FORT VALLEY -- Cindy Gaskins knows very well how important it is for families dealing with cancer to have normal, family fun days while dealing with the disease.
Thats why Gaskins, who founded Jays HOPE six years ago with her husband Jason in honor of their son, Jay, puts together once-a-month family outings for the organization, such as the one held Sunday at Lane Southern Orchards. Jay Gaskins died of pediatric cancer in 2006.
Its an opportunity for families to get together and have something fun to do, she said. Its a fun thing to have social activities, especially with families that are going through the same thing that they are. ... Most families are going through treatment protocols, surgery, doctors appointments -- its overwhelming to their lives. They can have a tough time finding time to be together as a family and have fun.
Sundays event was for 18 families that included nearly 100 people. The families were given a tour of the packing plant by Lanes staff as well as a bag of peaches. Gaskins said Jays HOPE paid for a dinner for the families later in the evening.
Many of the parents and children involved in Sundays event said they draw support from other families going through similar trying times.
Ashley Perez, of Warner Robins, said her son Jose, 9, is currently nine months in remission for bone cancer. But a tumor has caused Jose gastrointestinal and urinary issues that will stay with him for the rest of his life, she said.
Its really important that kids go to these places with other children, she said. They dont think about the treatments and doctors visits (during the outings).
I dont have to feel embarrassed (with the other children), Jose said. Its good. Its real nice.
Carla Stephens lost her 4-year-old son Jamayia in 2009 from brain cancer. Her 10-year-old daughter Carleesia Hinton is currently recovering from treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma. The family is hoping that if her scans are good this week, doctors might take out her port thats used for chemotherapy.
This is a safe haven, Stephens said. You get to be with other people who know what you are going through. Its a great, great organization. Theyve really helped us with our children.
She said she tries to give support as well as receive it from the other families involved with Jays HOPE.
A lot of people tell me I inspire them, she said. I look at Cindy, and shes on call all the time. Shes an inspiration. Shes always looking to help.
Gaskins said the families involved with Jays HOPE are from all across Middle Georgia and get their treatment in Macon, Atlanta and St. Judes Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The children whom the organization serves range in age from preschool to teenagers.
We draw strength from each others stories, Gaskins said.
For more information about Jays HOPE, visit www.jayshope.org.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.