The First Day of School

September 10, 2015


September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Those four words fly right by the ears and eyes of most people. Why wouldn’t they – unless there’s some personal meaning attached to them?

September is also back to school month for many families. When most parents are posting their child’s first day of school photo on their social media feeds, there are those of us that look on, with mixed up emotions. We are reminded of what we are missing this time of year, and will miss every year, for the rest of our lives. Today should be my son Pablo’s first day of 6th Grade. Instead of driving him to school, it’s the day I write a note about awareness and remind all of you that childhood cancers exist – and that thousands of children and their families will be devastated by cancer this year.
I have no choice. Pablo lost his life to cancer in 2009, just six days after his sixth birthday. So I’m in the gang of moms who know the need behind those words “childhood cancer awareness.”

Just because I’m at the center of the pediatric cancer cause, doesn’t mean I like being in this gang. I hate awareness months. All of them. That’s my honest feeling. I hate that I feel this overwhelming sense of responsibility to make others aware of childhood cancers. That I’m in this world, part of this crew. I hate it.

Every day of my life is already hard enough. Living without my son Pablo. He would be 12 years old if he were sitting next to me right now. My older son Grady had just finished his freshman year of high school when his brother died. He lost his little brother, the little boy who followed him around, imitating everything he did. He also lost a key source of his identity: being Pablo’s big brother.

There are way too many of us walking through life with a giant hole in our hearts exposed for all to see. That’s why my husband and I – accidentally – started an organization in Pablo’s name. Some days, I wonder if I’m nuts to run a charity whose focus is the disease that took my child.

I’m too often reminded that I’m not the only parent suffering. I signed a sympathy card on Friday. This is the fourth card I signed this year to a family of one of our Shutterbugs students. Sending a beautiful framed photograph taken by their child – and a card splattered with tears from our Pablove staff – fucking sucks.

And right when all that intensity feels like it might break me, I remember: We can make a difference. We are making a difference. It’s about the long game. We have to play it. We are in it seven years now. And we are growing by leaps.

On the days when it’s all too much I remember that my job is to advocate and support other families that are going through what I went through. Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with the work that I do. I hate the words ‘childhood’ and ‘cancer’ and all that they bring up inside of me.

But. The kids. The families. Our staff who dedicate their lives to this thing. Every day our Pablove Shutterbugs program lights up my heart. Kids in treatment learning the fundamentals of photography and getting the chance to just be kids. Directly funding childhood cancer research and doing our part to bring constructive joy to kids in treatment are the only ways we will ever see progress.

So when the pink starts coming out in a week or so (way before the month of October), think about all of the progress and incredible advances that have been made in the breast cancer field. Then think about what can happen if that same attention, dedication, devotion, and ubiquity were given to our kids – the ones who all those boobies were made for.

Right now, you can be a part of this change. Help kids help kids by buying a Pablove Shutterbugs print, where 100% of the proceeds directly fund The Pablove Foundation Research Grants program. Or donate here and support our general fund which includes our proven quality of life program, Pablove Shutterbugs. You can even make a difference by forwarding this email to a friend.

Whatever you do today, you have the choice to call out to all of those people who – like me – avoid childhood cancer until it is standing right in front of them. Join me to create a love-filled life today and a cancer-free life tomorrow for kids living with cancer.

To those of you who have supported us from day one, I thank you. To those of you who are new to Pablove, I welcome you. Either way, today is a day when I am asking for your financial and social support for our mission, and together we will fight childhood cancer with love.

with gratitude

Jo Ann Thrailkill


2 responses to “The First Day of School”

  1. Keriann German says:

    <3 from one reluctant cancer mom to another. THANK YOU. for doing the work that some of us wish we could do but haven't found the strength to… YET. <3

    • Pablove says:

      Thank YOU for all of your support Keriann! It is our community, supporters, families, friends, and every child diagnosed with this disease that keeps The Pablove Foundation running and growing every day. If you are interested in learning more about our Designated Funds, you can find more information at

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