My name is Jessica Ekstrom (you can call me Jess) and I'm a student at North Carolina State University. Here's a little about me and Headbands of Hope...
Right before my 20th birthday in the summer of 2011, I did an internship at the Make a Wish Foundation of Central and Western North Carolina.
Everyday, I got to wake up and grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. I took day trips to visit the wish kids at their houses and bring them their favorite toys. We received hundreds of letters from wish children that said we changed their lives; little did they know, they were changing mine.
One day, I was pulling my hair back in a ponytail and thought about the hundreds of girls I encountered that lose their hair to cancer. I saw how much losing their hair had an impact on their self-esteem and confidence level.
I thought about the thousands of girls around the world losing their hair to chemotherapy. Being a young girl presents many struggles with self-esteem already and losing their hair as a result of a life-threatening illness is traumatic. Not only do they have to face the risk of losing their lives, they feel that they lose a part of their feminine identity.
Therefore I started Headbands of Hope! For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick's Foundation to fund life-saving childhood cancer research.
Since we launched in April, I’ve had the opportunity to distribute headbands to girls in the hospitals across the nation. The best part of my job is opening the door to their room and seeing their faces light up when I bring dozens of colorful headbands to their beds to choose from. Even though it’s fun and fulfilling to bring the girls headbands in the hospitals, I’m constantly reminded that there still isn’t a cure.
Childhood cancer takes the lives of more children in the U.S. than any other disease – in fact, more than many other childhood diseases combined. Children with cancer cannot be treated simply as "smaller adults." The cancers strike kids differently and they are in a crucial stage of development, which complicates the effects of treatments and can result in life-long complications. Although research over the last 40 years has raised the overall cure rate from virtually none to about 80%, many types of childhood cancer remain very difficult to cure. Progress is also especially slow in curing adolescents and young adults, because federal funding for childhood cancers is a fraction compared to adult cancers. Therefore, attention needs to be brought to childhood cancer.
Progress can’t be made without research. Research can’t be done without funding. And funding can’t be done without awareness.
Headbands of Hope aims to start with awareness and end with a cure.
I hope that my story shows that you can make a difference in a girl's life, just with a simple headband. I also hope that my story shows that you can do anything if you have the passion for it, no matter how old you are.
Let's spread hope in all girls...one headband at a time!
Want to bring Jess to your campus? Click here.