I first met Sandy Montgomery in a crowded aerobics class. Her wide smile and the positive spirit and optimism she exuded had me believe that life for Sandy was sublime.
At age 39, life for Sandy was nearly perfect. She had a promising career, two young daughters and a supportive husband. Her world would soon be turned upside down. Almost 15 years ago, Sandy was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s a cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system.
Sandy’s oncologist gave her a grave diagnosis: five to seven years left until she would succumb to this incurable disease. Instead of accepting this news, her husband Steve decided to research alternative medical treatments. Ironically, I happened to be on the same flight when they first traveled to San Francisco to Sanford University to participate in an experimental drug treatment trial.
After two years and countless trips to California, Sandy’s cancer went into remission. Six years later, the FDA approved this particular drug treatment, and it is currently being used to treat cancer patients.
As a diversion for her two daughters, Whitten and Jaclyn, Sandy enrolled them in theater classes during the harsh months she suffered through the experiment trial. The girls watched as their mother found the energy and compassion to get involved directly with the fundraising efforts for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. This would spark their interest in their mother’s passion. How could they raise money too?
Using their theatrical skills, they decided to charge a small fee to their first production, which took place in the basement of the family’s home. Fifteen years later, KAAC (Kids Acting Against Cancer) has been instrumental in the fight to cure cancer.
KAAC puts on a production each year to raise money to fight cancer. This nonprofit organization, which still includes the driving forces of Whitten and Jaclyn Montgomery, along with Taylor Buchanan and Remy Sisk, recently has begun collaborating with local expert drama instructor Sharon Kinnison of Louisville Collegiate School. Sharon’s many talents have brought KAAC’s performances to new heights.
This year’s production of “High School Musical” will be held Saturday, Jan. 15, at 8 p.m. at the Clifton Center, 2117 Payne St. Call (502) 899-5946 for tickets, which are $15 for children and $20 for adults.
I was able to sit down and ask these remarkable young adults some questions.
How has your mother’s illness changed you and your family?
Jaclyn Montgomery: My family is definitely very close because of the illness. It helped us understand the importance of family and that a positive attitude is the best defense mechanism for a very serious situation.
What advice could you give someone whose parent has been diagnosed with cancer?
Jaclyn: I would tell them to keep a positive attitude because miracles really do happen every day, and no situation is hopeless. They would also be amazed at the way that the support of friends and family really helps the situation and makes you feel like you are not alone. I would also tell them to remember that their parents love them and want them to be happy even though cancer is a severe situation.
How would you describe your mother?
Whitten Montgomery: My mother is warm, tireless, fearless and loving. However, the word that can define my mother through and through is “optimistic.” Ever since I can remember, my mother has illustrated that anything is possible when you think positively. Her energy has never ceased to amaze me and her love to help others. Above all, her optimism has inspired me.
Any proud moments?
Whitten: I never liked to measure our organization in dollar signs, although many people tend to understand it that way. What I like to use are the smiles that we create on the faces of the children who deserve them the most. One of my proudest moments with KAAC would have to be the first distribution of that KAAC Packs. Creating the productions is definitely an exhilarating experience, but experiencing the joy of helping the children in the hospital melts my heart. I remember seeing the patients, hugging them, watching them open the packs, and seeing their eyes get bigger as they learned about KAAC. Then I knew that this could never end.
Do you have advice for a child with a mother with cancer?
Whitten: Do something. Sitting and waiting becomes painful. You did nothing wrong, and your mother wants you to be having fun. I know, though, that it can be difficult to want to have fun when your mother cannot manage to come out with you. Because of this, I recommend that you do something for her. Make her a meal. Draw her a picture. Get your friends together and sing her a song. One thing that you can never think is that your mother doesn’t want to be with you or that you did anything to cause this.
How did you help your friend cope with her mother’s illness?
Taylor Buchanan: Soon after getting involved with KAAC, Whitten and I realized how much we had in common and became instant best friends. After getting to know Whitten, I learned that her mom, Sandy, had cancer, however, was in remission and was able to bring her to my house to play and go places with me.
Things changed towards the end of fifth grade. Sandy had a relapse and she was in the hospital constantly. Because Whitten and I were so young, we didn’t really know what was going on. Whitten spent most of her time at my house and my mom would take us places, but because we were best friends, this didn’t seem uncommon.
Through everything, Whitten has always been so optimistic. We are like sisters. I don’t know what I would do if I had not been asked to join Kids Acting Against Cancer.
Any proud moments with KAAC?
Remy Sisk: Nothing quite compares to meeting the people we’re working for. When someone with cancer comes up to talk to me at a KAAC event and thank me for what we’re doing, I just feel so assured that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
Category: Take It or Leave It
About the Author (Author Profile)
Lori Kommor, Columnist/Event Chair
Lori wears many hats: writing two weekly columns, chairing The
Voice-Tribune’s events and keeping the staff fed with a stash of snacks
Willy Wonka would envy. She’s a fervent high school soccer fan (go
Collegiate!) and has the raspy voice to prove it after game days.