Random Acts of Kindness

Kathy and John Dirkse been longtime supporters of Angel On My Shoulder. The couple became involved after being invited to the Golf Spectacular.

“The message hit us like a brick,” said Kathy. “The randomness of cancer, and no one is guaranteed to be immune.”

Since that time, three of six people in their family have been diagnosed with cancer but are doing great, and Kathy considers them the luckiest family in the world. All big sports fans, they love to spend time together as a family.

The Dirkses currently live in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Married in 1999, Kathy and John have a combined family with four children, ranging in age from 23 to 31.

Kathy is Vice President of Government and Community Relations at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a large part of both their clinical as well as research portfolio is cancer treatment and research.  She considers herself blessed to work with some of the greatest cancer physicians and researchers.

John, Executive Vice President of Aegis Corporation, a firm he started 25 years ago with his partner, was first asked to sponsor a foursome for the Angel Golf Spectacular approximately the second year it was held.  Being an avid golfer, he said yes.

“At the time, we felt very blessed in that neither John nor I had really been impacted by cancer,” said Kathy. “What really impressed John and I was the fact that Angel’s programs were directed at the people impacted by cancer, the person with the disease but also all those surrounding that person.  I remember the first time I attended, watched a video about the kids going to camp and how it was a time they could get away and not think about their sick mom, dad, sibling, etc…  That did it, I cried like a baby and both John and I were all in at that point.”

Kathy said what impresses her most is that the organization is 100% volunteer and that the funds raised go directly to the people impacted by cancer. She is also impressed by the dedication, kindness, and generosity of each person helping out with Angel’s mission.

“We have so many wonderful memories of the Angel Golf Specular,” Kathy said. “For years, we invited my parents to join us and they brought their best friends.  Those weekends not only helped raise funds for Angel, but have given us a lifetime of very wonderful family memories now that my parents have passed.”

I asked Kathy about Vincent the Bunny.

“Vincent represents every parent’s nightmare and hope at the same time because a child lives on in memory and has made such an impact,” she said.

“Vincent was the stuffed bunny of a beautiful young boy, Vincent, who died of cancer.  When he passed, his mom donated his stuffed bunny.  Since that time, Vincent the Bunny has been auctioned off at the Golf Spectacular.  Vincent is far too precious to actually be a traveling bunny, he stays with Lolly Rose for safe keeping until the next year when he is again auctioned off to raise funds for Angel.  The winner, and everyone else in the room during the auction, receives something far more valuable than a stuffed animal, we all receive the honor of holding the memory of Vincent forever in our hearts.”

When I asked Kathy about her family’s personal experience with cancer, she said, “Well, that’s cancer right … It sneaks up on you without warning. It cares nothing about who you are, your life plans; it is random and unexpected.  Like many families, cancer came as a shock and literally shook every one of us to the core of our being.”

“Our family is ridiculously blessed,” she added. “After getting a diagnosis of “cancer”, we are all here.  In many ways, I don’t believe we are “worthy” of telling our story because we are so much better off than millions of other people who have lost their lives or their loved ones to cancer, like Vincent.  In today’s world, there is so much that divides us yet in our cancer journey, I only see what makes us all the same.”

As for what makes Angel On My Shoulder special to Kathy and John, she said, “The name says it all. For anyone impacted by cancer, the organization is an angel on your shoulder.  AOMS is there to help in any way imaginable.  The organization will always hold a very special place in my heart.”

Winter Camp Angel 2018

Winter Camp Angel 2018 Room place at a beautiful Northwoods campsite in Boulder Junction. The Camp is a cost-free weekend camp for kids 7 – 12 who are affected by the cancer of a close family member (sibling, parent or grandparent), or who have experienced the loss of that family member due to cancer. We want to offer these kids a break from cancer and provide them with a well supervised atmosphere of love and understanding. At Winter Camp Angel these friends meet others facing similar situations and shared lots of fun, positive experiences and wintery activities. 

