Finding a friend


Thora Pearson

Two kids stand on the runway and pose for a picture during an annual Fashion Show FOKWC hosts.

Lori Zucker’s life changed June 2009. Her daughter, Arianna, was diagnosed with a nerve cell cancer called neuroblastoma at 3 years old, and nothing was like before. They spent more time in the hospital than out, underwent eight years of intensive treatment and were stretched financially. Lori struggled to find a balance between supporting Arianna and her other two children. During this time, she found Friends of Kids with Cancer (FOKWC).
“When you’re first diagnosed, everything is a whirlwind,” Lori said. “You have no idea [what is happening. FOKWC] connects you with other families going through the same thing plus finds fun things for you to do. You don’t really get to do fun things otherwise, because you’re too busy taking care of your sick kid.”
FOKWC has three different program branches. They assist the kids educationally, emotionally and recreationally. Through these strategies, they target all aspects of life a family may need help with when undergoing treatment and post-treatment.
“Recreation is the social aspect and the fun stuff,” Valerie Kennedy Lang, FOKWC program director, said. “We throw parties and send families to events throughout the St. Louis area. Educational support is primarily in the form of tutoring. [Emotional support includes] two support groups that meet monthly.”

Thora Pearson
Two girls attend an American Girl Doll Tea Party and smile for a picture.

The organization hosts a fashion show as an annual fundraiser. Kids partnered with the charity get to walk the runway with St. Louis Blues players and spend a day living the life of a model. The 2019 show was held Monday, Nov. 11.
“A lot of unfortunate things happen in this life and we need to be responsible for each other, help each other in need,” Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues player, said. “Volunteering is a great opportunity to do that. At events like this, it’s so amazing to see all the people that help out. It’s a beautiful thing. We all need to help each other and make this world a better place.”
FOKWC works to build an uplifting community in a unique situation. The families never asked to join the community they are now in. Families are brought together from all different periods in the process of cancer and treatment, including those who have lost a child.
“FOKWC helped me stay strong through [treatment],” Jessica Hicks, Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient, said. “I got to experience what being a normal teenager is. Without the organization, I would be really sad. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere because treatment is hard. Everybody there is amazing, I love them. They make you feel at home.”
According to Lori, the organization’s one of a kind experience compares to no others she has encountered. FOKWC made Arianna’s 11 years full of amazing experiences some may not get in a lifetime.

Things can change very quickly. It’s just about being present minded.”

— Valerie Kennedy Lang

“When Ari passed away, I had no idea [FOKWC’s] help wasn’t going to stop there,” Lori said. “They still invite us to all their events, [and] even secure [us] tickets here and there. They also have a grief group that they provide for the families.”
Their work not only benefits children and families, but also those involved with other aspects of the organization. Volunteers, staff and directors take away lessons and values from their dedicated time.
“What I’ve learned from these kids and their families [is] that sometimes you’ve just got to take things day-by-day, hour-by-hour or minute-by-minute,” Kennedy Lang said. “Every one of those minutes is important. Things can change very quickly. It’s just about being present minded.”