Stephanie Simmons is one of childhood cancer’s greatest adversaries. Among her many efforts to advocate on behalf of families and children facing cancer, the 18-year-old from London, Ontario created the Gold Ribbon Campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and encourage people to donate blood—so often used in the treatment of cancer—in honour cancer’s young victims.
The Gold Ribbon is the international symbol for childhood cancer in every form. The campaign, created in 2006, runs every September in conjunction with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Since 2012, Stephanie, her mother Renee, and her sisters, Nancy and Angela (who is called Pi) have been working with Canadian Blood Services to reach blood donors with their message. They also encourage families of children with cancer to become advocates for blood donation and motivate their friends and families to consider giving.
They know all too well the importance of donated blood in the treatment of cancer. A three-time brain tumor survivor, Stephanie has spent more than half of her young life battling cancer – enduring years of chemotherapy, receiving the maximum dose of radiation for her lifetime and overcoming disabilities left from various surgeries she has had to go through in order to survive. More than once she wasn’t “supposed” to make it. But she’s still here, even though other friends who were “supposed” to make it aren’t. Blood and blood products played an important role in making that happen. “A child with cancer may require five units of blood a week,” says Renee, a Philanthropy Associate with Childcan, the Childhood Cancer Research Association Inc. “Their reliance on blood donations is that heavy. Although the campaign is about raising awareness and increasing blood donations, we also want all donors to hear us when we say how thankful we are to them.” Stephanie’s family was at her side this month when the Gold Ribbon Campaign launched in London, Ontario. The event donors and media all wanted to speak with Stephanie. Strong donor turnout resulted in collections that surpassed expectations.
Throughout Childhood Cancer Awareness month, Canadian Blood Services clinics in southern and central Ontario and Victoria are partnering with Stephanie’s campaign to encourage donors to give blood in honour of children living with cancer and those who have lost their battle. And, as every campaign is not without a goal, this year, the Simmons family and Canadian Blood Services are hoping for 1,700 donations of blood by the end of September—one unit of blood for each new case of childhood cancer that is diagnosed in Canada each year.
Although Stephanie is now tumour-free, she risks post-tumour leukemia from the many harsh treatments her body has had to endure. She goes for blood tests every six months to keep the risk in check. “Because young cancer patients’ bodies are still developing, the treatment itself can damage them,” says Renee. Stephanie has been left with kidney and nerve damage, high blood pressure and periodic stroke-like episodes. As a result, she takes 15 doses of eight different medicines daily.
In addition to creating the Gold Ribbon Campaign, Stephanie has undertaken letter-writing campaigns to encourage companies to use the symbol of the gold ribbon on some of their products and to media to raise more awareness about the gold ribbon and childhood cancer.
For her significant contributions as a children’s cancer advocate, she’s been recognized: In 2011, she received the Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Award; in 2012, she became recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and this month she received an Honouring Our Lifeblood award at Canadian Blood Services’ annual ceremony of the same name for being among a select group of outstanding Canadians who have demonstrated dedication and commitment to Canada’s blood system.
“Through Stephanie’s voice, the Gold Ribbon Campaign provides hope, strength and courage to thousands of childhood cancer sufferers and survivors,” said Marisa Gatfield, community development coordinator at Canadian Blood Services’ London office. “Though her hard work, family ambassadors across the country have stepped forward to share their child’s journey and to rally their colleagues, friends and family to donate blood in their communities.”
Health-care workers, who deal with patients on the front line every day, can show their support for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the Gold Ribbon Campaign. To dedicate your blood donation to the campaign, visit www.blood.ca/joinpartnersforlife and join as a member by using partner ID # GOLD01312l. This will ensure your donation will be counted toward the campaigns’ total goal. For more information about the campaign, visit their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/GoldRibbonCampaign.
Gold Ribbon Campaign video can be viewed here