Kids with cancer get gifts, support



Connor Goodwin wasn't yet 2 when he was diagnosed with leukemia, so he doesn't remember much about his treatment.

Except for the “sleepy doctors.”

“They were cool,” Connor recalls.

When Connor saw the anesthesiologists, he knew yet another spinal tap would soon be over.

Now 6, Connor has been cancer-free for nearly two years. But that doesn't mean he has put the ordeal behind him. He's been helping his parents, Lisa and Steve, support other children fighting the disease.

The Goodwins organized Connor's Heroes, named for their son, in May 2006. Their first project last January was to fill about 75 backpacks with games, craft supplies, books and toys for children just diagnosed with cancer at the VCU Medical Center.

This year, the Goodwins wanted to do more. And yesterday, they did. With help from about 40 volunteers, they assembled 80 backpacks for children and 80 tote bags for the parents of just-diagnosed children. That should be enough to last the year, Lisa Goodwin said.

“We never would have thought about something like this if Connor had not gotten sick,” she said. “Now it's our life. We wanted to make a difference.”

They have.

“At a time when your whole world is upside down, this makes you feel like there are people out there who really care,” said Mary Bennett, whose 16-year-old daughter, Erin, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease last year. “It's a great comfort at a very difficult time.”

Erin, a junior at Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico County, received a backpack from Connor's Heroes during her first hospital stay in October. She was on hand yesterday at Mary Munford Elementary School in Richmond to make sure other children are provided with the same gift.

“It feels good to help other people,” she said. “I remember when I was in the hospital and I woke up and saw the backpack at the end of my bed. It was perfect. It was a nice distraction.”

The backpacks are filled with age-appropriate goodies. Toddlers may get Play-Doh, stuffed animals and coloring books, while those 7 and older will find portable DVD players, craft supplies and books inside. Nail polish is packed for girls and video games for boys.

Parents receive antibacterial wipes, tissues, journals, phone cards and coupons for free house cleanings and meals.

“It's great to do something that is going to put a smile on a child's face,” said Carlos Melendez Jr. “The volunteers here are lending their hands and their hearts.”

Melendez wanted to volunteer after his wife, Ivone, told him about the project. They brought their nephew and grandson with them.

The family gained a valuable lesson in the power of giving. Lisa Goodwin thought the backpack project would take four hours. But so many volunteers showed up, they were finished in less than two.

“It shows how much people care,” she said.

In addition to the backpack project, Connor's Heroes holds about 10 fundraisers a year, including the Anthem Quest for the Cure in Carytown, golf tournaments and an oyster roast in Ginter Park. Since forming, Connor's Heroes has raised nearly $100,000 to support cancer research.

“I know I can help people,” Connor said. “I can help turn other families' worlds right-side up instead of upside down. That makes me feel pretty good inside.”