent to two grapefruits and an orange. A plum size amount remains in her stomach, but a lot of her abdominal pain was relieved.
"The way they described it to us was, 'Imagine opening her up and pouring concrete in her, drying around everything and wrapping around everything,'" Leslie explained. "It was wrapped around one of her major nerve bundles that goes to her lower extremities. In surgery, they damaged nerves to remove the tumor."
Isabella couldn't walk for the first six months and underwent physical therapy to regain her abilities. Even though she can now walk and run, the 8-year-old takes pain medication daily.
Isabella said the cancer has "sorta" been scary, especially when in New York with the doctors poking on her.
When Isabella returned to Donald T. Shields Elementary in Red Oak, "I had a wheelchair in school, and I couldn't play where I used to be able to play, and I just wished that I could play like I used to."
After the Day family explained the reasoning behind the initiative, Chick-fil-A in Waxahachie quickly jumped on board to help host the bake sale in 2015. With a goal of $1,000, the family was able to raise double the amount.
The second year, Anna doubled her goal to $4,000 and raised over $8,000. The third year, she had the goal of raising $10,000 and having a business match the donation amount. Even though Anna raised $12,000, she was unable to find a business to match because she did not have a nonprofit status to allow tax right off.
In April 2018, Anna's Bake Sale Foundation received nonprofit status and raised over $18,000 that same year.
To help beat the heat this summer, the foundation is selling discounted Hawaiian Falls tickets for $25. They can be purchased on the website on the events tab. The tickets are for any day the park is open. Anna will also host an information booth and merchandise table at Hawaiian Falls on Saturday.
On Sept. 21, Anna will celebrate the fifth annual bake sale at the Waxahachie Chick-fil-A from 9 a.m.—4 p.m. with over 200 baked goods for sale.
The relationship Anna has with God keeps her going and attributed her family's strength to her faith.
"There have been so many people who have given to us and helped us," Anna said. "Since this journey has started, we all have tried to find a way to give back, so I like to think of this as my way of giving back."
Anna will donate a $10,000 check this year to The Cure Starts Now for DIPG research after the family friend passed away from the brain cancer that has a zero percent cure. Another check will be presented to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center for immunotherapy.
Anna has contributed to Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, Children's Medical Center Dallas in previous years.
Anna agreed that the nonprofit initiative helped her cope by giving back. She would like to form a group for siblings of cancer patients to come together and relate and support one another.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450