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Moms of Kids With Cancer Are Bonded By Grief and Gratitude

Matt Lemmon
Community Foundation of the Ozarks
Ellis Beam's Mother Karen Catt with Marcello Estrada's Mother, Amanda Estrada

Making a Difference; Stories of Hope and Help, is produced in cooperation with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. 

KSMU Producer Mike Smith:  "In 2011, some 17 years after losing her 2 year old son Ellis Beam to cancer, Karen Catt worked with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to create The Ellis Fund, which helps families of children with cancer cover non-medical bills like travel for treatment and living related expenses.  The Ellis Fund was of great help to Amanda Estrada's family from August 2012-April 2013, when Amanda's 17 year old son Marcello was successfully treated for his illness.  In June 2013, Amanda Estrada and Karen Catt met for the very first time..."

Karen Catt:  "The first time we actually met in person was when you called and asked if we could go to lunch."

Amanda Estrada:  "Being able to meet with you was like a breath of fresh air, having someone to relate to and understand.  I was really grateful to have someone to talk to."

Karen Catt:  "There's not a lot of people you can relate to when your child is sick.  How did you find out about Marcello being sick and then start your process? Because one thing that is different, is that a lot of people go to St. Jude, but you didn't go to St. Jude."

AE:  "No, Marcello was complaining about lower back pain and after about 2 weeks he said "I really need to see a doctor."  Our family physician had suspected cancer right off the bat and sent him for a CT and Ultra-Sound and said "I don't have the results yet but I'm pretty sure what's going on.", because he had felt the mass in Marcello's testicle.  That's how it got started and once he was diagnosed there was no treatment here so we traveled to St. Louis.  The initial treatment in St. Louis failed.  It didn't work.  So I looked for the best of the best and we traveled to Indianapolis where we went to Lance Armstrong's doctor.  He was the one that created the treatment that was so successful."

KC:  "I remember we had to contact the hotel in Indianapolis to figure out if The Ellis Fund could help.  And then what are the other things that people don't think about?  What we help with a lot of times is utility bills and rent or mortgage or even travel things.  How does that affect paying for the everyday things you used to be able to pay for, but all of a sudden you just can't?"

AE:  "It's pretty crazy because now not only do you have a ton more of expenses, but in a lot of cases theres' someone losing income, especially when someone's traveling for treatment.  I ended up not being able to work plus you have all these expenses.  You're running 2 households virtually because usually both parents can't go for treatment, and in our case we had a younger son so you're trying to also maintain normalcy. Marcello had to have a stem cell transplant and high dose chemo, and that's pretty much killing you off and bringing you back to life.  We were never able to utilize free housing that was available.  The Ronald McDonald House was always full.  We had to live in Indianapolis for 2  months, so with The Ellis Fund helping to pay bills, that was really helpful.  I guess to get some clarification on how this all got started, once you son got sick and you lost him, how long did it take you to come up with the concept to help others, and when did you feel like you were ready do do that?"

KC:  "The only way I can describe this is I needed the world to keep spinning.  It was 17 years after Ellis died that I was connected to a family friend whose child had cancer, and then I just couldn't stand it.  I was like let me help, let me do something!  Then I knew another person and another family and within 6 months we knew 4 families.  Then I was talking to someone else who connected me with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, we got The Ellis Fund off the ground and we were able to help those same four families that year.  Now, on average, we help 22 families a year.  We can give a thousand dollars per family per calendar year to help with non-medical expenses.  And another thing I want people to know is the Community Foundation of the Ozarks charges only a one percent fee for managing the fund.  In other words, if you give 100 dollars to the Ellis Fund, 99 of those dollars goes directly to the families in need. 

AE:  One thing I wanted to tell you is how amazed I was with all you've been through.  That you were able to direct all your efforts to The Ellis Fund. You did such a wonderful thing in Ellis's name."

KC:  "I don't know haw to explain this other than it's now part of who I am.  We know what all these families are going through and I just don't know how NOT to do it.  And I also think of this, one of our Ellis Fund family members said Ellis didn't get the miracle to live, but he gets to be the miracle for others." 

AE:  "I think of you all the time, and I know the days get busy and sometime we lose contact, but more importantly than financial, I found a really good friend, someone I respect and look up to.  You are pretty amazing and I just want to thank you for your friendship and for all you do for the families going through tough times.  With cancer there's so many negative and bad things that happen, but there's some really special things that can come out of that too."

KC:  There's the unspoken, and I think of so many families also.  Seeing them out in public or seeing one of the kids on local news on a sports team.  It just makes me so happy to see the families doing so well now.  I think of all the families I don't get to talk to but I hope they know they are all in my heart. Thank you Amanda, for reaching out and asking me to lunch that day.  It just...It's more than making me's that I know my son's memory is helping others."

Mike Smith's career at KSMU began in 1980 as a student announcer when the former Navy Submariner attended (then) SMSU with help from the GI Bill. In 1982 Smith became a full time member of the KSMU family as "Chief Announcer", responsible for the acquisition, training and scheduling of the student announcing staff. It was also in 1982 when Smith first produced "Seldom Heard Music" a broadcast of Bluegrass which is still heard on KSMU and every Saturday night at 7CT.