This Mom's Toddler's Cancer Diagnosis Led Her to Raise $100K to Support Other Families Battling the Disease

Last year, Danielle Moss' 22-month-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. At the time, Moss was 33 weeks pregnant but she jumped straight into fundraising for families like hers. Here's what she wants other parents to know.

danielle moss and family
Photo: Katie Kett Photography

In May 2020, just two months into the pandemic, Danielle Moss was 33 weeks pregnant with her second child. She had also just found out that her 22-month-old daughter Margot had ALL B Cell Leukemia. "As one might imagine, it was hell," she recalls. "Short of losing a child, this is every parent's worst nightmare."

Moss, who founded lifestyle brand The Everygirl, has documented Margot's journey on her website, but she says she hasn't talked much about what led to her daughter's diagnosis. "Margot's story is personal and so specific to her, so it's something I've decided isn't mine to share," she notes. But she has blogged about the treatment journey, in an effort to hopefully inform and empower other parents in the same way other moms have supported Moss.

Navigating Margot's Cancer Diagnosis

It was after her pediatrician ran labs that Moss and her husband were told Margot is missing a certain type of blood cell, and they needed to go to the ER.

"My heart sunk and the fear took over, but it just had to be something else," she notes.

Between April 4 and May 16, the family saw three doctors and had six appointments. "It just didn't present typically," says Moss. "The ER doctor told me that Margot didn't have any of the signs most children have, and she thought it might be something else. In that moment, I truly believed that with all these doctors' eyes on her, it just had to be something else. I was relieved."

But when the the doctor walked into the room and said "I'm sorry," Moss remembers that her "world went black." "I didn't have to hear anything else," says the mom of two. "I wanted to run, scream, cry, climb the walls—I felt as if I was going crazy, unraveling right then and there. I thought our lives were over, and in a way, they were."

She observes, "The mom and person I was before May 16 is not who I was that night, and the mom I was on May 16 is not who I am today, almost 300 days later."

The family spent two of the following three weeks in the hospital. "At one point, she was septic in the ICU on morphine," says Moss.

Diagnosis, the first 28 days of treatment, and medication refusal—being that the steroids Margot had to take "are very bitter" and "not one dose can be missed"—were extremely difficult, remembers Moss. All the while, they were trying to figure out how to navigate everything in the middle of COVID. And although her second daughter, Kate, is "a dream baby," having a newborn obviously added stress.

"This is a cause I donated to before my baby was diagnosed, but she is not a statistic and this doesn't just happen to other people," says Moss. "She is my baby, and I am one of those people this wasn't supposed to happen to. No one deserves this, but it's impossible to spend time on the oncology floor and not do something about it. I don't say that to scare anyone, but it's the truth."

Working to Support Other Families

It was when Margot was first receiving treatment at the hospital that Moss says she couldn't stop thinking about people who are giving a "worse" diagnosis. "Any cancer is terrible, but Margot's odds are extremely successful," the Chicago-based mom notes.

Both she and her husband, who is a realtor, were able to stop working immediately. "I could not shake how 'lucky' we were to be able to focus on getting our baby through treatment," says Moss. "That should not be a privilege, but sadly, it is. We were able to order food delivery, Starbucks, could afford parking, and pay our bills without worry. Everyone deserves that much, and it is not the case for most."

She also learned that while the drugs that served as part of Margot's treatment plan were very effective, the side effects are "terrifying. "They're getting very toxic, adult drugs," says Moss. "There is so little that goes into funding better drugs for these kids."

That's why, in June, she decided to start a fundraiser page for Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, hoping to raise $10,000. "I did it," says Moss. "Then I thought, 'OK, maybe I'll try for $20K.'" By the end of Margot's frontline treatment, they had raised $85K for the hospital and an additional $15K for Alex's Lemonade Stand, a foundation for childhood cancer.

"I shared our story on social and kept linking to our fundraisers," recalls Moss who also thought to reach out to some of her favorite brands and launch a series of auctions on her blog. Each round raised about $5K.

In August, she reached out to Alice and Wonder, a local Chicago boutique. "We whipped up a T-shirt and sweatshirt collab, donating 20 percent to Lurie," she notes. "Another $5K. It's been incredible—a silver lining for sure."

Moss is currently working on a few more brand partnerships to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand and knows her work is not done.

"Most families in treatment are struggling financially, and that's why I fundraise," she says.

In the meantime, Moss is grateful for how close she and her daughter have become. She notes that a heartwarming moment in the midst of this difficult time has been "watching her strength and ability to communicate her feelings." Moss recalls, "Our friends planned a surprise drive-by parade, and it was such a sweet moment. I cry just thinking about it—there was so much love, but due to the pandemic, we weren't able to get too close or hug anyone. It was very bittersweet."

How You Can Help

Moss encourages anyone who can to donate. "Dollars so needed right now," she says. "I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that out of the billions—yes, billions)—of dollars that go toward funding for cancer, only 4 percent go to children. And childhood cancer is the leading cause of death for children."

A few ways Moss recommends giving:

  • Donate to Alex's Lemonade Stand which funds impactful research, raises awareness, supports families and empowers everyone to help cure childhood cancer.
  • Donate to Lighthouse for Hope, which supports families fighting pediatric cancers.
  • Give to St. Baldrick's, a volunteer and donor powered charity committed to supporting research to find cures for childhood cancers.
  • See if your local hospital has a wish list (for toys or essentials) or an emergency fund to help families.
  • And if you know someone who's been through a diagnosis, learn how you can best support them. (Check out Moss' blog posts for ideas.)
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