Brandon Phillips and PJ Rizvi both know firsthand the trauma of childhood cancer, the hardships it causes, and the impact on families whose sole focus becomes how to save a life.
Phillips, founder and president of the Wellington-based nonprofit Polo for Life, was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 14 and underwent months of grueling treatment. Rizvi, a member of Polo for Life’s board, helped her sister, Penny, battle leukemia before her sibling succumbed to the disease.
Both carry the scars of their childhood experiences to this day but use those memories to fuel a philanthropic spirit aimed to ensure that others don’t suffer as their families once did.
That’s what recently brought the two, along with Polo for Life Executive Director Barbara Bell Cook, to the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Health Specialty Center in Wellington. Armed with an oversized check for $100,000, representing some of the proceeds from the nonprofit’s “Polo for a Purpose” fundraiser, the group was all smiles making the contribution to the patient and family assistance fund at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation. The money will go to families of oncology patients requiring financial help during their child’s treatment.
“When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it’s a life-changing event for the family, and not just in the medical sense,” said Don Eachus, director of development at the foundation. “At least one parent becomes a full-time caregiver, and that loss of income means that there may not be enough money to pay mortgages or rent, electric or phone bills. That’s where our assistance fund comes in to, at least temporarily, cover those costs.”
The financial struggles her family endured while her sister was in treatment are ones Rizvi would not wish on anyone. “We would drive four and a half hours a day to visit my sister, and after a while it was just too long to drive home, so we slept in the car because we couldn’t afford a hotel room,” she recalled. “My mom wanted to spend every waking moment and every sleeping moment with my sister.”
While most people are empathetic to the plight of a family coping with cancer, and the time and energy it takes to help a child survive, Rizvi said it’s the behind-the-scenes devastation many aren’t aware of. “My mom quit working, and even though my dad worked two jobs, we fell behind on the day to day-to-day bills,” she said. “I don’t want to see that happen anymore.”
When she was older, Rizvi would donate anonymously to cancer research. That all changed nine years ago after conversations with Phillips, when it was decided a more public philanthropic approach would yield better results.
Phillips founded Polo for Life about that time, and the organization has donated more than $2 million to charitable causes since then. Given his history with cancer, it was important for him to find programs that would help kids and families in the same situation he once was.
“We did our research a few years ago, started to find beneficiaries, and made some determinations about who we wanted to help,” said Phillips, a professional polo player. “Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital really popped out as one of the top pediatric facilities in the country, and it’s right here in our backyard, so we wanted to be a part of what they were doing. They have some great programs, and we really like what is happening here, so it was a no-brainer for us to get involved and keep this relationship going.”
While the oncology and hematology teams at “Joe D.” handle the clinical aspects of a child’s cancer treatment, it’s the role of the hospital’s nonprofit foundation to identify and assist those in need, as Rizvi’s family once was. Now, thanks to Polo for Life and its generous donation, there will be at least one less thing that already overwhelmed families will have to worry about. This leaves more time and energy for what’s most important: making sure the patient can get back to being a kid again.
Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital is one of the nation’s leading pediatric hospitals, offering a comprehensive scope of healthcare services and programs in a caring, compassionate setting designed specifically for children. A level one trauma center, it combines advanced technology, the expertise of board-certified specialists, and a patient and family-centered approach to heal the body, mind and spirit of those it touches.
The hospital’s nonprofit foundation focuses on philanthropy to positively impact patients, families, and underwrite programs, facilities and equipment that support the facility’s mission.
To learn more, or make a donation, visit www.jdch.com/give.