As Anna Ramirez Reeve waited for her radiation treatment, she could hardly wait for the next day. It would be her last treatment, a day she had anticipated since her battle began. But suddenly, her own anticipation paled in comparison to the story playing out in front of her. Employees at the clinic had balloons and a Barbie doll for a nine-year-old girl who had just completed her final treatment. A smile spread across the little girl’s face and quickly spread across the faces of everyone witnessing the celebration. Reeve knew in an instant what she must do.
In 1991, Reeve accepted a job as a math teacher at DeLeon Middle School in McAllen. By 2003, she had already served as National Junior Honor Society sponsor for a few years, providing a number of different community service projects for its members. One of those projects involved collecting toys and donating them to Toys for Tots for distribution to less fortunate children in our community. But as Reeve watched the celebration that day in the cancer clinic, she decided to shift her focus to children battling cancer, and “Toys for the Little Hearts” began.
For the first two years, beginning in 2002-2003, Reeve’s NJHS students at DeLeon held fundraisers to provide toys for children being treated at Vannie Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer & Hematology Clinic in McAllen and MD Anderson in Houston.
Reeve later established a 501(C) (3) charitable foundation, the RRP Cancer Foundation. The first “R” is for “Reeve” and is honor of her own status as a repeat breast cancer survivor. First diagnosed in 2001, Reeve was cancer free until 2008 when she had a recurrence. She retired in January of that year and completed her treatments in June. She celebrates being a cancer survivor. “Reeve” also honors her mother-in-law, Shirley Reeve, Shirley’s mother, Nena, and her sister, Janie, all of whom are cancer survivors.
The second “R” and the “P” commemorate Reeve’s sister, Lisa Ramirez Patterson, who lost her battle with cancer in 2004. This “R” also memorializes Alice and Cookie, Reeve’s cousins who also lost their battles, and honors another cousin, Lila, who is a cancer survivor.
The rainbow, one of two symbolic features associated with the RRP Cancer Foundation, is another tribute to Reeve’s sister. After her funeral services, Reeve and her husband were driving home when he told her to look at the sunset. Gray clouds filled the sky, but a brilliant white light shone through an opening in the clouds. As Reeve and her husband stared at the opening, they saw a single cloud covered with all of the colors of the rainbow. They had never seen anything like it, and Reeve knew with certainty that it was a message from her sister. She was resting safely in heaven.
In 2004, following the loss of Reeve’s sister, the first Toys for the Little Hearts Cancer Walk was held. To date, nearly $40,000 has been raised to purchase special toys for children whose days are often filled with doctor visits, needles and medicine. Another mission of the RRP Cancer Foundation is to adopt the family of a parent undergoing treatment for cancer and buying toys for the children in the family for Christmas, thus easing the parent’s burden.
“One of my main goals is to teach compassion for one who is sick,” Reeve said. “And the best way is to start with the young (kindergarten through high school). There are too many children in our schools diagnosed with cancer. It is a disease that affects everyone directly or indirectly.”
Laura Martinez Ilgun, director of development and public relations at the Vannie Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer & Hematology Clinic admires Reeve for taking the heartbreaking loss of her sister, as well as her own battle with cancer, and turning it into an event that raises awareness while also raising money to help the children in her clinic and at MD Anderson. Martinez Ilgun said these toys allow seriously ill children to “experience the joys of receiving something special during a difficult time.”
This year’s walk will be held Sunday, Jan. 31 at McAllen Veteran’s Memorial Stadium on Bicentennial Boulevard. Check-in time is 2 p.m., and a Butterfly Release Ceremony will be held at 2:45, weather permitting. Butterflies are the second symbolic feature of the event, and the ceremony is based on an American Indian legend. Ralph Charles Ritchie describes the legend and its significance in the battle with cancer in “On the Wings of Hope”:
As an ancient legend goes…if anyone desires a wish to come true, they must capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. So by making this wish and releasing the butterfly, it will be taken to the heavens and be granted. We wish those currently fighting the battle energy and hope, and thank them for showing us what true bravery is really about. And finally, we wish the victims peace and love, and thank them for the joy and happiness they brought to us. With this symbolic gesture, we honor those who have left us and encourage those left behind to continue the fight “On the Wings of Hope.”
The first 180 registrants will receive a live Painted Lady Butterfly to be released during the ceremony.
The walk will begin at 3 p.m. and continue until 5. Walkers may walk for the entire time or for however long they would like. The donation for adult, middle school and high school walkers is $5. Elementary school students’ donation is $3. Throughout the event, entertainment will be provided, and a variety of activity booths will be set up at the stadium.
This year, National Honor Society members from McAllen High School will run the concession stand, with all proceeds benefiting the RRP Cancer Foundation. NHS president, Alec Pagan, said the group decided to play a role in this year’s event because “community service is a big part of McHi.”
Anne Marie Grajales, the group’s historian, chimed in, “Especially the NHS at McHi.”
NHS Sponsor Richard Roberts said the group appreciated the opportunity to be directly involved in the event this year and thanked HEB for their generous donation that paid for the concessions.
Vice President Damian Mireles said helping with the event this year has special significance for the group because of Lou Ann Sarachene’s battle with breast cancer. “Miss Sarachene used to be our assistant principal. She is part of our McHi family, and we want to spread the word about cancer and about this event.” (Sarachene is currently the principal at Perez Elementary in McAllen and nearing the end of her cancer treatments.)
Pagan, Grajales, Mireles and the remaining NHS officers urge people in the Valley to come to the stadium Jan. 31 to participate in the fifth annual walk. Walkers will get some great exercise while bringing joy, through toys, to many children.
NOTE: For more information about RRP Cancer Foundation, visit www.rrpcf.org.