First Published in Inspired Health Magazine – Volume 1 – http://www.simplyclearmarketing.com
Picture: CEO Founder Jenny Mulks Wieneke with Hope the Bear modeled by her son, Gabriel Wieneke.
A staggering 15,000-plus American children will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016. Each child and family will be emotionally and financially overwhelmed. At 30-something, Jenny Mulks Wieneke was devastated by her cancer diagnosis experiencing comparable pain, fear and depression that simple pleasures would soon be taken away. But maybe most difficult — separation anxiety while away from her son, Gabriel.
“Children should be playing games and going to school. They shouldn’t have to face a life and death diagnosis or sign medical papers for doctors to amputate a limb,” she said. “I was in-shape and financially secure with good insurance. Co-workers and family were my strength. Many children don’t have these resources.”
Her personal journey inspired her to create ALONG COMES HOPE, a nonprofit that would support children with cancer. Seeds were planted when her son was three months old. “We spent several months taking Gabriel to Stanford Medical to stabilize the ventricles in his head,” said Jenny. “While there, I’d see other children by themselves and realized not all parents could take leave from their jobs or duties at home to stay at the hospital.”
Jenny was a top pharmaceutical sales representative and valued manager. “My co-workers were my other family,” she said. The company allowed her flexibility throughout her son’s earlier health issues, her divorce, her mother’s cancer and then her own battle with cancer. At the top of her sales productivity Jenny was regularly experiencing stomach pain. Testing unfounded, the diagnosis was stress. “I could push through my pain,” she said. At a sales meeting in Monterey Jenny’s competitive nature became a blessing in disguise. She strained her neck winning a hula hoop contest and was forced to call a friend and chiropractor, Dr. Peter Reese. Never having treated her, he was bound to take full body x-rays. “He showed me the big egg on my right lower abdomen.”
More tests and an ultra sound discovered one liver lobe wasn’t working and the other was barely functioning. She and her Mom were joking when the doctor came in to confirm a massive cancerous tumor and recommended she put her life in order. She might live a year. “I was stunned as much by the diagnosis as the doctor’s attitude. I had never experienced the patient side of my business. I realized how a child might feel with a sudden death sentence. I had to become my own advocate.”
The battle for survival began locally with diagnostic radiologist, Dr. Stephen Holtzman, and oncologist, Dr. Thomas J. Spillane. “They were wonderful, but advised if I wanted a chance to win the fight I needed treatment outside the county. I didn’t want to leave Gabriel. He was only four, but for Gabriel’s sake I had to.”
She chose M.D. Cancer Center in Houston. “Immediately I felt I had made the right decision. A lot of miracles come out of that place.”
Surgeries were done in Houston while chemotherapy treatments happened in San Luis Obispo until she was too weak to travel. While recovering in Houston she was encouraged to walk the 7-acre campus. She’d wander the two children’s hospitals and realized how scary it was for the them to be away from home battling cancer. She also realized she needed to involve Gabriel in her survival quest. “Children are born with intuition,” she explained. “If children are not encouraged to follow their hunches they grow up not trusting their instincts. My bedtime story was ‘Mommy has a poisonous bubble and needs liquid gold and holy water in her stomach.’ One night Gabriel said he could tell the bubble was getting smaller and it was.”
Meanwhile, another lesson Jenny learned was to accept help from friends. Co-worker Jill Whitebook rallied friends to donate $17,000, which Jenny didn’t think she needed, but discovered several incidentals are not covered by insurance. And although the company welcomed her back once recovered, in 2013 she was compelled to resign and dedicate her time and resources to create and operate ALONG COMES HOPE. “God left me here for some reason,” she decided.
ALONG COMES HOPE provides financial and emotional support for pediatric cancer patients. “No child should have to face cancer alone, and no family should be away from their child’s side.” The nonprofit has helped more than 223 children and their families and over 25,000 more have been exposed Jenny’s educational programs. Financial assistance for travel and accommodations have been provided if treatment is away from home. Music and art therapy programs are offered while the child is in the hospital. And Jenny conducts advocacy presentations in Washington, DC and whenever invited.
Hope the Bear, a soft, cuddly plush toy with a button in its paw to record messages by family and friends, is her most effective comforter for both children and families. It’s also popular among donors. Colors of Hope is an 80-page coloring book and journal allowing the child time for whimsy and creativity that inspires their journey to recovery and becomes a keepsake. Personal gifting and company advertising is available.
Jenny’s major funding has been her personal savings, however, now she is expanding her network to reach more donors to join her cause, including NASCAR drivers Joe Nemechek and his son John Hunter Nemechek. The website www.alongcomeshope.com and social media sources like Facebook have details and updates about opportunities and purchasing HOPE merchandise.
“God drops angels into my path every day,” says Jenny. “Just when you think it’s no longer possible…ALONG COMES HOPE.”