Four year-old Audrey presents her parents with a colorful purse she’s made out of paper. This tiny handbag is stuffed with hand-made business cards, a handcrafted book, and paper rings she’s decorated with a host of colors and images. Ali, just about to complete the second grade, is in the other room chattering away on the phone with a young friend. This picture-perfect scene makes it easy to forget that just three years ago this family lost their seven-year-old son, Nate.
In the summer of 2009, Nate, recovering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and the accompanying chemotherapy treatments, was unable to fight off an illness caused by a bite from a rare tick. He passed away on June 24, 2009, just two months before his eighth birthday.
“Nate had just survived the most difficult part of his cancer treatment and was in maintenance mode,” said his father Jeff. “He had been out of school throughout most of kindergarten, but had been able to complete the first grade. He was ready to get outside and be a regular kid again.”
The Richards were just getting back to a normal life. Nate was doing well, playing with the neighborhood kids, and making up for lost time he’d missed outdoors.
“He had passed the biggest hurdle of treatment, and we thought everything was under control,” said Stacie, Nate’s mother.
From the very beginning of Nate’s battle with cancer, the Richards family has tried to be positive. Nate wanted to put together his own book for other children with cancer. So, the family kept a photo journal of Nate’s treatment and his battle against cancer. They pulled together journal entries Nate had written at school and incorporated it all into a book. When Nate died they continued to work on the book and now distribute copies of the book to area children’s hospitals for kids battling cancer.
In his own words, Nate outlines his fears and experiences. He offers a few tips that he discovered were helpful to him along the way.
“We pulled together things that Nate had written over his time in the first grade. He thought it was cool that we were putting it together in a book,” said Stacie. “Nate wanted to tell other children his story to be helpful to them. We wanted to make that happen too.”
To make Nate’s dream a reality, the Richards have started an organization called Nate’s Wish. They raise money to put together backpacks filled with things to comfort children when they are admitted to the hospital for cancer treatment.
“Our goal with these backpacks is to make children smile—even if it’s a smile that only lasts a moment. Every smile is important,” said Stacie. “It was important for our family to focus on the good things around us. I didn’t feel strong and was shaken, but Jeff was good about making us laugh. Laughter is a necessary distraction.”
Nate’s Wish continues to raise money for backpacks through local fundraisers.
“It’s been difficult to put everything together because this is uncharted territory for us. But we’ve been so blessed by talented people stepping in and helping us pull fundraisers together and make things happen,” said Jeff.
They have been surprised at how much support the community has given them. After a penny war at Lone Oak Elementary School in September, the organization relied on Paducah Bank’s Strawberry Hill location to count the thousands of pennies that the students collected each day.
“Everyone at Paducah Bank was so kind,” said Stacie. “We collected $5,000 worth of pennies! We truly appreciate their support.”
The Richards have learned how to take one day at a time. Through Nate’s Wish they are able to comfort children and families who are struggling with some of the same fears and challenges that they were faced with. For more information on how to get involved with Nate’s Wish, go to www.nateswish.com.