A Year Like No Other…
It was on January 1 of 2013 that we laid our beautiful daughter Cara to rest. Our lives have been changed forever. It has truly been a year like no other we have ever experienced. A year of sadness, challenges, tears, memories, perspective, smiles, incredible kindness and beautiful initiatives to honor Cara’s memory and wishes.
We are sending a year-end update to keep you informed of our progress, as a family and as a group that share a love, connection, and was touched in some way by Cara.
The Year Begins….
The year started with the service for Cara. Looking back, it was such a beautiful tribute to her life, and we were so blessed to have an incredible turn out on New Year’s Day. The following week was a blur, but so many friends, family members and a caring community came by and visited. The positive love and energy that came our way helped us start this Year Like No Other.
We started a few initiatives right away. First, to archive as many artifacts of Cara’s life as possible. It is interesting how our lives leave a digital and real footprint. Photos…video…social media…voice mail messages…emails sent and received. Insightful and sometimes painful diary entries. Notes to herself about wanting to change the world in some way… A snowboard and helmet…a pair of favorite Converse tennis shoes…Why not save these? Who knows how we might feel in years to come. What we knew is that there would be no new memories…only the ones we had already shared. Getting Cara’s Facebook page set as a memorial site was a challenge. During the year, we found a surprising number of handwritten notes and cards from Cara, that when received for a holiday might have been tossed into a drawer or nightstand, and now each one is a small treasure, catalogued and saved.
Karma for Cara Foundation
Karma for Cara was started in October of 2012, while Cara was being treated at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. We discussed as a family the amount of blood donations it takes to keep leukemia patients alive. Literally the white blood cells of donors are what keep patients going. So, with the help of many friends and Eric’s colleagues at Sterling, we had three blood drives in Baltimore and Chicago. The idea was like good karma, we would put a multiple of donated blood back into the system, even while Cara was in treatment.
Our largest blood drive was at Woodholme Country Club, and so many people came to give that some of us waited for an hour or more to donate. Seeing so many people from the community—friends old and new—was inspiring. Cara came by and floated around the room offering her smile and thanks to all. The photo at the top of this letter was taken that day. A smile that literally lit up the room. When Cara’s treatment was coming to an end and we were planning her end of chemo party at the Four Seasons, she decided that she wanted to continue the foundation after treatment. She wanted to take the profits from her Cara’s Cheesebombs crackers, her entrepreneurial dream, to help others, especially young people suffering from cancer. She wrote:
“Back when I was first admitted to Johns Hopkins I had to stay for a month and felt like it was never going to end. All I wanted to do was leave, I felt trapped…sicker then I’ve ever been…
For that month I struggled with frequent bouts of depression. I found myself crying a lot and wishing there was an end to the sadness and pain. One night my nurse came in to talk to me- I felt so alone, all I could do was cry to her. She told me that if I kept up with all this anger and tenseness that my insides would be tense as well and it would be a longer recovery. I stopped crying immediately and never looked back…
I woke up each morning and smiled even if it was hard; I knew that I needed to be positive to save my life. With this new positivity my whole world changed. I learned quickly that the complaining and negative thoughts wouldn’t change the situation, so why not be positive. Why not have leukemia turn me into a better person?…
All of these experiences have made me a stronger person. I’ve learned so much about life, about true happiness, and the fight to live. I’m confident in who I am, and plan to start my own foundation to give back and help other leukemia patients. I have big plans for the world.”
After her battle with leukemia ended, we decided as a family to continue the foundation. How could we not? Could leukemia and this astounding loss make us better? What would Cara wish for us? The Baltimore Community Foundation was kind enough to set up a fund on January 1, and many donations had already come in from Cara’s friends and family. In early spring we filed to become a 501(c)(3) public nonprofit charity. We then had a planning meeting at the Four Seasons, where Cara had worked the previous summer, and a group of about thirty people came together to brainstorm what we could do as focus areas for the foundation. We took pages of notes and after discussion and trial and error, we settled on a mission with three focus areas:
1. To ease the suffering of cancer patients in treatment.
2. To educate and inspire kids and young adults on the importance of service to others.
3. To recognize leaders in service, especially those unsung heroes, who are making a difference on many lives, to thank them publicly and to use their example to inspire all of us to serve more.
First, Cara’s friend and babysitter from years ago, Whitney Fishman, ran a half marathon in NYC and raised money for K4C. Cara’s cousins, Jack Miller and Grant Cohen, donated a portion of their earnings from their summer business. Woodholme Country Club had a tennis Pro-Am where pros donated their time and players donated entry fees. A women’s tennis event, The Southside Cup, donated to the fund. Bare Hills Racquet and Fitness Club organized a Zumba-thon and Spin-a-thon with a number of sponsors and donated the event proceeds to the foundation.
We brought on two summer interns, Abby Weinstein and Kayla Lively, who helped us launch our website and Facebook page. We started our first project, “Cara Cookie Volunteers,” a children’s book for kids aged 3-6, as a first story about Cara as a young child and her brothers Jake and Greg’s first volunteering experience at Levindale Nursing Home. We have a working draft of the story and expect to complete it Q1 2014 and find an illustrator to bring the story to life.
We funded an iPad trial at Hopkins Children’s Hospital to loan specially programmed Apple iPads to young patients. Cara had talked about how her iPad, which Uncle Doug and Aunt Erin had given her, was a constant companion and source of entertainment, communications with friends, and information during the many long and tedious hours of treatment.
One of Cara’s cousins started a K4C Club at her high school, where they find worthwhile community service projects. We find this idea intriguing and are going to explore in 2014 the possibility of developing a kit for middle and upper schools that would help kids start similar clubs.
