Cancer Doesn’t Define Me, and 2020 Won’t Define Us

By Elizabeth Weidner January 06, 2021

I’ve proudly recited the 4‑H pledge since I was 9 years old. But, much of my 4‑H experience has been unconventional.

I’ve attended virtual 4‑H meetings before “Zoom” became a household name; completed fair projects from the St. Louis Children’s Hospital while waiting for a bone marrow transplant; attended conferences and helped judge fair projects from my hospital room;  and wrote legislators regarding important health and agricultural issues while recovering in my bed at home.

For the past five years, I’ve spent much of my life in and out of hospitals undergoing treatment for stage IV High Risk Neuroblastoma cancer. I’ll never forget how difficult that first hospital stay was. Not only was my family still reeling from the cancer diagnosis, but we didn’t have any basic supplies for a lengthy hospital stay. Who thinks about toothbrushes when you’re just trying to wrap your mind around chemotherapy? Who remembers to pack snacks when confronted with their child’s serious illness?

But that experience got me thinking…Other families must be dealing with this, too. Could I make their days and nights a little more comfortable so they can focus on healing…and on just spending precious time with each other?

4‑H taught me many things, but most of all it taught me the importance of contributing to my community. It inspires us to be leaders when we’re called to serve. And that’s what I needed to do. I needed to turn my experience with pediatric cancer into a platform of awareness, advocacy and compassion.

In 2017, I took initiative and formed my platform, “Crowns Fight Cancer,” shortly after being crowned Jr. Miss Effingham County Fair Queen. I knew in that moment – when my name echoed over the loudspeaker – that it wasn’t about me, but rather every kid stuck in a hospital whose voice couldn’t be heard. So, I started advocating for childhood cancer research, awareness, and funding with a passion. I traveled to Washington, D.C. multiple times to speak with congressional leaders, I’ve been a guest speaker at CureFest, met with the FDA about issues affecting pediatric oncology patients, and was featured in an award-winning docu-series about pediatric cancer.

During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, I’m beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to bless other families going through their own harrowing cancer journeys. I organize supply drives collecting toiletries and snacks to donate to St. Louis and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospitals and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Using my 4‑H leadership skills, I’ve partner with local businesses, civic organizations, 4‑H clubs, area schools, and the media to promote this initiative which has – to date – provided families with more than 60,000 essential items. This project is something I am incredibly proud of, and I am excited to see how it will continue to grow.

One thing I love about 4‑H is how much it embraces diversity and people of all abilities. There’s no one way to be a 4‑H’er. With each passing year, I’ve gained a broader skill set, expanded my knowledge, and increased my beneficial contributions to society. Throughout my battle with cancer, I’ve felt empowered and supported by my 4‑H community which, in turn, has allowed me to empower and support others.

Participating in 4‑H truly changed the course of my life and equipped me for the future – inspiring my dream to become a Pediatric Oncology Nurse. The hands-on projects I’ve participated in helped grow my confidence and develop my independence and strength. As a nurse, I will be able to take what I’ve learned in 4‑H and directly apply it on an oncology floor – enriching the lives I touch and teaching pediatric patients the power of resilience.

Cancer is part of my story, but it doesn’t define me. 4‑H continues to be the reason for some of my best days, and helps me through some of my most challenging ones. And after a year like 2020, millions of kids need that support, too. This difficult year is always going to be part of our story, but it doesn’t have to dictate our future. I believe 4‑H is what kids need most right now.

If there’s a kid in your life, introduce them to 4‑H. It can change the course of their future in remarkable ways.

Elizabeth Weidner
Illinois 4‑H
2021 4‑H Youth in Action Civic Engagement Pillar Winner

Thank you to our 2021 4‑H Youth in Action Civic Engagement Pillar sponsor, Allstate.