This is a lengthly read, but worthy of your time.
Tawodi Kai Angus Jasper McAlpin entered this earth on June 27, 2014 & made his exit to his new home on March 14, 2017. Kai, two & a half years old, was loved by many. Although Kai’s life was short, he impacted the lives of many through his journey with cancer. On May 12, 2016, Kai was diagnosed with T-Cell ALL (Leukemia), but had a rare form with “Gamma Delta markers,” which made treatment very difficult. This rare form of cancer caused his cells to morph into having characteristics of both Lymphoma & Leukemia. Kai’s doctors never thought he’d make it far, but Kai was quite the warrior, hence #WarriorKaiMcAlpin was used throughout social media from all of his supporters.
Kai spent 95% of his post-diagnosis life in the hospital battling the life threatening disease that ravaged his little body. Kai’s condition was very rare. With only one child in remission who was treated at Stanford Children’s Hospital, Kai’s doctors collaborated with Stanford Children’s in hopes to best treat Kai. Along with Stanford, Kai’s doctors worked with Seattle, Cincinnati & St. Jude’s for guidance. Unfortunately his cancer did not respond well. According to Kai’s doctors they exhausted all chemo & treatment options & no other hospitals were willing to take him on him for treatment as a transfer patient. Although Kai’s journey ended in the loss of his life, his memory lives on in all those who advocate for pediatric cancer.
I met Kai & his family in the hospital when I took photos for them. Kai & his family touched my life in ways I cannot begin to explain. I did not think I would meet this precious, almost 3 year old boy & then not too soon after meeting, attend the celebration of his life. The service was breath taking & people from all across the communities of Tulsa, Tahlequah & surrounding areas attended to show their support. I was honored to spend almost the entire day with Kai’s family the day of the service. It was an experience I will never forget. So much love was shared.
Kai’s legacy lives on. Sweetwater Foundation is a nonprofit which includes Kai’s Warriors Against Childhood Cancer (KWACC) & The Community Cup. This foundation was started by Kai’s parents, Gary & Mariah McAlpin. When I spoke with Gary, he said that KWACC was born out of struggle & pain. Gary said his “why” is “because of his determination and fight, we continue on today, helping families stricken with childhood cancer, as well as his story being instrumental in getting a new law passed to increase funding for childhood cancer.”
I also asked Gary to speak to the struggles families with cancer face. He said that many of these families are forced to choose their careers or their children after diagnosis. Gary said the mission of the foundation “is to provide financial, mental and interfaith spiritual support to families & their children.” The foundation has already had success in helping families. According to Gary, “to date, we have been able to financially help several families with donations of thousands of dollars & we hope to continue raising the number of families & donations to help them offset their extreme expenses that come from caring for a child with cancer.” KWACC is also in the process to become a permanent donor to the St. Francis Children’s Hospital Oncology floor with gifts that will help families who spend such a great deal of their time there.
Aside from KWACC, “The Community Cup is a Tahlequah based interfaith community development outreach that hopes to provide a coffeehouse setting for interpersonal dialogue & community building with empowerment & cultural understanding. This will be accomplished by having coffeehouse style events such as live bands, open mike nights, poetry slams, art exhibits, current event discussions, topic led conversations, youth group activities, as well as being a base for events such as blood donation, support groups, free haircuts for those who cannot afford them, dry food pantry, space for other nonprofits to meet, as well as have Cherokee language nights and cultural activities, etc. We would like to provide free-will donation drip coffee during open hours & specialized coffee drinks for sale. This outreach will provide a safe space for the Tahlequah community to gather in a positive oriented place, where all are welcome to become part of the community in a deeper and more understanding way. This setting will also provide an opportunity for area youth groups, university clubs, and any organization to help serve & learn and provide friendship and community.”
On behalf of KWACC, Gary was asked to speak at Congressman Mullin’s Tahlequah Town Hall meeting about childhood cancer & to address what needs to be done in order to help these precious children. Gary also told me that “in August, KWACC was elated to see the RACE for Children Act passed through both houses and then signed into law, with Kai’s story being told again and again to get the point across about the realities of this disease. This Act forces pharmaceutical companies to devote a much bigger percentage to childhood cancer research and create developmentally relevant medications for children, as almost all current treatments are for adults. KWACC has also been given the opportunity to use four acres of woods right in Tahlequah for a Kids Camp for families to get away from the stresses of treatment.” Sweetwater Foundation recently won a $500 grant for community development and is now in the running for another $2000 grant. They are currently applying for as many grants as possible and hope to have a building soon.
DID YOU KNOW – pediatric cancer only gets 4% of funding when it comes to research funding? So, how can you help? Where do you come in? What role can you play? You can help by simply sharing this post. You can help by supporting families. You can help by donating your funds & prayers. You can help by utilizing social media to spread awareness to the statistics. Gary said that awareness comes from sharing with all media sources: newspaper letter to editor, TV, radio, emails, Facebook, websites, churches, clubs; any platform where people exist. One way we, the community, can be involved is to call our U.S. Representatives & Senators and tell them to support the STAR ACT. This will allocate more funding for childhood cancer research and treatment. You can play a role in this. Contact your politicians. Tell them our kids are worth more than 4%. Aren’t your kids worth more than 4%? What if your child was diagnosed? Let’s raise awareness together. This cannot continue.
Here’s a stat for you from Gary & I pray this angers & shocks you…hopefully enough to prompt action on your part. In Cherokee county ALONE there have been well OVER 20 children diagnosed with some form of cancer in the last THREE years, with a FEW just in last COUPLE of months.
I asked Gary how he felt about Cherokee county not doing ANYTHING to investigate or take this EPIDEMIC seriously & he said that until EVERYONE pushes our politicians to act, our babies will continue dying from how toxic our state is due to Oklahoma not allowing environmental oversight. He also said that most families who have a child with cancer feel that society could care less about childhood cancer until it hits them. He wishes that more people would understand that it completely bankrupts families, damages siblings for life & the patient themselves for life – even if they survive – due to the chemo and radiation destroying their insides.
The McAlpin family continues to struggle some days, while other days seem ok. Gary said that “without community and the strength we have received from our supporters, I don’t see how we would have made it.” The family’s hope is to spread awareness about pediatric cancer & provide encouragement to other families who are going through unimaginable circumstances. The family would appreciate the continued prayers for success in their ventures. Kai is survived by his parents Gary and Mariah, his 6 siblings, his grandparents, his extended family as well as all of their friends.
Sweetwater Foundation is a State of OK nonprofit with a local board and 501(c)(3) status. Their Facebook page can be found by searching “Sweetwater Foundation.”
If you would like to donate to Sweetwater Foundation, you can do so by following this link: https://www.patreon.com/SweetwaterFoundation
If you know a child or adolescent who is battling a life threatening illness & would be a candidate for a Journeys of Hope session, please contact me.
Let’s make a difference.
XO- Katie Cariker