CARIN TOWNE, ’95, ’02, and her husband Jeff, ’95, have turned a personal tragedy into a ray of hope for parents of children with cancer by creating the Ben Towne Pediatric Cancer Foundation in honor of their son Ben, who died in December 2008 at the age of 3½. Read more
Archive for 2011
Our son Ben died three years ago today. This spring we will cross the milestone of having been without him longer than we were with him. How could this be? It seems impossible. So much has happened since that horrible night when we were launched into this new life. We could never have imagined what has unfolded when we first began to dream of a movement against childhood cancer. But as we reflect on it today, we find ourselves a bit in awe and desiring once again to offer up our thanks to all of you.
Thank you for reading, for “liking”, for forwarding, for coming, for listening, for giving, for sharing, for planning, for dreaming, for remaining – for hoping with us. Your participation in 2011 was inspiring. 600 of you at the Cars 2 event, 900 at our benefit, and so many willing to use their own networks and celebrations to further our mission. We have highlighted many of them on our blog and Facebook – but there are many more like these:
Leslie in Princeton, NJ – honored our foundation at her 50th Birthday
Aaron & Ellen in San Francisco – asked in lieu of gifts for people to make donations at their wedding
Jenn – coordinated a team at Microsoft to “knock out cancer” during their giving campaign
Annie – wrote about our work on her blog
Mollie and Heidi – gave generously from their own Stella & Dot proceeds
Jeane – once again used her annual Christmas party as a chance to give
Kirstin in Bristol, UK encouraged her family to celebrate her 21st Birthday with a gift to BTF
Dana – “the Possessionista” shared about us with her 20,000 Twitter followers
And so many others…like you.
Together this calendar year we have raised 1 million dollars towards curing childhood cancer! This is incredible and we are so grateful for the hearts and generosity of all of those who have contributed. Yet, we know that there is much more work to be done. We know that today a family will receive the news that their child has cancer. Today someone’s baby will receive his or her angel wings. Today cancer still remains the number one disease killer of our children. Three years ago today – it took our child. And so we press on. We remain committed to the work that is happening here in Seattle on behalf of children everywhere. Believing that there will come a day when a family will hear the words, “The bad news is your child has cancer. The good news is we can cure them.”
Onward. To 2012…
In the meantime, Happy New Year. Our best wishes to you and your family for a healthy and meaningful 2012. Thank you for making Ben Towne Foundation part of your lives.
Jeff & Carin Towne
When Jeff used to do pre-marital counseling with people I told him to please cover the topic of Christmas trees. A relationship could break very easily if there wasn’t a common understanding. Real or fake? White lights or colored? Blinking or non-blinking? In my mind these were non-negotiables. For us – a real tree, white lights, non-blinking. Period. Of course that is because that is what I grew up with and I am stubborn and bitchy. Jeff being kind and always a bigger picture kind of person thankfully acquiesced.
Here is one of my absolute favorite pictures of Ben – our second Christmas with him, looking for the perfect tree in 2006.
Just a year later Ben was five months into treatment and would be lucky to be home for Christmas if he recovered from his surgery in time. Stem cell transplant was just around the corner. A “live” tree was not in the game plan, as we couldn’t have plants in our home. Ryan was just a few weeks old, so needless to say, “Christmas” was not on our minds. Survival was.
My parents, wanting to bring some sort of merriment into our crazy existence, bought and set up a fake tree in our living room one day. A small gesture, but it did indeed brighten up our days that year. Ben loved it, as did we. A year later in 2008 Ben was dying – literally. But up this tree went.
(Here is Ben & Kristen sitting by the tree in 2007)
Last year, our 2nd Christmas without him, “Ben’s Tree” presented us with some electrical issues. The middle section of the lights went out. How appropriate. Normally most people would just take that strand down and attach another – but this tree is pre-wrapped, as in all the lights are attached. So after last season we boxed it back up and decided not to deal with it until this year.
With the holidays upon us again we wondered what were we going to do? It was probably best to just give it away and start again fresh we initially thought. It would be fun to take Ryan to pick out a tree like we used to. It seemed all decided until while walking through Costco Jeff mentions casually that he is going to take the broken fake tree to the goodwill. *cue grief episode* Instantaneously my eyes burned, tears fell, my chest heaved, my longing for my son so intense you would have thought he had literally just died in Costco next to the toilet paper. Nice. It is strange when, where and how grief moments are triggered. But triggered it was. And with a rage I was like, “We are not giving away Ben’s tree. I want that tree for the rest of my life.”
At least the moment was clarifying.
Jeff agreed to appease my volatility but gave me the job of finding an electrician to fix it – knowing full well we were about to pay more than the fake tree was even worth. Yes, it was crazy, but grief is crazy – so to me it was worth it no matter how much it cost. I called numerous electricians and basically was told in a condescending way they didn’t do “that kind of thing.” I was about to start pleading and begging my case when Holley (the perfect name for this holiday project) answered his phone and told me in a very friendly and kind way that he would come take a look at it.