In October we were part of the 2013 Paul Reed Smith Guitars and Kimmel Cancer Center Annual Concert. The Doobie Brothers and Matt Scannell performed. Matt knew Cara from when she had recovered from a seizure in 2008. He finished his set with a beautiful and soulful rendition of “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls, Cara’s favorite song. That night we gave the first Karma for Cara Service Award to Cat Henderson, a 10-year Oncology Nurse at Johns Hopkins. Cat was recognized for her compassion, professionalism, and commitment to serving patients, and as an example of the outstanding nurses at Hopkins, who make such a difference in so many lives and families. There were tears, smiles and even dancing later to our Doobie Brothers favorites.
We were very fortunate to meet Miriam Finder, who joined K4C as full-time director this past fall, and is helping us finish our ambitious projects started in 2013, and plan for the future of the foundation.
Cara had the Becker entrepreneurial gene. She started Cara’s Cheesebombs after she had become disappointed in the gluten-free cheese crackers she had found. Cara had become gluten-free after she developed an auto-immune illness after her hyponatremia incident at 17. The new diet truly helped her feel better, but she missed her old favorite foods, including Cheez-Its. Cara set a very high goal: a cheese cracker that would out-perform wheat-based crackers, explode with cheese flavor, and have a nutritional profile that Mom’s could feel great about giving to their kids. We had been testing samples all through Cara’s treatment. She would ask us to do the tasting from her hospital bed, since the chemo affected her sense of flavor. As her treatment ended, Cara told us that she would use the crackers to help fund Karma for Cara. We knew that she intended to finish this project in 2013, so we carried it on for her, with the idea that all profits would go to the foundation.
The product is very close to completion and we are working on packaging. With the help of designer volunteers, we came up with a package design that, similarly to Wheaties boxes picturing professional athletes, recognizes volunteers to inspire us all to serve more. We hope that a cracker with a higher purpose, that is delicious and healthy, in a package that also promotes service, could potentially make it in the marketplace. We hope to have them in a market test in the first half of 2014. All of the start up costs have been underwritten to date by the Becker family, so the foundation takes no risk with this project, but will receive any profits.
Our Summer in Chicago
We spent the summer based in Chicago. Jill did a lot of work on the foundation, Greg was starting his own business with Alex Goldman in the data center industry, and Jake worked for Jeff McClusky Associates in the music promotion. Scott Lessans lived with us and also Greg’s girlfriend, Kayla, so it was incredibly busy in our apartment. Jill and I loved the occasional chaos of four kids around, and it kept our minds off some of the sadness of this year. Happy and Chewy, Cara’s beloved pups, took to their city life with walks on the lakefront and parks. Walking to restaurants, working in the new Sterling collaborative offices, Greg working at the 1871 Start Up Incubator…the summer flew by. Jake left in August for his freshman year at University of North Carolina. By fall we were back in Baltimore and Jill and Eric began their new lives as empty nesters.
Earlier in the year, Jill’s sister Jenny, who is an artist, made a beautiful cuff from stingray leather, and sent it to Jill as a present. She asked that she wear it, and said that it would bring her luck and protection. Jill did, and other women started to ask about it and if Jenny could make one for them. Jill invited Jenny to a breast cancer fundraiser in Baltimore where Jenny took a table and showed a collection of women’s cuffs. There was so much interest and enthusiasm that Jill and Jenny decided to start a business around them.
They named the company Lema J, for Love, Empowerment, Motion, Adventure, and J for Jill and Jenny. As part of their mission, they not only sell beautiful handmade cuffs for women to love and enjoy, but have created a lifestyle brand that speaks to empowering women, beauty, love, kindness and energy. They support Karma for Cara Foundation with donations and an orange special edition K4C cuff, where for each one sold, another is made and given to a leukemia patient. This project has brought the two sisters together, both of whom have faced significant life challenges, and created something beautiful and inspiring.
Karma for Cara Foundation Achieves 501(c)(3) Status
We received a determination letter from the IRS two weeks ago that Karma for Cara Foundation is officially a 501(c)(3) public charity, and that all donations made to the organization are tax deductible.This is a wonderful milestone. We had been told it would take two years to receive this letter, yet somehow it happened in just ten months. K4C and the Becker Family thank the Baltimore Community Foundation for helping us start our new foundation. More than $225,000 has been donated from a loving and caring community to the Karma for Cara Fund at BCF! With our new official status, those funds will be transferred to K4C to be used towards our mission and Cara’s dream of helping others. All future donations can be made directly to Karma for Cara Foundation.
A Year Like No Other
As the year comes to a close, we have faced all the anniversaries, starting with Cara’s birthday,diagnosis, treatment, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve is tomorrow. Along with these challenges have been amazing moments and memories of our beautiful girl, who touched so many, and despite her own serious challenges and battles, still shared her amazing smile with us, and was always excited by new projects…and up for good energy that would help others. We find inspiration in our memories of her and her love, and we have also found a sense of peace and purpose by continuing not only some of the work we did together when Cara was with us, but also pursuing the dreams of what might have been or would have been, if she had lived. We not only give energy and love to these projects, but we get energy and love from them. To know that others lives will continue to be touched by Cara—to perhaps live a little bit better or suffer less because she had lived, because of who she was and who she wanted to become—honors her memory and gives us joy, peace and pride as parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends.
The love, support, and kindness we have received from Cara’s illness through today have just been extraordinary and life-affirming. We are grateful and send wishes from our family to yours for a Happy New Year with good health and lots of happiness. We hope that you will take a moment on New Year’s Eve or in the weeks ahead for a thought, wish, or memory of Cara, as we will be spending that time together as a family, marking the close of a year of experiences like no other with wishes for an inspiring 2014.
With love and appreciation,
Eric, Jill, Greg and Jake
December 30, 2013