SACO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.
This weekend the Biddeford-Saco Elks is holding a big fundraiser to help kids battling the disease. Money raised from the 10th annual Hugs From Hayley go to the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. But that was not the case when the event first started.
It was started to help the family of a girl fighting a rare blood disease. After many hospital stays and a transplant operation, the girl is doing well and the event has changed its focus to help children fighting cancer.
These days life is good for Michael Desjardins and his 15-year old daughter Hayley. But it wasn’t always this way. When she was 5, Hayley started getting sick. Her family soon learned just how serious it was.
“People were nervous and scared and they didn’t know if I was going to make it. And I didn’t know if I was going to make it either”, said Hayley.
She was diagnosed Aplastic Anemia, a blood disease with symptoms similar to leukemia. It was a very confusing time for a young girl.
“I didn’t know why I was in the hospital, or why I was always getting poked with needles and why there were always so many doctors around me”, she said.
She spent a lot of time in the hospital, but responded well to chemotherapy and blood transfusions. She seemed on the road to recovery, but then it came back, worse than before.
“It was horrifying, it was absolutely scary”, said her dad Michael.
This time the only hope was a bone marrow transplant. After spending months at Boston Children’s Hospital, Hayley got that transplant.
To help the family with medical expenses the local Elks Club held a benefit called Hugs For Haley. After the initial event her family no longer needed the help, but they wanted to keep it going to help other children.
“After that we made it our mission, we knew we were going to do our best to pay it forward”, said Michael Desjardins.
Now, under the name change Hugs From Hayley, the event benefits the Maine Children’s Cancer Center. It's a place the Desjardins found much comfort during their darkest days. While Hayley is not completely out of the woods, she’s doing well, just starting her freshman year in high school.
“Normal 15 year old, gives me a hard time. She just got her learner’s permit and I’m being frightened in a totally different way now”, said her dad.
Hayley will be taking part in this year’s Hugs From Hayley 5K. It gets underway Sunday at 10 in the Elks hall parking lot in Saco. To date the event has raised more than $100,000 for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.