Our kid campers stayed in cozy Northwoods cabins: complete with individual fireplaces to keep everyone warm and toasty. The campers enjoyed plenty of snacks and hot chocolate while playing games and getting to know each other and their counselors.

Campers also enjoyed snowmobile rides and sledding just to name a few other activities. They also have an opportunity to experience the climbing wall along with arts and crafts. Many interesting, unique and educational presentations were offered including a very special annual visit from Wildwood Wildlife Park and their handlers who bring all sorts of cute little critters (even a skunk!) for the campers to admire.

A Hero Behind the Superhero Capes

A retired postmaster from Marshfield, Wisconsin, Linda Dick saw an article and turned it into an idea. A few years before retiring, she read about a project that creates and provides superhero-themed capes for children in hospitals and in devastated areas. Then, when retirement time came around, she decided that was what she should be doing.

Linda said, “I went up to St. Joseph’s Hospital—that’s what it was called then—and presented my idea to make capes for sick kids.”

Using a variety of designs, Linda says each cape has a superhero logo on the back and takes one to three hours to complete.

Linda knows from personal experience what cancer is like for a family. Her daughter Lindsay, who she describes as having been her best friend and confidant, passed away in December, 2016. Linda is married with two surviving sons who help her through the rough times. She also has nine grandchildren, two of whom were Lindsay’s and were aged two and four when their mother died.

“Lindsay was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in her check in February, 2016,” said Linda.  “She loved hunting so I made her a pink camo cape with superman logo in pink on the back. She wore it to many of her appointments, chemos and radiations.”

When Linda’s sewing buddy asked her to help her make some capes, she responded  with, “I got this.”

Linda says fleece is easy to work with, doesn’t need to have the edges sewn, and she can just cut out and add Velcro to the neck tabs. She made 169 capes of all different colors and sizes for summer Camp Hozhoni, held the weekend of September 8-10, 2017. This cost-free weekend camp is for children who have experienced cancer, past or present, and their families. The theme of last year’s camp was Hozhoni Heroes, acknowledging the fact that these brave children are our cancer warriors and heroes.

Capes were presented to everyone in attendance, along with masks, and everyone was adorned in colorful hero garb for the opening ceremonies and activities throughout camp. The capes added to the excitement and fun of this wonderful camp. 21 SUPER Families and 44 DYNAMIC volunteers enjoyed the MARVELous weekend festivities and everyone had the opportunity to display the super hero inside all of us for a little while.

“It’s just nice to know you can brighten someone’s day for a while,” said Linda. “My daughter even helped me cut some out on her better days.”

Linda said, “It is a great feeling to know you can do something to help brighten the day of someone who is sick. It fills some of my time so I don’t have to think.”

In addition to making capes, Linda has many other sewing projects for the hospital. She sews patient bags, doll gowns and taggy blankets. She also sews smocks and fitted sheets. “Mostly whatever they ask,” Linda said. “I help my sewing buddy with sleep caps for adult cancer patients, backpacks and bags for under the arm for breast cancer patients. This is what I do in the winter, in the summer I garden and have flowerbeds.”

Linda encourages everyone to find a way to contribute to others’ lives.

“If anyone has spare time, there is always a need somewhere, sometime, something for you to do if you are willing,” she said. “I would say ‘Give back when you can.’ It helps you more than anyone.”

Online registration for our camps

We are very excited to announce that we are now offering the convenience of online registration for our camps.

This is a secure registration platform that provides an easy, user-friendly way for campers and volunteers to sign up for camps, and helps us to be more administratively efficient, accurate and environmentally responsible. When you register, the system keeps track of the information in your profile. Information is only entered once for each family member for multiple uses and multiple programs. You are able to easily update health, insurance and other information up to one week before camp. This software also supports a safer and healthier camp experience. Camp health staff can instantly access vital camper and staff medical information, including allergies and medications. The system saves your information as you type, so you can come back as often as needed to complete your registrations without losing any information. You will need an active email address and responses and updates will be sent to that email. This software is mobile friendly.