How to help
* Tickets for the Kidz Cancer Fund's HDTV drawing are $10 and can be purchased up until May 18. Visit www.kidzcancerfund.org for more information or to donate through PayPal.
* Those wishing to donate to the cause can e-mail Joe Whitfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Also, keep up with Will Abernathy through his Facebook page by searching “Help Little Will Abernathy.”
Running through the front yard of his family’s Forsyth County home, Will Abernathy sang songs and chased his shadow, playing like any typical 3-year-old.
But when he went running after his red hat the wind had blown off, it became clear that Abernathy wasn’t like most kids his age.
His bald head, free of the golden locks captured in family photographs, is the only outside sign that Abernathy is in a battle with cancer.
“He doesn’t appear to be sick. The only way you would know is that he doesn’t have hair,” said his mother, Melody Abernathy. “Kids are so resilient. They don’t understand this. After they’re sick, they want to play again.”
Though her son may not quite grasp the situation, she and her family have experienced the emotional and financial difficulties of helping a child fight cancer. It's something Joe Whitfield understands all too well.
Whitfield, whose 17-year-old daughter is undergoing cancer treatment, recently launched Kidz Cancer Fund to support families in their times of need.
Will Abernathy was selected as the group’s first “adoption,” meaning the nonprofit will raise funds and donate the proceeds to help the family with medical expenses.
Whitfield said the hours spent at the hospital and seeing what families go through inspired him to start the organization.
His daughter, who was diagnosed last year with stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, showed quick improvement and is expected to make a full recovery.
“It made us realize we were fortunate, so we wanted to help those folks that weren’t as fortunate,” he said.
Having a child with cancer can mean parents must take time off from or leave their jobs, as Whitfield did to be with his daughter.
“It throws everything off,” he said. “At a time when you’re getting more and more bills with prescriptions and travel and so forth and so on, your income in the house is cut drastically as well. That was the idea behind the whole thing.”
Several charities exist to assist families with medical bills and associated expenses, but Whitfield said the checks are usually a few hundred dollars here and there, which barely cover the costs of prescriptions.
With Kidz Cancer Fund, he hopes to provide a great deal of support to a few families.
“What we’re hoping to do is be able to hand the Abernathys a check for at least $3,000 or $4,000,” he said.
The organization, which Whitfield wants to expand to other families and areas, is selling $10 tickets for a 42-inch HDTV drawing to benefit the family.
Melody Abernathy said her family found the organization by chance after her mother learned of an upcoming fundraiser.
When she called Whitfield, they realized they had met before while their children received treatment at the same clinic.
He agreed to help the family with several fundraisers during Will's recovery process, which is expected to take several months or even years.
Melody Abernathy said her son has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy since he was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma last October.
The chemotherapy stabilized his cancer and his primary tumor was removed, but the cancer had spread to other areas.
This past week, the family traveled to Philadelphia so the 3-year-old could receive the first of two planned treatments of a unique, new type of radiation therapy.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer developing from nerve cells in the body, which typically affects children 5 and younger.
A pain in his leg followed by frequent vomiting brought the family to the emergency room, where a scan found the cancer.
Melody Abernathy said the family plans to do whatever it takes to help their son, including costly visits to the nation’s top doctors.
She’s thankful that modern developments over the past 25 years have turned her son’s diagnosis from “no hope” to “treatable.”
“They’ve come up with all these different treatments,” she said. “We just have to find what works for Will.”