Monday, August 27, 2012

Spotlight on Mom: Rene A. Fesler-Giacalone of Honeysuckle Foundation for Children with Cancer Alicia's Updates A Mother's Memoir of Pediatric Cancer

I am excited to share this week's Spotlight on Mommy with you, as she has an amazing story of hope and support for families who have children battling cancer.  Rene A. Fesler-Giacalone founded Honeysuckle Foundation for Children with Cancer, after her daughter, then 6 year old daughter Alicia finished up treatment for bone cancer. 

The Honeysuckle Foundation for Children with Cancer is an organization dedicated to while working with and in partnership with pediatric oncologists, pyschologists and social workers, improve the quality-of-life and the emotional support for children diagnosed with cancer and their families. 

aliciaupdates.jpg It is the goal of the Foundation to assist these children and their families by:
  • Support and assist psychosocial programs specifically targeting and identifying the needs and issues faced by children with cancer and their families.
  • Bring an awareness to the emotional issues faced by children and families dealing with cancer and assist in the development of and implementation of 'family friendly' cancer programs.
  • Provide resources as incentives for children undergoing chemotherapy and various medical procedures.
  • Working in conjunction with local schools and hospital personnel, provide educational programs for school personnel and students to increase understanding of the disease and encourage social support for the patient and siblings both during treatment and post-treatment.
  • Raise public awareness of pediatric cancer and the social and emotional impact is has not only upon the family itself, but on the community. 
No one ever wants to go through this experience like Rene and her family did.  But, as a young adult cancer survivor (I personally went through cancer treatment back in 2008), I saw how it affected everyone around me, especially my parents who took care of me and brought me back and forth to Dana Faber for treatments.   Like Rene's daughter, I also get upset when I see all the publicity and drive for breast cancer awareness and support, as I know that all the other cancers out there, both pediatric and adult should receive the same awareness and support.  Hats off to Alicia for starting her own Facebook page to bring awareness to pediatric cancers, and offer a sounding board for survivors to talk and share their stories. 

As for Rene, I had the opportunity to read and share her book with my parents, and have to say that her account of her daughter's experience with pediatric cancer was touching.  I have a close family friend who is battling with an incurable pediatric cancer, and as I watch them stay strong for their son, I can only imagine how they are feeling on the inside.  My parents only began opening up to me a couple of years ago, after I was 3 years out of treatment, and how they felt and still feel about watching their youngest daughter have to go through what I did.  With Rene's book and foundation, she is bringing awareness to parents and others around the world, and hopefully shedding a light on pediatric cancer and those affected by it, while helping to support those undergoing cancer treatment.

I urge all parents to read Rene's book and to visit her foundations' website to learn more about one mom's journey with pediatric cancer, and to show your support.  

Please enjoy my interview with Rene A. Fesler-Giacalone.  And, on Friday, I will be offering five (5) lucky reader a chance to win a copy of Rene's book, Alicia's Updates A Mothers Memoir of Pediatric Cancer for 5 readers to read and share with family and friends. So, make sure you head back here and enter.

Name:  Rene A. Fesler-Giacalone
Company Name/Product/Service: Honeysuckle Foundation for Children with Cancer
Alicia's Updates A Mother's Memoir of Pediatric Cancer
Company Location: Long Island, New York
Facebook URL: Rene A. Giacalone
Twitter Handle: @ TeamHoneysuckle
Age of Company: 10 years old
Favorite Inspirational Quotes:  Keep on smiling, it makes the world wonder what you have been up to....
Favorite Book: The Secret

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  How many children do you have?  What are their ages? Your hobbies? Etc.

