Relieving The Pain Of Childhood Cancer, An Extended Family Keeps Growing
It takes a parent to understand the daily outpouring of energy, thought, and emotion involved in raising children. It takes a child stricken with cancer to understand how all that effort suddenly appears headed off the rails. For 23 years, the volunteers at Ocean of Love in Toms River have made it their mission to bring comfort and support of all kinds to families undergoing the stress of chronic and even fatal ailments among their children.
Linda Gillick is the executive director and co-founder. From the start, her involvement has been deep and personal. "My own son Michael was diagnosed [with cancer] at the age of three and a half months," she relates. "I didn't even know that babies could get cancer...We were told he wouldn't live to a year." In late January, Michael celebrated his 33rd birthday, defying by decades even the most optimistic medical predictions.
"At Sloan-Kettering, they refer to him as Miracle Michael," she continues. But every day remains a struggle. "He has a massive tumor in him that still continues to grow and has...taken his spine and put it where it doesn't belong."
But Michael's endurance has only given Linda's parental love a deeper glow. "Michael is the light that has taken me to take something so horrible and try to make it a little bit easier for families going through it."
Listen to Tom Mongelli's conversation with Linda Gillick
The cancer he has known his entire life was also a driving factor in the Citizens Action Committee for Childhood Cancer Cluster, the ad hoc group she still chairs that has held global corporations including Ciba, Union Carbide and Suez-United Water accountable for rectifying decades of damage that led to extensive groundwater toxins in and around Toms River.
Ocean of Love meets family needs in a myriad of ways, whether physical, financial or emotional. Linda says that transportation to medical appointments consumes a great deal of time and resources, estimating that the group spent about $200,000 on gasoline alone in 2011 - not including tolls and parking fees - and that number seems guaranteed to rise in 2012. They also dole out financial support to families who can't meet medical bills and household costs simultaneously.
Then again, there are fun times - birthday parties, magic shows, day-trip outings and their annual 'extended family' reunion. According to Linda, it's "a day of joy to interact with those that have been blessed to be cancer-free...to be supportive to those still going through it...and to the ones that have lost their children, that we're still here."
Ocean of Love solicits no government support. Individual donors supply all their capital. And the list grows as family after family tells friends and neighbors about a small band of folks in a converted Route 37 house who dedicate their lives to bring a measure of relief to those whose situations they know all too well..
The February 25 Casino Night Fundraiser at the Crystal Point Yacht Club in Point Pleasant features glitzy prizes such as World Series and Super Bowl tickets and passes to American Idol's final two nights, including the backstage party with the performers. On March 10, New Concepts Hair Salon in Forked River donates all of its proceeds from a day-long cut-a-thon to the group. It's extra-special, says Linda, because the family behind the drive is returning the favor that Ocean of Love provided for them. A golf outing this spring is one of their major fundraisers. And, in full disclosure, Townsquare Media jocks from 105.7 The Hawk spend a week each autumn occupying a billboard to raise funds for the organization.
See all about the group and its upcoming events at ocean-of-love.org or call them at 732-270-3500. They're right on Route 37 East, a block east of Vaughn Avenue.