Guild News

Feature Story

Friends for Life Guild Marks Milestones of Hope

Guilds Help Drive Cancer Research

Dene James and her family smiling at the camera

Dene James and her family celebrated her daughter Natalie’s (pictured front) graduation from Georgetown University in May. Dene started the Friends for Life Guild after Natalie, a former Seattle Children’s patient who survived acute myeloid leukemia, was diagnosed with cancer at age 6.

“Pediatric cancer research is absolutely dependent upon philanthropy. We are so fortunate to live in a region with the strong tradition of guilds to support childhood cancer research. The advances we are seeing today were made possible by support from guilds.”

Dr. Doug Hawkins, pediatric hematologist-oncologist, Seattle Children’s

Starting a Guild Was Mom’s Way to Take Action

Natalie and her sister in front of an entrance to Seattle Children's Hospital

Natalie (left) with her big sister Anna in 2006. Natalie says her sister was “100% my rock” throughout her cancer treatment.

Fifteen years ago, six words sparked the Friends for Life Guild into being. Since then, they have raised over $400,000 for Seattle Children’s pediatric cancer research and increased awareness around childhood cancer.

Dene James’ youngest daughter, Natalie Smith , was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when she was just 6 years old. As Dene struggled to make sense of how her first grader could have a cancer more commonly afflicting men in their 50s, she asked Dr. Doug Hawkins if there was anything she could do to help find answers. “The hope is in the research,” he replied. These six words galvanized Dene’s desire to take action. She had seen a “start a guild” poster on the way to and from Natalie’s hospital room and decided to learn more. She asked a few close friends to join her, and they responded with unanimous enthusiasm, forming a core group guiding the Friends for Life Guild to this day.

“I felt helpless, and it felt good to put energy into something positive,” Dene says. “I never really thought about Seattle Children’s before this happened. People don’t realize what a phenomenal facility it is — you just have no idea until you become immersed in it.”

The guild has two goals: to raise awareness around childhood cancer and to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Their signature fundraiser involves selling handblown glass ornaments and votives inspired by cancer patient ambassadors. These beautiful, lasting keepsakes are shining symbols of these children and the guild’s hope in research. All sales benefit pediatric cancer research at Seattle Children’s. Ambassadors meet with local glass artists who design each ornament using the child’s favorite colors. Each ambassador may be as involved as they wish in promotion and sales of the ornaments — some visit guild events with their families to share their stories.

Natalie was the guild’s first ambassador during her initial cancer treatment. Unfortunately, she relapsed 18 months later and had to undergo full-body radiation, chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Now 22 and cancer-free, Natalie graduated with an English degree from Georgetown University in May and plans to attend medical school. Though her health is generally good, she has regular scans to check for everything from heart damage to secondary cancers. This is why the Friends for Life Guild champions cancer treatments like immunotherapy, which minimize lasting side effects.

“Natalie has to be monitored for the rest of her life for the long-term side effects of radiation and chemotherapy,” Dene says. “She’s doing fantastic, but there’s real trauma that comes with this type of treatment, and many children experience significant damage.” Natalie’s medical journey did have one positive side effect though: It fueled her desire to become a doctor.

“I want to combine my love of writing with my motivation to work in pediatrics to research cures for childhood diseases,” Natalie says. “Writing helps me cope with living in a world where kids have cancer.”

This year marks the guild’s 15th anniversary. Its 25 members are busy reaching out to businesses to purchase ornaments and votives as customer and employee gifts. “The hope is in the research” remains truer than ever as science slowly makes gains on childhood cancer.

Purchase Your Ornament to Support Cancer Research

Ornament created in memory of Danica Taylor.This year’s ornaments and votives were created in memory of Danica Taylor. Read her story here. Friends for Life Guild’s glass creations make great gifts. Buy yours here starting Oct. 1 and support childhood cancer research.