Holley spent a couple hours with us and Jeff continued the work after he left. But I am pleased to say that after $200 + dollars, many hours and some definite cuss words from my better half – the tree is back in order. Sometimes grief can be expensive and time consuming. This much I know.
It’s about hanging on I guess. Hanging on to anything and everything. Longing for Ben – and he is gone. But his tree is still here. So just like our life, sometimes your traditions change. We are (and seemingly forever) the family with a fake tree – with white, non-blinking lights that now thankfully work.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your plastic branches…
Last week we had the honor and privilege of being featured by Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge as one of their charities of choice at their Dine & Wine 2011. First of all, if you have never been to Dahlia Lounge – you must go. Now. It is hands down one of the best restaurants in Seattle and you will not be disappointed. We have dined there many times and always walk away amazed by the gorgeous atmosphere and incredible food.
I would say Thursday night was no exception – except that it was beyond exceptional. It was such a lovely evening. We want to sincerely thank everyone who attended. We were grateful for your presence, generosity and interest in our work. We were thankful as well to Tom Douglas himself for stopping by to say hello to us and compliment his very talented head chef Brock Johnson.
The evening featured an exclusive and delicious menu prepared specially by Brock and accentuated by favorite Northwest wines. Brock introduced each course personally as well as the wines – which made the evening so much fun. We enjoyed Sparkman Cellars – 2010 Pearl Sauvignon Blanc, EFESTĒ Winery – 2010 Evergreen Riesling, Syncline Winery – 2010 Counoises, and Mark Ryan Winery – 2008 Long Haul. Thank you to these wineries for their generous contributions!
The conversations were engaging and the dinner such a treat that it seemed like a shame to even interrupt everyone. But we did. Jeff, myself, and Dr. Jensen had the chance to share about Ben Towne Foundation’s partnership with the Center for Childhood Cancer Research and the real hope that we have of changing the way kids are treated and cured from pediatric cancer.
In their invitation to Dine & Wine 2011 here is what they said:
“In creating this private event to benefit one of their chosen charities, Ben Towne Foundation, the Dahlia Lounge zealously joins the effort to end childhood cancer.”
That sentence took my breath away. As did the entire evening. Our deep deep gratitude to chef Brock Johnson, Amy Bryant, the Dahlia Lounge event staff, as well as our dearest friends Jon and Heather Foster for putting together such an incredible evening. We felt so honored to be included.
Last week our friend Gwynne hosted a fantastic wine & dessert party. I had the chance to meet so many wonderful moms from the Magnolia neighborhood. As we move into this second year we continue to be grateful for opportunities to share about what is happening here in Seattle, our foundation and about the future of pediatric cancer research at the Center. This was a perfect way to do that. Gwynne opened up her lovely home and invited a great group of women. Here is what she had to say about it…
1) Why are you involved with the foundation? I’m involved with the foundation first and foremost because I love my friends, Carin and Jeff Towne, and feel like I have to do something to make sure no other family goes through what the Townes experienced. It is gut wrenching to watch your dear friends suffer such a great loss and feel so helpless. This is the least I can do!
2) What led you to think about this idea? Carin and I talked about doing this awhile back. The ladies I know in Magnolia have a monthly “girls night” so this was a no brainer. Then this summer a dear friend and fellow Magnolia family’s daughter was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma. For a lot of families, this is their first experience and exposure to pediatric cancer. This is not okay and I had to introduce the families that I know here in Magnolia to Ben Towne Foundation.
3) What exactly did you do to raise awareness/funds for the foundation? Back in August I was out for a girls night to celebrate dinner for one of the woman’s birthdays and we started talking about college. Long and short of it, two of the women knew the Townes. So that night I invited all the women (and their husbands) to join me at the benefit 2011. I then told them that I was going to follow up with a “Girl’s Night” to have them meet Carin and invite other women who couldn’t make it to the dinner or didn’t know about it. I knew this would be the perfect way to keep the momentum going.
4) How did it work out? The event was fantastic! I had some great women show up, some I barely knew. The next day I had several of the women come up to me and say how wonderful it was for them to meet Carin and hear her story and that they were deeply impacted. Since the event I’ve had one woman take a copy of the Towne’s story on DVD so she can share it with her husband’s co-workers. I had a second friend tell me she’s going to send an email blast out to all her friends letting them know about Ben Towne Foundation. I had a third woman tell me she would love to help organize a Magnolia Cocktail Party and help raise funds as well. This is just the beginning and I know more and more families will jump on board and support this amazing organization!
**Thank you so much Gwynne for opening up your beautiful home and introducing us to a network of families in Magnolia. Your willingness to help tell our story and your fun hospitality are greatly appreciated!
