Cool clothes. DVDs. MP3 players. Kids at City of Hope often receive special gifts as a reward for showing courage during treatment.
But it was not always this way. The hard work and determination of two sisters made it so.
Karissa Burgos co-founded Gifts for Hope in 2008, a program to collect and distribute gifts to teenage patients. Ask Karissa for her source of inspiration and she will respond without a second thought: her older sister Allison.
|Karissa (left) and Allison founded Gifts for Hope to help teenage patients in their fight against cancer.|
Allison was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was only 11. Karissa watched her sister fight for her life, and she admired Allison’s toughness.
During Allison’s ordeal, the sisters found solace in distraction. They clung to reminders of a normal life – anything that would help them to forget about cancer and the realities of treatment.
“I truly believe that sickness can be lessened if the soul is lifted,” Karissa says.
The staff at City of Hope often presented Allison with gifts in an effort to raise her spirits.
Karissa knew her sister appreciated the gesture, but there was an obvious problem. As Allison grew older and her treatment continued, the gifts were no longer age-appropriate. “Unfortunately the gifts were often dolls or other preschool-age toys,” Karissa says.
|Karissa Burgos, left, and her sister Allison show off a pile of presents they have collected for teens through Gifts for Hope.|
Instead of waiting and wishing, the sisters took action. They saw their chance to improve the lives of young cancer patients and their family members. Gifts for Hope was born.
Already the program has collected and donated more than 250 gifts for City of Hope. And it has only served to energize the sisters. Gifts for Hope has given Karissa a new perspective on life.
Karissa recently earned a college scholarship from SuperSibs!, a nonprofit organization that recognizes siblings of young cancer patients. And she continues to draw inspiration from her big sister, who is now well into her fifth year of being cancer-free.
Now a little older and a whole lot wiser, Karissa sometimes reflects on lessons learned from her sister’s battle with cancer.
“I am more independent and focused than I would have otherwise been,” she says, “and it made me appreciate the fragility of life.”