Love Always, Becca Jean: A Local Non-Profit, Dedicated to Fighting Young Adult Cancer

Guest post by Katrina Martin


“Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.” — C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Through my eyes, my family are extraordinary people working through enormous, life-altering events. We struggle each day to defeat the grief that is seared into our hearts from the loss of Rebecca Jean Martin Garner, or Becca Jean, as she was lovingly known by her friends and family.

Love Always Becca Jean Symposium
Photo courtesy Katrina Martin

It is increasingly difficult to find a family where an immediate or distant relative has not been diagnosed with cancer. While loss of life can be measured with statistics, there is no gauge to measure the associated emotions, which include anger, grief, denial, loss, and endless, often silent tears. How one chooses to respond during a life-changing event may make the difference in one’s own life, as well as others.

Before 2009, I saw my family as normal and ordinary. Our daily lives were being woven with the common threads we all probably share- raising children, meeting financial obligations, working, etc. Nothing could prepare us for the journey our family would encounter, nor could we have ever imagined what challenges awaited us.

In 2009, two of my children were diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery within 6 months of each other. They were 23 and 21 at the time. Needless to say this was quite a year to endure.

We soon traveled to Utah seeking help to try and discover why this diagnosis had affected two of our children. It was determined that this really unheard of cancer, Constitutional Mismatch Repair Deficiency (referred to as CMMRD or BMMRD) had surfaced. That is quite the mouthful, and it is accompanied with a lingering bitter aftertaste.

Once again, we were all in a state of shock. It turns out that my husband and I both have a defect on the MSH6 gene. Our girls inherited both defects, causing this repair gene in them to malfunction. We learned that CMMRD mostly affects children and young adults, causing them to fight multiple cancers concurrently. It can also cause siblings to be fighting cancers simultaneously.

Winter Wonderland Banner
Support cancer research and “Love Always, Becca Jean” by attending Winter Wonderland. The event includes a DJ, fun and games, Santa, shopping, characters and food. Image courtesy Katrina Martin.

The next years were spent having the girls complete every recommended surveillance at all the recommended intervals, fighting with insurance carriers, and trying to do all the right things to secure their future. Additionally, during this time, there was strong evidence that the healthcare practitioners in Middle Georgia were on this learning curve with us.

You are probably thinking this alone is more than enough for one family to endure; however, in 2012, my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa and lost her vision. My husband and I started living in a constant state of stress and worry as we were watching all three of our children battle health issues which had no cure. My dear daughter Mandy said, “But Mom, even losing my vision is the better end of the deal compared to what Laura and Becca face on a daily basis.”

Believe it or not, the years mentioned above turned out to be the good years for our family. Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer on May 5, 2015 and Becca was diagnosed with brain cancer on May 8, 2015. This was Mother’s Day for me in 2015. Our world was once again sent into a state of shock and disbelief.

Becca fought this cruel disease, glioblastoma (GBM) brain cancer, for almost a year. During this time she underwent multiple surgeries, radiation, and immunotherapy. She would have given anything to prevent anyone else from enduring the pain she went through. She volunteered to undergo novel therapies in hopes of doctors learning something that could prevent others from suffering as she did.

Becca was always an angel on Earth, but gained her Heavenly Angel wings on April 24, 2016. Her wishes were for her body to be used for CMMRD research so that others could hopefully be spared the same pain and suffering. Becca’s family chose to honor, remember, and share our loss through establishing a non-profit organization, “Love Always, Becca Jean”.

Love Always, Becca Jean (Inc.) was organized to share Becca Jean’s story with the world. Our mission is to “Embrace Life, Save Lives, and Be Becca Kind”.

Becca Jean embraced life by making the most of everyday and did so with a smile on her face even when she was in pain. Our mission to embrace life is to help improve the quality of life for those affected by CMMRD.

Becca Jean helped save lives by selflessly donating her organs and body for cancer research. Our mission to save lives is by helping to find a cure for CMMRD and improving treatment options for CMMRD cancers.

Becca Jean was the kindest and most generous soul. Our mission to Be Becca Kind is achieved through our actions and events to continue Becca’s legacy.

Love Always, Becca Jean is a 501(c)(3) all volunteer organization. We aim to raise funding to support our mission with ALL proceeds going directly to our cause. All money raised goes directly to affected families and to CMMRD research, not to any third party organization.

“For it matters not, how much we own, the cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.” Linda Ellis

Becca Jean lived her dash well. Even though she only had 28 years on this Earth, she has left all her friends and family with her legacy to uphold. My family is living with grief but trying to make a difference for others.

My daughter Laura is currently undergoing surveillance and ongoing treatment. Despite her health challenges, Laura works everyday as a Special Education teacher, volunteers at church, and is a devoted mom and military wife. One of her strongest attributes is that she is always helping others.

My daughter, Mandy, organized the non-profit Love Always, Becca Jean in August 2016 and remains devoted to both her sisters. She founded the organization in memory of Becca, with her motivation being to help Laura and others like her. “We need a cure to save Laura. If we don’t do something, who will?” she says.

We noticed throughout our journey that young adult cancer patients seem to get lost in the system. They have no “make a wish” or Ronald McDonald house. I strongly believe this population deserves some tender loving care, kind acts, and recognition. Our family wants to try and make a difference for this population effected by CMMRD.

Will you help us? We need dedicated volunteers to help organize and attend the fundraisers, share our mission, and help encourage others to sponsor our cause. It goes without saying that financial supporters are so important. All money donated is used towards the fundraisers, young adult cancer patients, and research to understand CMMRD and advance treatment options. This organization is strictly volunteer with no room for egos or for those seeking a salary.

The reward comes from helping those battling this monster of a disease, finding ways to enhance their journey, helping them smile if only briefly, and letting them know others care. Please visit our website for more information about Becca Jean, the organization, events, a link to a description of what CMMRD is, and other useful information. The web address is www.lovealwaysbeccajean.org.

You are also invited to like us and follow us on our Facebook page, Love Always, Becca Jean. If you wish to send me a personal note please send to steveandkatrina@lovealwaysbeccajean.org.

Thank you so much for letting me share a piece of my heart. Please help us make a difference.

Upcoming Events with Love Always, Becca Jean:

  • Winter Wonderland on Saturday, December 9, 2017, 10 AM to 2 PM at Windsor Academy, 4150 Jones Rd, Macon, GA
  • Come visit 25 characters including Santa, princesses and princes, superheroes, and Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion as well as therapy pups! Play Christmas themed games and win prizes! Enjoy lunch, baked goods, a silent auction, and Christmas shopping. Christmas Music provided by DJ Law, Laws of Music. All proceeds go to cancer research and families fighting cancer. Come have fun for a great cause. Everything is reasonably priced. Adults free to enter (donations welcome) Children $5 to enter. Take your own photos with characters and Santa included in admission price. Game tickets extra. www.lovealwaysbeccajean.org.

Follow information on the website and Facebook page for our upcoming Becca’s Dash 5k run/walk! April 21, 2018: 1st Annual Becca’s Dash starting at Windsor Academy in Macon, GA.

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