I consider myself an 'accidental' advocate becoming an author and pediatric cancer advocate after my youngest daughter Alicia was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago.  I have devoted the past 10 years bringing awareness to pediatric cancer which is terribly under funded and lacks the recognition and support other cancers receive.  This is due to a population of children who are too young to spearhead this cause and parents who are so overwhelmed with treatment and the complexities of dealing with the disease their focus is just on trying to live during grueling treatment.  I have three children my oldest daugher Lauren is a graduate of the University of Florida in  Gainesville and recently got engaged, a son Stephen who attends college in New York and my youngest daughter Alicia who is entering senior year of high school in the fall.  
Briefly explain your business.  How did it come about?
The Honeysuckle Foundation for Children with Cancer is a 501(c)3 not for profit founded by Alicia and myself when she was finishing up her treatment.  In order to keep her occupied during her numerous hospital admissions, Alicia set up a 'store' in her hospital room selling sterling silver jewelry.  Since it was only a few weeks before the holidays, her business boomed.  After her 1 week stay at the hospital she had sold $1000 which was money for herself.  She put in the effort, the profits were hers.  Alicia had taken note about the other kids around her during her stays and also noticed they did not have as much 'fun' or activity as she had. Alicia asked if her $1000 could go towards helping other kids have the same experiences she had.  A visit from a family friend attorney Michael Borg and the Honeysuckle Foundation was born.  Named after the block we all lived on at the time Honeysuckle Court, the Foundation is about psycho-social support and the emotional aspect of pediatric cancer.  We tend to the part of the child not helped by medicine.  With a psychologist and social worker dedicated to working specifically with pediatric cancer patients and their families, the Honeysuckle Foundation is working to make a difference in the lives of those touched by pediatric cancer, grow our programs to a national level and bring public awareness to a disease that deserves major support and recognition. 
What is a typical work day like?
Since we are a strictly volunteer Foundation on any day I get to do everything.  From answering the phones, writing thank you letters or brainstorming with people on growing our group or speaking to groups about pediatric cancer and perspective, my day is unpredictable.  Since our core group is based out of the New York metropolitan area, I also find myself traveling frequently for meetings and events.     

What has been a struggle while starting up your company?  

Enthusiasm.  When we started and Alicia was just off treatment, it was easy to attract enthusiastic volunteers and supporters for our cause.  Ten years later however, our numbers have dwindled to only the 'hard core' supporters'.  We have persevered however, because I have a vision for the future of pediatric cancer and for the Honeysuckle Foundation and I continually network and reach out looking for help and support.  Sometimes we do not get it, but most of the time we do.  Ask and you shall receive.
What did you do in your past work life?
Prior to being a stay at home mom and not for profit director, I worked for a defense contractor as a corporate communications director.

What have been some of your major successes?

My major success has been Alicia being a healthy 16 year old about to start her senior year of high school.  Nothing compares to that.  I have also been the recipient of the Fortune 52 award by the Long Island Press honoring women on Long Island who make a difference.  In 2010 I was a Community Award winner for Cabot  Cheese a national contest that brings a group of individuals just like myself devoting our lives to helping others first on a Celebrity Cruise.  It was one of the best weeks of my life meeting and bonding with like minded people who make a difference in this country every day.  I gained some of the greatest contacts of my life that week and Cabot Cheese turned out to be the Honeysuckle Foundation's best sponsor and supporter.  I only buy Cabot products after meeting them.  What I believe is one of my most rewarding success is the publication of my book Alicia's Updates  A Mother's Memoir of Pediatric Cancer    It is the story of our journey through pediatric cancer and the story of how the Honeysuckle Foundation was founded and grew.  It is very rewarding to hear from people that my book changed their perspective on things for the better.  
What have been some of your major challenges?

The economy has hurt everyone but especially small not for profits.  Without the arm of major corporations or major celebrity to keep you on the map, it is a daily challenge to gain supporters and momentum.  
On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?

Tomorrow.  I always recognize that today's struggles will not be so daunting tomorrow or the day after that.  I have witnessed too many people who no longer have tomorrow, so I chalk it up to a bad day and will retry things tomorrow.
What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?
My family is part of this business.  We went through cancer treatment together and we go through helping others together.  Everyone wants to be involved, and sometimes I hear the complaint it is not enough they are doing, but we go through things together.  It keeps us close and allows a lot more understanding from my children when I am consumed by an upcoming event.
What is next for your business?
Alicia as a survivor, is upset and disappointed over the recognition for 'think pink' and the lack of recognition for gold awareness, the color of pediatric awareness.  She has started a group 'Let Gold Be Told' on Facebook where kids with cancer and survivors get to tell their stories and gain support for their cancer.  Kids do not have the voice that adults have and therefore it is up to people like Alicia who are now young adults to change the perception and support of pediatric cancer.  She has started in this direction and the Foundation is going to help her with this as part of our mission.

Do you have any advice for other mom entrepreneurs that are starting out and struggling, or are on the fence about starting a business? 

I always think of the Tony Robbins advice of 'should have, could have, would have.'  If I do not do this, am I going to one day have regret about it and say to myself I should have done this, could have done this or only if I would have done this.  I would rather have tried and failed than to fail at trying.

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