Highland News Leader

Leaps of Love in Highland: ‘Embracing families affected by childhood cancer’

8-year-old Belleville girl has beaten cancer and leukemia

Maranda Wilborn and her family have battled together to beat her first bought of cancer "rhabdomyosarcoma" and then leukemia, now Maranda's biggest challenge is 2nd grade.
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Maranda Wilborn and her family have battled together to beat her first bought of cancer "rhabdomyosarcoma" and then leukemia, now Maranda's biggest challenge is 2nd grade.

Leaps of Love in Highland has fighting the good fight against cancer since May 2010.

Traci Riechmann started the organization nine years ago to raise awareness of childhood cancer and keep families educated even in cases where the cancer is in remission. Simply stated, Leaps of Love “embraces families affected by childhood cancer” as stated on its website.

“The health issues for the rest of the children’s lives is increasing,” Riechmann said. “Even though they are living longer, the effects from the chemotherapy and radiation effects them for the rest of their lives. We try to educate the families and the public that just because treatment is over, the battle isn’t over.”

Riechmann said the younger the child is diagnosed, the more lifelong effects they’ll have, specifically due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

“We educate the families on follow-up appointments,” she said. “You have all these late effects you have to look for. Their brain or other parts of their growing body has been affected. I don’t know that people always understand that they are still in a lifelong battle on things they’ve fallen behind on (in school for instance). It’s all because the radiation and chemotherapy they’ve been subjected to at a young age as they’re still growing.”

Overall, Riechmann has been working with different organizations involving childhood cancer since 1997. In 2009, Riechmann said St. Louis Children’s Hospital approached her about opening an organization to help raise late-effect awareness. And Leaps of Love was born.

“I am effected … I was in a childhood cancer family,” Riechmann said. “My mother passed away from five brain tumors.”

According to the Leaps of Love website, “With the growing number of children diagnosed every day, our goal is to help these families engage together and give them hope, strength and encouragement to endure the challenges everyone in the family faces. Family retreats, social events, outings, workshops and more can help give these families the opportunity to strengthen their lives with the support, wisdom and encouragement of others who have experienced similar scenarios to theirs.”

Moreover, Leaps of Love assists childhood cancer families with areas of focus to include brain tumors and late effects of their treatments. All services and programs are free.

“We’re always doing workshops and education classes with the families to stay connected and educated on the symptoms to look for,” Riechmann said. “We emphasize to the families to not let their guard down because there’s still so much attacking the childrens’ bodies.”

The organization has the following programs in place:

  • Spring: Hannibal Family Weekend Retreat focuses on childhood brain tumor families;
  • Summer: ARCH ‘Achieving Recovery from Cancer to Health’ Retreat focuses on young adult cancer survivors;
  • Fall: Good Grief Get Away focuses on parents who have lost a child to cancer; and
  • New Years Eve: Ring in the New Year in a safe environment and with family and friends.

Noted on the website, “With your support, we can establish even more of the much needed programs and events that will give them hope, strength and encouragement to achieve their goals in life just as we strive to achieve the goals in our lives.”

Here are some childhood cancer facts, according to the Leaps of Love website:

  • Here in the US about 1 in 285 kids are diagnosed with cancer before age 20, about 16,000 per year;
  • Approximately 20 percent of all children with cancer will die from their disease, a secondary cancer, or complications from treatment;
  • Nearly 2/3 of the survivors later experience significant and chronic medical problems or develop secondary cancers as adults that result from treatment of their original cancer;
  • The average ages of death for a child with cancer is 8, causing a childhood cancer victim to lose 69 years of expected life years;
  • Cancer treatments can affect a child’s growth, fertility, and endocrine system. Child survivor may be permanently immunologically suppressed. Radiation to a child’s brain can significantly damage cognitive function, or if radiation is given at a very young age, limiting the ability to read, do basic math, tell time or even talk.

People can donate to Leaps of Love throughout the year either via their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LeapsOfLove/; their website: https://leapsoflove.org/; or by calling Riechmann at 618-410-7212.

Located at 1005 Broadway in Highland, Leaps of Love is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and closed Saturday-Sunday.