Jacksonville, FL - It’s been more than 20 years since Ellen Saltmarsh walked through the revolving doors at Nemours Children's Specialty Care in Jacksonville for her last cancer treatment.
But, Ellen says the memories are still so vivid.
“When I first saw the train in the lobby I just remember going up and loving to push the button and watch the train go around,” Ellen recalls.
Nowadays Ellen lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina but she spent a lot of her childhood in the hospital battling cancer. While she says there were certain days that were harder than others most of her memories are positive.
“The nurses and the doctors who helped me through my cancer and the treatment were just such wonderful that I can’t help thinking of good things when I walk through the doors,” Ellen says.
Her parents, Jan and Chris, along with her older sister, Amy, attribute a large part of the positive memories to Miss Joli, the Child Life Specialist, who was there every step of Ellen’s journey.
Chris says his daughter managed to go through treatments fearless.
“Joli was a big part of that because of the play therapy…she actually looked forward to it in some ways,” Chris says.
Play therapy is a form of counseling which allows children to express their feelings. Ellen says this really helped her understand what she was going through and make fun of all the treatment.
“We played with all of her dolls and sat at the little low plastic tables and wrapped bandages around the dolls’ arms and hooked IV’s up to them so they would look just like me,” Ellen says.
So, when the Saltmarsh family found out that Miss Joli’s position was being cut due to funding they knew they couldn’t lose her.
“We were a gasped because I was the one living in that tiny little room at the end of the hallway with her day after day after day … and Joli was what kept us sane,” Jan says.
The Saltmarshes paired up with other Jacksonville parents whose children were undergoing cancer treatment and founded the Child Cancer Fund in 1994 with a $15,000 grant. But, its affects are priceless.
The fund secures Miss Joli’s position and financially helps families of children battling cancer.
Whether it’s making a house or car payment, sponsoring a weekend at Camp Boggy Creek, or something as simple as a family dinner, the Saltmarshes say the fund will provide about anything.
“If the Child Cancer Fund can come in and pay for a couple of hours or the family to go out and get an ice-cream cone, for the family to go out to a movie, or dinner or the parents to have adult time, that’s huge, that’s huge,” Jan says.
Ellen says returning to Nemours and seeing all of the children really makes her proud that her parents’ founded the Child Cancer Fund and kept it going.
“I appreciate everything that they did for me so much and for the Child Cancer Fund because, uhm, they were there for me every step of the way,” Ellen says holding back tears. “My mom never left that windowsill, my dad never left that chair, my sister was always there even when she was looking through the glass and couldn’t get to me.”
To find out how you can support the Child Cancer Fund, click here.