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How A Son's Cancer Diagnosis Has Helped Over A Million People Worldwide

Posted Jan 29, 2018

Cindy Kerr wanted a safer, more comfortable stay for children battling illnesses at hospitals. After all, she had witnessed the experience firsthand.

Her son, Ryan, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer known as osteosarcoma at the age of 12. He spent countless nights at hospitals undergoing tests and receiving treatment.

In order to make Ryan’s stay more accommodating, Kerr came up with the idea to stitch together a hamburger pillowcase for Ryan. She continued to sew different cases for Ryan during his hospital visits and before she realized it, Ryan’s Case for Smiles (formerly known as ConKerr Cancer) was born. The nonprofit’s purpose remains an altruistic one, helping kids feel better to heal better.

“As a mom, I didn’t know what I could do to help him,” Kerr said of her son Ryan, “so every time he went in for treatment over the next year I would bring a special pillowcase. It could be an Eagles one, it could be a soccer one, something that he would be interested in and it would be a great conversation piece for the nurses and doctors and it just made the room seem a little more like home.”

Ryan fought through five cancer recurrences, 15 surgeries, 30 months of chemotherapy, and a right leg amputation that would require 150 days of physical therapeutic treatment. Although Ryan would eventually lose his bout with cancer in 2008, his case lives on to inspire other youth.

Kerr began making pillowcases for children with illnesses in hospitals and teaching them how to sew their own. She believes it provides the children a source of distraction and choice. Her work garnered the attention of Martha Stewart who bestowed upon her the Dreamers into Doers Award, giving her foundation a platform to receive global support.

Since its creation, Ryan’s Case for Smiles has given over 1.7 million pillowcases that have been delivered worldwide and served in 363 hospitals.

“Never did I imagine (this)," Cindy says. "You know people say to me what a wonderful thing that came out of a tragedy and to me it’s something that came out of an act of love for my son and I often get the opportunity to go speak to kids in school and one of the things that I always tell them is that you don’t have to be famous to make a difference."

Unfortunately, Kerr is in the middle of her own battle with cancer. She was diagnosed with appendix cancer last August and underwent chemo treatment until her surgery in December. Kerr’s foundation, which is based in Philadelphia, has frequently been involved in charitable events with Eagles players and the organization. She recently received the opportunity to meet head coach Doug Pederson at the NovaCare Complex. During the visit, Pederson handed Kerr two tickets to the Super Bowl. And this was well before the Eagles won the NFC Championship. She’ll be taking her best friend and husband of 36 years, Gavin, who has been an intricate part of the success behind Ryan’s Case for Smiles.

“It’s not easy to surprise me but I was absolutely shocked, floored. I knew I had my surgery for my own cancer like two weeks before so they said, ‘We have something for you’. I thought I was going to get a jersey or something and then to have Doug Pederson come down the steps and to be able to hug him and thank him personally for the tickets. I’m not used to accepting things. We’re about giving to others and so it was actually a little hard to accept it for myself,” Kerr says. “But I’m getting absolutely more and more excited. I feel that when I’m at the Super Bowl I’m going for all those kids all over the country in the hospital that can’t go and I’m their representative and we’ll bring home that trophy for them.”

Best news of all? Her treatment was a success and she was declared cancer free this past week.

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