Monday, December 24, 2007

Alexis' Angels

This post is difficult to write on many levels. To talk about Alexis evokes tears just as I start typing. Some of the tears are due to the senseless stupidity of her loss. Some are for the questions that will never be answered. Other tears are because we never got to the hospital to see her. Then there is the fact that family parties are not the same without her. It's not that my relatives are boring, it's just that Alexis pretty much embodied the life of every party. The final set of tears are because Alexis' parents, Patty and Jim, took their loss and transformed it into a way to help others. That final set of tears and thought process - Alexis, her illness, Patty and Jim, transformation and helping others - takes all of two seconds in my brain, but in actuality it took about 2 1/2 years in the making. The outcome and enormity of their actions still blows me away.

I guess if this is ever going to make sense, you should first know a little about Alexis.

Alexis Christine White. To write about her seems to take away some of her vivaciousness. She was so unique that words really can't capture her properly. I loved how Alexis would tell a story. Actually, she did not tell the story…she re-enacted it. The story itself did not have to be of any importance, but she made it amusing. She was pure kinetic energy. As she told a story, her whole body was in motion reliving the events, her voice becoming faster and louder with every word, stringing words together until you swore the story was just one very loooong sentence and at the end she would be giggling with peals of laughter. Sometimes laughing so hard she couldn’t finish. The more dramatic the story the better. I was never sure which was more entertaining, the story Alexis was telling, or how she told it. I still don’t know.

If I was to free-associate in describing Alexis, the words that come to mind are: funny, loud, irreverent, loud, bright, loud, a little ditzy but at the same time quick-witted, fun and did I mention...LOUD. She loved loud music - the louder the better. She also loved a good debate and was never afraid to speak her mind...loudly. Oddly, these are the same characteristics that I use to describe Kat. Kat is now the same age Alexis was when she died. That is another reason I cannot wrap my head around the chain of events. I can't imagine losing Kat. She is too vibrant, just like Alexis.

Alexis hadn't been feeling well for a while. It started out with her arm hurting. Nothing more, just an ache in her arm. She eventually had aches in other joints as well, severe lethargy and horrible headaches. There really wasn't any specific symptom There were a battery of tests, all inconclusive. One doctor suggested that being 15, she was probably just bored. She should lose 10 pounds and find a hobby. I would seriously LOVE to know if that doctor's medical license arrived in a cracker jack box. Her blood work showed that she had an infection, but still nothing showed leukemia. They tested her for everything including Lyme disease, which in Alexis' ditziness stated they tested her for limestone. Finally, after months of testing, on July 15, 2005 they determined Alexis either had leukemia or lymphoma. They would know for sure on Monday. They determined on Monday that Alexis has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

In veritable Alexis style, she asked if she was going to die. The doctor's assured her that she would not. So, Alexis agreed to be part of a study to help others with blood cancers and then asked when she could be sprung so she could buy her mom a birthday gift. Patty's birthday was Friday and she wanted to buy her mom a Build a Bear. Since they weren't letting her out of the hospital for awhile, she sent her sister Brooke and Jim out to get the present. Alexis resigned herself to losing her hair...she had the most beautiful blond curls you have ever seen, but she was not thrilled with the idea of her braces being removed. Patty recently told me that removing her braces is the one thing that reduced Alexis to tears. Alexis had her first chemo treatment on Tuesday and died that evening from unforeseen complications. Alexis was waked on Friday - her mom's birthday.

There are a million questions that still go through my mind, but nothing will bring Alexis back. I often question why life takes such unexpected turns, yet I still can't comprehend these chain of events to even ask the right questions. We would all love to have Alexis back in our lives, but since that is not possible, Jim and Patty created something to honor Alexis which will benefit many other families in the future. They created Alexis' Angels to help children battling blood cancer at Christmas.

Initially, they created a team to walk in the annual Leukemia Lymphoma Society's Light the Night walk. The team's name is It's ALL About Alexis, named for her type of leukemia. Alexis died mid July, the walk was the 3rd week in September. It's ALL About Alexis raised thousands of dollars in just 6 short weeks. This wasn't enough. Patty needed to continue to stay busy so they organized a bowling fundraiser to help raise more money for It's ALL About Alexis. We have walked 3 years in a row and have had 2 bowling fundraisers.

This still wasn't enough.

Every year, Patty's siblings take turns adopting a family in need rather than buying each other gifts. It was Patty's turn to pick the family in 2006. So, Patty contacted the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS) to ask if they knew of a family that had a teen going through chemo. LLS did not have a program of that caliber, but they would look into Patty's request and see what they could find. This one phone call was the seed of Alexis' Angels. LLS did find a family. They also found a sponsor and through word of mouth 9 children were adopted that Christmas. I remember walking into the LLS office in Chicago to drop off some gifts. It looked like Santa's sleigh exploded. There were gifts everywhere! What a great feeling to participate in something so rewarding.

In 2007 they expanded the program where complete families were adopted rather than children. Thirty-seven complete families were adopted throughout Illinois and Missouri. Jim and Patty personally delivered gifts to many of these families. Jim generally brings the gifts to the door. Patty stays back as she symbolizes what each of these mothers fear. Can you believe what they created out of their love for Alexis?

Patty and Jim were initiated into a club that no parent ever wants to join. The club's initiation fee is set way to high. They took that club membership and chose to create something to honor Alexis. Their strength amazes me. If it was me, I would have booked a padded cell at the local psyche facility and spent the rest of my days there. Not them. Their strength and fortitude is a true testament to their love for Alexis.

Patty told me that Alexis always wanted to help children. My belief is that she was so strong willed that she figured out a way to help kids even from a very far distance. She planted a seed in her mother's brain which has now become an annual event. She is an amazing spirit.

To read more about Alexis Angels please click here:

(I know there is an easier way to list Alexis' link, but for some reason, blogger and I are not getting along at the moment. If you still can't link to it, copy and paste the link to your browswer.)

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