Kathy and John Dirkse have 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.”