For those of you new to our blog (thank you for subscribing!) – we use it to not only update you on events and news in regards to our foundation, but I (Carin) also use it as a landing page for what it has been like for us to live without Ben. In other words, it is a grief journal as well. For it is from a place of continued grief that we live and work. I believe our personal experience of Ben’s absence is part of the “awareness” piece of childhood cancer – what it does to families from whom it takes. So thank you for reading our story – in its various chapters…
Last week Ryan came home from school with peanut butter smeared in his hair and the majority of one leg colored blue. Under normal circumstances I would have laughed and applauded his sense of artistry – but considering that in about an hour a photographer was coming to our house to take pictures of him I wasn’t super thrilled. Just put on pants you say? Sorry, we haven’t worn pants since early April. And he has already informed me that even when it snows he will be wearing shorts. Fine, be cold. This is not the battle I am going to fight. Attempt to grow your hair out though and I will be all over you like spanx. But that is beside the point.
The point is/was that I had a high level of anxiety that day because I didn’t really want to document Ryan as an “almost four year old”. It’s not that I don’t want pictures taken of him, I do. But I also want Ben to always be the oldest. And next month my second born will turn four – an age Ben never got to be here. So documenting this milestone officially in Ryan’s life is bittersweet and therefore, as with most things now, there was a current of underlying tension running through my veins deeper than peanut butter and blue legs.
In the midst of trying to give Ryan a bath in the afternoon (which went over REALLY well) and bribing him with candy to put on something other than a jersey and basketball shorts, two men knocked at my door wanting to evangelize to me. I tried to politely tell them that I didn’t really have time – as Ryan was now shirtless again and running around the house with a bowl full of applesauce. “But didn’t I want to know about a loving motherly God who has been prophesized to come back as a woman?” they inquired. Was my image of God male or female? Could they just show me a few pictures? Their questions persisted. And while I have many theological questions at this point in my life, this was not the time to engage in this particular conversation, nor were they the people with whom I would chose to do so. I have a pastor and his name is Dave thank you very much.
What’s funny is when Ben was sick and I answered the door holding him with no hair, a nose tube and his puke bucket, groups like this couldn’t get away fast enough. But now we looked “normal” so they were not afraid of me…yet. After politely trying to close the door again they began to get very aggressive with me. They said they wanted to know why as a mother I wasn’t interested in what the Bible had to say about God being a loving mother figure. *cue blood pressure rising * Just a word of advice to anyone doing door to door religious chat: it is best not to use the words, “I’m surprised as a mother you are not interested in…” For you have no idea as a mother what I am interested in. No idea. So as the clock ticked towards Ryan’s picture time, my anxiety escalating further, I had had enough. I said to them, “Yes I would love to hear about the Godly mother you speak of. But considering she allowed my three year old son to suffer a horrible death and die in front of me – I really don’t have time to get into this today. It’s very complicated.” To which they responded, “Have a nice day” and scampered down my front porch stairs.
Yes. I will “have a nice day”. I will chase my almost four year old around and attempt to document the fact that he has now outlived his brother. I will have pictures taken of him alone because he has no sibling on earth to take them with. I will then debate for the next two months whether or not I can possibly bring myself to send out a Christmas card – for I will never have a picture of my whole family ever again.
And my mom thought our family photo sessions were stressful.
Some fun facts and numbers from our benefit 2011:
1188 mixed drinks
845 glasses of wine
219 soft drinks
40 – the median age
4 families who shared their beloved children
2 incredible oncology doctors
And one you.
You have helped us start a movement. A movement of parents, kids, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and strangers – collectively working towards bringing awareness and funding to childhood cancer research.
Many of you have been the visionaries this year behind birthday parties, cocktail events, walk a thons, club programs, holiday parties, wedding favors, jewelry parties, march madness brackets, golf tournaments, garage sales, and more. Not to mention all the children this past month that we have featured (see our blog!). You have given your time and your money. All with the hope of pushing this work forward. And with each person, big or small who has stepped up to the plate and put themselves out there for our cause – our network has grown. Every effort and every dollar has been significant and important.
And it is because of your incredible participation and generosity that on Thursday we delivered a check for $900,000 to the Center for Childhood Cancer Research. That means in 2011 Ben Towne Foundation has contributed 1 million dollars to the Center for Childhood Cancer Research.
100% given to research. 100% given in hope.
So it is with deep deep gratitude that we say thank you.
**A picture gallery and highlight video of the event are forthcoming. So stay tuned…
FACT: Pediatric cancers receive less than 3% of the National Cancer Institute budget.
“For my Birthday I had a beach party. All my friends in kindergarten came. We had a slip and slide, but it was cold so we filled a pool with warm water so we had a hot tub. Read more
FACT: Approximately one in 300 children will receive a cancer diagnosis before the age of 20.
“We faced the hottest day of the summer and I asked my mom if we could have a lemonade stand. She thought that was a great idea and asked if I was going to charge money; and if so, what would I use the money for? I said the Ben Towne Foundation. My brother Gabriel and I made signs on the easel and decorated a donation jug. My mom made lemonade and we were in business. Read more