It was a Saturday night in 2015 and I was scrolling through Facebook frantically searching for an update on a local little boy who was hospitalized for treatment related to his leukemia. The night before, his mom posted that he was teetering between staying on their current unit or going to the PICU and was crying out for prayers. His story was one of many I had been following via social media, and I found myself always waiting for updates. A few minutes later, I read the post that said he was in PICU and that he was septic. My heart sank and my face became flushed. How could a 3 year old have to suffer through this? This made me so, so angry. “What’s wrong?” My friend asked. “Childhood cancer. I just don’t get it.” I mumbled. “Childhood cancer? Who has cancer?”
Fast forward to July 2017 and I’m at the pool listening to a Jack Canfield podcast. I was extra motivated that summer and was writing down 100 goals I wanted to accomplish. #21) Donate 1 million dollars to childhood cancer research. And I continued on to #22 without a second thought. I was working as an organ transplant nurse at the time, but it wasn’t without effort that I wasn’t working as a pediatric oncology nurse. I had applied and gotten denied more than 10 times on my application. I had experience, but didn’t have pediatric experience was the explanation the recruiter told me, every single time. I was lost in my thoughts when I got a text message that sparked a movement that would be bigger than I could imagine.
Erica: “Did you see Brittney’s Instagram post?”
Me: “No, why? What’s up?”
Erica: “Charlie got diagnosed with leukemia.”
Just like in 2015, my heart sank. I jumped over to Instagram and dreadfully read Brittney’s post. It was true. Her sweet 18 month old little girl was sitting in a hospital crib and had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I immediately reached out to Brittney offering my condolences and donating to a newly organized go-fund me to help with medical expenses. I hadn’t met Charlie yet, but I went to high school with Brittney and had seen Charlie on social media feeds. Leukemia in my hometown? Again? This was about to be war.
Several weeks went by and I could not stop thinking about Charlie. I anxiously awaited on pins and needles for updates, I watched her little face swell from steroids and I watched a family cling to hope from the support their community provided. The more I continued to watch from afar, the more I knew I had to be involved in childhood cancer advocacy. I recalled a post I saw a few years back from a parent who’s child was end of life care after a courageous battle with cancer. Her post was pleading with her viewers that her sons death would not be in vein, that we, as a society could help. We could make it known that the government only gives 4% of all research funding to childhood cancer and that her son was dying because of it.
That was it, I thought. I was going to start a fundraiser in memory of her son and in honor of Charlie. 2 weeks into August, I started my first t-shirt fundraiser, designing and creating over 100 t-shirts that read “Fight Kid Cancer, Go Gold.” I sent Brittney and her family shirts to wear and I proudly was able to donate $2,000 to Cure Childhood Cancer based off of the 100% of profit I received. 1 month later, September 2017 after the fundraiser ended, I knew this was my calling. I was feeling grateful I found a cause that set my heart on fire: raising awareness for childhood cancer and donating back to childhood cancer research. I needed to name my newly founded organization and I needed to get a license to do so. After about 50 different names that I didn’t like, I was replaying film of a football game and heard the announcer say “It’s fourth and goal, will they go for it?”
YES! I thought, I don’t know if the Jaguars will go for it right now, but I WILL go for it. I will go for the cure of childhood cancer, every single time. September 5th, 2017 Fourth and Gold was born. Gold because it represents the color of childhood cancer awareness and fourth, because the government only gives childhood cancer research 4% of all funds. From that day forward, I spent months fully invested in launching my new business. I started writing blogs that would MAYBE get 10 views, I committed to building up my followers on a newly created social media Facebook page and Instagram and I stayed in constant contact with Brittney on getting new ideas and ways Fourth and Gold could assist in advocacy.
March 8th 2018, with Charlie Peter at the forefront of my mind, Fourth and Gold officially launched. From then until now, we have donated over $17,000 to childhood cancer research, we’ve made over 100 warrior packages, we have over 500,000 views on our blogs and I’ve received countless emails and messages on how Fourth and Gold has helped childhood cancer families through their darkest times.
Charlie’s mom, Brittney, has been a fierce advocate for childhood cancer awareness since that dreaded day in July when her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Brittney and have her answer some questions regarding Charlie, childhood cancer and Fourth and Gold:
Before Charlie was diagnosed, did you know about childhood cancer or any organizations associated with it?
Before Charlie was diagnosed, I knew a little bit about childhood cancer, but only because of my nursing background. I never knew that it was so prevalent or that it was so underfunded. The only organization I knew related to childhood cancer was St. Baldrick’s.
Since Fourth and Gold entered your lives, how have you been impacted and has Fourth and Gold been a resource for you?
Fourth and Gold has been there for us from the beginning. The organization has been very supportive of us, and has shown us that there are good people out there. Change can happen, but it takes a lot of work, and advocating, and compassion. Fourth and Gold has been very important to us since Charlie was diagnosed. They have advocated for kids with cancer to receive more funding, they have put into words things I think and worry about and that are important, but that I don’t have the energy to get out. They have raised much needed money to fund childhood cancer research. Parents of children with cancer often don’t have the time or energy, after caring for their sick child, to raise money or share their stories. Fourth and Gold does that for them.
Charlie ends treatment next month. What are some of your concerns and what do you think the biggest impact of treatment ending will be?
Charlie finishes treatment on 11/2/19, after almost 2 1/2 years. It is hard to say what the biggest impact of her finishing treatment will be. I think most likely the need for continued follow up to look for long term effects, secondary cancers, etc. It is not like when treatment ends, everything is in the past. Most kids that go through treatment have health problems in the long run because of the toxicity of the treatments. With a child this young, there is a lot of stress and anxiety for the parents, not wondering IF your child will have long term effects, but wondering WHEN she will have health problems because of treatment.
You’re very involved in childhood cancer advocacy. What are some organizations that have helped Charlie and your family during her battle with leukemia?
Apart from Fourth and Gold, some organizations that have been important to us are Griffin’s Guardians, Paige’s Butterfly Run (both local to the Syracuse, NY area), Make A Wish, St. Baldrick’s, and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Everyone has been waiting for this answer: Tell us about who Charlie is today?
Charlie is almost 4. She has been in treatment since just before she turned 18 months old, so more than half of her life. She is feisty, stubborn, and determined. She is very social and is always making new friends. She loves to be outside and to play with her brother, Cooper. Charlie inspires everyone who meets her on a daily basis. 💛
In August 2019, I flew to Syracuse, NY and I finally met the little girl who inspired Fourth and Gold: Charlie Peter. I had the opportunity to treat her and a few other childhood cancer warriors to a day at Build-A-Bear and lunch. Charlie was full of sass from the second I met her. She laughed and played for hours, carefully picking out the Troll doll she wanted to create. Watching her blonde hair and blue eyed full of life self enjoy a carefree Sunday morning was everything Fourth and Gold stands for and gently reminded me WHY we started in the first place.
I expected Charlie to be shy when she met me, after all, she’s only 3 and couldn’t know the motivation that she sparked inside of me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As Brittney and Charlie approached, it became evident that Charlie didn’t have a shy bone in her body. In her Fourth and Gold t-shirt, Charlie reached for my hand and said “Come on, let’s go build a bear!” So building bears is just what we did.