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Church to hold model fundraiser for cancer research

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Published:   |   Updated: June 18, 2013 at 11:51 AM
TAMPA -

A thin, white scar just below her collarbone is the only reminder 10-year-old Ja’Nya Jones has with her brush with death.

While she may not remember getting diagnosed at 18 months with Stage 3 rhabdomyosarcoma – a rare form of muscle cancer typically found in children – her mother certainly does.

“It was really, really scary,” says Candice Cowen, a Tampa hairdresser, says of finding a suspicious lump on her toddler. “I was so young. I didn’t understand the complete severity of it.”

As the 22-year-old single mom traversed the uncharted territory of hospitals and medical science, unexpected blessings came her way. An anonymous donor offered to pay her rent so she could concentrate on Ja’Nya’s care, and one of her doctors found an experimental treatment program to aggressively attack the disease.

After a year of chemotherapy and radiation, the cancer retreated. Today, Ja’Nya is a happy, healthy 10-year-old, looking forward to fifth grade at Folsom Elementary in the fall.

And both mother and daughter are committed to giving back for their good fortune.

On Saturday, Ja’Nya will join a group of grown-up models in a fashion show to benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Though she’s a little nervous about her first runway appearance, Ja’Nya says “it makes me feel good” to do something for others.

“It’s good to be helpful,” she says shyly.

That theme is seconded by New Jerusalem Haitian Baptist Church, the sponsor of the event. Called “Beyond the Rainbow,” it will include the fashion show, music, food, a talent competition, praise and worship and spoken word.

The 350-member congregation decided to donate half of the proceeds to a local charity as a way of saying “thank you” to the community.

“We’ve been on the receiving end of so much generosity over the years,” says Jordanes Hyppolite, church administrator. “We have felt love and support when tragedy happens, like the earthquake in our native country. Now we want to be the givers.”

“Beyond the Rainbow” is the first public event in New Jerusalem’s new $700,000 sanctuary. For years, members met next door in the former University Seventh-day Adventist church members had purchased, then outgrew. They scrimped, saved and held fundraisers, and finally could begin construction on a building that would accommodate their growing numbers.

It took three years, Hyppolite says, and “a lot of prayers.” Many church members struggle with their own expenses, and are still sending money home to family still living in Haiti. Nonetheless, “it’s our duty to reach out to others.”

Nancy Crane, executive director of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, says she was very touched when she got the call from a church representative that her organization would be the beneficiary of the event. Given the lack of funding that is devoted to cancers that specifically affect children, “any donation is appreciated,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter how much they give us. No matter what, (this congregation) will get something in return for doing this,” she says. “They’re showing their kids how to give back. That’s a lesson to be learned by everyone.”

Currently, she says, only 3.8 percent of government funding goes to research to eliminate pediatric cancer. So organizations like hers and a dozen other charities nationwide work together to make up the difference, raising funds and awareness for more therapies and less toxic treatments.

About 46 children a day are diagnosed with some form of cancer.

“Imagine two classrooms of children, and you get the idea,” she says. “That’s 12,500 children a year. One child is too many.”

Knowing that Ja’Nya is part of the event’s fashion show makes it even more special, Crane says. She and her mother are showing their gratitude in such a meaningful way and setting an example for others.

“Her survival is testimony to why more research is so important,” she says. “Every little bit helps. Eighty percent of childhood cancers are now curable, but for the other 20 percent, it’s not a happy ending. Our work isn’t done until we get to 100 percent.”


mbearden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7613

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