Ovarian cancer patient Wanda Waite never knew Kelli Richmond, but her life has been touched by the young woman who lost her very public battle with the disease more than a year ago. Waite was the first recipient of “Birthday Wishes” granted by the Kelli Leigh Richmond Ovarian Cancer Foundation, which was started in May by her parents, Patsy and Ron Richmond.
“Four months ago, I was taking my morning walk,” said Ron Richmond. “That’s when I talk to Kelli. I asked her what to do. She had three birthdays when she was sick, and she cherished each and every one of them. So, I got to thinking we could do something like the Make a Wish for ovarian cancer patients … most don’t live past two years.”
“When you’re in treatment is when you need uplifting the most,” added Patsy Richmond.
The Richmonds came up with Birthday Wishes, which provides a $1,000 grant to an ovarian cancer patient each month.
“We do have an application,” explained Ron Richmond, who’s working with Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge and Woman’s Hospital to locate eligible patients. “The only criteria is you have to currently be under treatment for ovarian cancer, and have you have to contact us before your birthday.
“You’d be surprised how hard it can be to give away money,” he added, with a chuckle.
That first give-away was fairly easy though. Waite manages Ron Richmond’s dentist’s office and her birthday was in October, which worked out perfectly since that’s when things were finally set up to make Birthday Wishes a reality. They made the presentation on Waite’s birthday, Oct. 7.
November’s recipient was young like Kelli, 28-year-old Sarah Sibley, who is now in remission. For December, the Richmonds are making a donation to Woman’s Hospital, where Kelli had her surgeries and most of her care after being diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in October 2009, a few months shy of her 28th birthday.
“Sarah’s in remission because her doctor was able to catch her cancer early,” said Ron Richmond. “Early detection … this is what Kelli preached about all the time.”
Because ovarian cancer typically strikes women 55 or older, Kelli Richmond, who died at age 30 from the disease, made it her mission after her diagnosis to spread the word to women her age to listen to their bodies and be assertive with doctors if necessary. One way she did that was by sharing her journey in The Advocate from hysterectomy and chemotherapy and its after effects to the resection of her colon and removal of several sections of her intestines.
“This has been the most surreal experience ever, but it’s also the most real experience I’ve ever been through,” she said a year into the process. “I look back at the person I was a year ago — that girl sitting here a year ago is almost unrecognizable. I have an outlook on life I wouldn’t wish on anyone else but, wow, what this world would be like if everyone had the perspective of a dying person. I feel like I’ve aged 70 years in a year. I wouldn’t give back the experience for anything. It sucked — it really, really sucked, but so much good came out of it.”
To continue to fund Birthday Wishes, “hopefully to grant two a month,” the foundation’s first fundraiser is in the works. Set for Aug. 16-18, it features a Saturday walk, Sunday dinner and auction and Monday golf tournament. Serving as honorary chairman of the event is Kelli Richmond’s buddy, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri.
Aside from the Birthday Wishes, Patsy and Ron Richmond are still working on getting Kelli’s Kloset operational. Kelli Richmond wanted to start a clothing exchange for women whose weight fluctuates as they undergo treatment for cancer.
“We’re getting there,” said Ron Richmond. “Patsy and I are matching all the money donated up to $12,000, and hopefully we can do that every year. The biggest thing right now is to get the word out about Birthday Wishes.”