Birthdays are a time for bonding in Erin Frankenheimer’s family. Every year, her mother, Leslie Frankenheimer, sings her a special birthday song passed down from Erin’s grandfather.
Leslie sang that song to her daughter over the phone from a City of Hope hospital bed in March 2010. Erin learned of her mother’s leukemia diagnosis only three days before, spurring her hurried flight west from New Orleans to the family home in Los Angeles.
Leslie Frankenheimer, left, and her daughter, Erin (Photo courtesy of the Frankenheimer family)
“I was sitting with my dad and I had to muffle myself so she wouldn’t hear me crying. I was thinking, ‘I really hope this isn’t the last time I hear this song,’” Erin said.
But happier birthdays lay ahead. A blood stem cell transplant drove the leukemia into remission. To celebrate and thank City of Hope, Erin started a new birthday tradition — encouraging her friends to donate to City of Hope instead of buying her gifts.
It is only the latest way the Frankenheimers have supported City of Hope. Erin’s father, attorney John Frankenheimer, has served on the board of City of Hope’s Music and Entertainment Industry group for decades. Erin, who manages recording artists, and her brother Sean joined more recently, leading fundraising events for industry members under 40.
“I’ve been on so many tours of City of Hope, never knowing I’d see things from the other side,” said Leslie, a set decorator for film and television.
She persevered through her leukemia with her family’s support and drew strength from the warmth of the nurses who watched over her.
“I loved those nurses. We had such laughter,” she said.
Her path to recovery also brought mother and daughter even closer together.
After chemotherapy began taking Leslie’s hair, she got her head shaved. Her daughter was right there beside her, holding her hand.
“That was when the physical reality of what I was going through really hit home. I don’t think Erin even knew how much it meant to me to have her there,” Leslie said.
Erin remembers the moment. “It was the only time during treatment that I ever saw her cry,” she said.
In October 2010, a month after Leslie received stem cells donated by her brother Neil McCarthy, there were tears and embraces again — this time joyful.
As mother and daughter spent a Friday night alone at home, a call came in from Leslie’s physician, Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.
He brought momentous news: Her leukemia was in remission.
“We hugged for 10 minutes,” Erin said.
The family continues to give back to City of Hope. Leslie draws volunteers to the Be The Match national bone marrow donor registry at City of Hope by sharing with others how easy it is to become a donor. And Erin uses the power of her social network to help City of Hope deliver more birthdays to other families.
She asked her friends to donate by setting up a birthday wish through Causes, a philanthropy application for Facebook. Her message to them read in part, “I chose City of Hope because they are single-handedly responsible for saving my mom’s life in 2010.” In two birthdays, she has raised more than $1,700.
“That birthday wish was a no-brainer — it just seemed like the right thing to do,” she said. “My gift was having a birthday where she sang me that song while we were sitting in the same room and we weren’t in a state of emergency and fear anymore.”
To dedicate your own online birthday wish to City of Hope, go to www.cityofhope.org/birthdays.