Congratulations to Emily Pierce, one of our 2017 Wonder Women
At first, the doctors thought it was a “cold in the joints.”
Nearly nine years ago, Emily Pierce, now 37, was on a field trip with her then-five-year-old daughter, Morgan.
“She had pain in her hip on her first field trip to MOSI,” Pierce said. “Her hip hurt so bad she said she couldn’t walk. I had to carry her.”
It wasn’t a cold. Numerous doctors visits and tests later, Pierce and her family found out Morgan had neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that usually has fewer than 20,000 cases a year in the U.S. It’s most commonly found in children 18 and under.
“You don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to think,” Pierce said. “We’re still trying to make sense of it. It was very, very challenging.”
The family dynamic changed. Pierce had to leave her job at a pre-school. Her husband had to take on more work at his job doing welding and maintenance with Mosaic. Her older daughter, Allison, couldn’t play with her little sister as much. New questions arose like how to treat the illness and where to treat it, eventually deciding New York’s Sloan Kettering was the best place for Morgan. Then they had to pay for it.
“We researched. We immersed ourselves in research,” Pierce said. “We called everywhere, even as far as Germany. We decided on Sloan Kettering because the computer didn’t decide the therapy. For us, that was the best thing to do for Morgan. We had no idea how we were going to get to New York. “
That’s when Plant City stepped up. There were yard sales, bake sales and all manner of fundraisers to help the Pierces get the treatment her family needed. Nine years later, they are still fighting, but Pierce, knowing firsthand the financial strain a cancer diagnosis can place on a family, does all she can to bring a little more stability to families battling childhood cancer.
"Never stop working toward your goal and if you meet that goal create a new one and don’t stop working until you reach it and so on.”
“Plant City came together,” Pierce said. “That’s what sparked my fundraising. The way people banded together to help us, I knew there were people who wanted to give. I decided in my spare time, I could connect those who want to give and those they could give to.”
Today, Pierce is the executive vice president of the Florida Chapter of Jensen’s Heart of Gold, a charity that provides financial assistance to families battling childhood cancer.
Pierce has participated in countless fundraisers since 2009, many of which helped fund research, before joining Heart of Gold six years ago. Heart of Gold’s focus, however, is more about the family.
Pierce remembers what it was like trying to apply for hardship assistance, digging through the tax paperwork, pulling electric bills, the tedious applications. It was another stressor in an already complicated life. She also remembers her neighbors coming together in the early days of their battle and pooling cash. They told her husband it wasn’t for plane tickets or bills. It was to do something fun for the family.
Now, she pays that sentiment forward. Heart of Gold only has two questions for qualification: Do you live in Central Florida and are you a child with cancer? The money they give can be used for anything the family needs. In some cases, Pierce’s work has helped save Christmas for cancer families.
“There are lots of rules that go with available hardship funds,” Pierce said. “I don’t want there to be any stipulations. If you have a kid with cancer and you live in Central Florida, Jensen’s will give you money. It’s for making memories. It’s for whatever you need. It means a lot to me to do this…I think I’m doing what anybody else would do. I think there’s 20 moms right around us that would do the same thing. I pray that they don’t have to do it, but I think I’m like any other mom fighting for her kid and other kids like hers.”