I didn’t get a lump in my throat until I re-read her children’s ages: one and three — same as my kids. But my children are lucky enough to have their father in their lives. Colleen Wogernese’s children aren’t.
Colleen’s husband, Chad, died this past September, just a few months after his 30th birthday from a type of bone cancer called, Ewing’s Sarcoma.
But this isn’t just a tragic story, it’s also an inspirational one.
Before Chad Wogernese died, he promised to give back and repay the kindness of people who had supported his family during his battle with cancer. Chad and Colleen founded a nonprofit organization in their home state of Wisconsin, Superheroes Fighting Cancer, that helps make it easier for sick parents to enjoy their time with their children. After his death, Colleen continued the project they started together. She knows all too well the challenges faced by families fighting cancer:
“Parenting when you or your spouse has cancer is incredibly hard. As a parent, you spend your time and life taking care of your kids,” she told me. “I know for Chad, not being able to do those fun things with them, constantly feeling tired and sick, was very hard for him. Even with how young our kids were, they knew something was wrong, and started to worry about daddy. As a parent, that is hard, because you should be worrying about them, not the opposite. For me, it was hard to juggle taking care of the kids and giving them the time they needed on top of working and taking care of Chad. Much of the time that was free time before was filled with doctors appointments. Your entire life changes, and even with great support, it is hard to handle and accept.”
Superheroes Fighting Cancer raises funds to help with cancer patients’ medical expenses, travel expenses, groceries, and child care. Recently, Colleen traveled to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where Chad was treated to deliver care packages to medical staff and patients. But Colleen’s favorite part of her group’s mission is “wish trips.”
“We were very blessed when Chad was sick and had friends and family donate money to send us to Disney World,” she said. “There are very few adult wish programs, but adults need those memories, as well as their kids. So to be able to now help families get a trip to make a memory and spend some time away from the cancer makes me so happy.”
Thus far, Superheroes Fighting Cancer has aided about two families a month, but this month they can afford to help more than a dozen. “Our goal is just to keep increasing the number of people we can help. We get many requests, and I would like to be able to help everyone in some way,” she said.
The organization’s work, Colleen said, has also benefited her own boys. She makes a point of including them in as many of her charitable activities as she can, from putting together care packages to doing random acts of kindness. “It all helps teach them about their father who did random acts of kindess every day,” she says. “I have seen it carry over because many times we will be in the Starbucks line on a regular day and my older son will remind me I should pay for someone else to make them smile, and Daddy will smile. That is the lesson I want them to learn. We don’t need a reason, we just do it because it is nice and because their dad would have wanted that.”
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Photo by Verbatim Photography via Colleen Wogernese.