TOLEDO, Ohio — There are memories of Carson Elizabeth that her mom Paula will cherish forever.
"Her daddy says she is just like her mom, she is spunky and vivacious and she would tell it like it is," she said. "She had big broad bouncy curls and she had these China blue eyes."
The family had a normal life but fast-paced, living in Memphis.
"We were driving to every ball game and practice. My kids played every single sport known to man," Paula said.
In Memphis, the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital towers over the skyline as a fixture of home and the promise of Danny Thomas that no child should die in the dawn of life.
"We would drive by St. Jude Children's Research hospital, and I would say 'that is such a great place, but I don't know anybody that goes there. I wonder what families go there?'" Paula said. "And then one day we heard, 'your child has cancer' and WE were going there."
The family's lives were unexpectedly and abruptly rocked by cancer. Carson was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer just days before her eighth birthday.
"That poor doctor, I argued with him. (Said) I don’t know how to pronounce that or spell that and you are wrong, because can’t you look at my daughter, she is fine. She just has a swollen knee," she said. "And he said, 'I’ve already called St. Jude, Paula. They are waiting on you.'"
St. Jude's doors are always open, to any child and any family. And always at no cost, so the focus remains on the family and the kids.
"We were in complete denial. I had to have him write it down because I didn’t know how to spell it. I had never heard of osteosarcoma," Paula said. "Now I know more about it than I care to ever know. She is one in 400 in the world a year that get osteosarcoma."
Some of the world's most difficult pediatric cancers are treated at St Jude. This was the vision of Toledo’s Danny Thomas. Groundbreaking research, clinical trials and world-class treatment happen every day around the clock on the ground of St Jude.
"We went straight to MRI, Straight to a biopsy, and before we could even walk back to the other side of the hospital they had results," Paula said. "And that night we were dripping chemo, less than 12 hours from the time we got there we had a definitive diagnosis, she has already been put under surgery and we were doing chemo that night."
All medical care, treatment, travel and housing came at no cost, taken care of by St. Jude.
"Osteosarcoma is one mean beast, it is a monster. Her tumor was above her knee cap and when they removed it, it was larger than a grapefruit," Carson's mom recalled.
Cancer spread to Carson's lungs. Treatment, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy weren’t enough to overcome the rapidly spreading cancer.
"She had 36 weeks of chemo that she never got to finish;, double chemo because osteo was so strong. She took chemo two at a time," Paula said.
Hope and courage comes from a child. Over the 16 months of treatment, Carson quietly, and without explanation regularly collected spare change from anyone she could while at St. Jude. All stored safely in her piggy bank for a very special cause.
"'I want you to promise me' - and she shook her little finger at us - 'I want you to promise me that when I’m gone that the money in my piggy bank goes to St. Jude.' And I said I promise," Paula said. "And she said because it’s my money that’s going to make a difference. And she never said for the kids like her, she said it is for the mommies and daddies like y’all so you don’t have to go through what you had to. She passed away two days later."
The total in her piggy bank was $128.56.
"That is the faith of a child, that is the hope of St Jude, that is my blessing and that is her legacy that continues to live on after she has been gone 5 years."
St. Jude has raised the overall survival rate of pediatric cancer to over 80 percent, but aggressive and rare forms of cancer still claim far too many lives.
"But when your child is the one - the 20 percent it's unacceptable. There has to be more research. There has got be something out there that can be done for those kids that are the one in five," Paula said.
In the memory of Carson Elizabeth, Coins for Carson continues in her memory and in just a few short years has raised almost $1 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
"That is why St. Jude is here today, because of the research, because it is not acceptable until we get to 100 percent. And it will never be acceptable."