Wake Weekly Nov 2007

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Article printed in The Wake Weekly, Wake Forest, NC, Thurs, Nov 1, 2007, page 6A, BY EREN TATARAGASI, Wake Weekly Staff Writer]

Son's death inspires mom to help others

When a blonde, brown-eyed 3-year-old passed away in June after a taxing battle with cancer, his mother wondered where and how to focus her energy.

And now, four months after the death of Nathan Naas, his mother Leigh Anne has started the NathanCan Foundation, supporting brain cancer research and providing support for families with chronically ill patients.

The idea for a nonprofit came to Leigh Anne in August while she was giving blood at Heritage Baptist Church. "Blood drives are a huge deal because it was so important for (Nathan) to get transfusions," Leigh Anne said. "When you're on the receiving end, you understand how important it is. I got really jazzed up at the blood drive."

The NathanCan Foundation will raise money year-round to sponsor blood drives, Duke's Angels Among Us and the National Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Money raised from fundraisers will also go to local families caring for a loved one suffering a chronic illness. "The biggest contribution the organization will make is to the community," Leigh Anne said.

The support NathanCan gives to families will not be monetary, but will help take care of everyday tasks families don't have time for when caring for their ailing family member. "These are things people did for us that was so helpful," Leigh Anne said. "Lawn care, housecleaning, laundry service, meals, paper goods.... Not every family has the community support we had.

"We'll contract with the business and they'll bill us instead of sending the families a check.

"That stuff was huge. The thing that meant the most to us was the community help because it allowed us to focus on the emotional and practical issues and the rest of life was taken care of for us."

The foundation's web site, www.nathancan.org will offer resources for families and tips on how to ask others for help. There will also be contact information so families can get in direct touch with the foundation members. Right now, the organization is in need of monetary donations to get its projects off the ground.

The first fundraiser is Tuesday, Nov. 13, at Old Chicago restaurant in Wake Forest. A percentage of the night's proceeds from 4-10 p.m. will go to NathanCan. NathanCan's 501(c)3 nonprofit status will be confirmed the first week of November, so all donations are tax-deductible.

And between now and spring, Leigh Anne wants the foundation to have one fundraiser each month. "This is a lot to take on, but Nathan was such a generous person it feels like doing a lot is the right thing to do," Leigh Anne said.

"At Christmas, we were in the hospital for about three weeks. The hospital staff was great and made Christmas special, but Nathan really enjoyed it and didn't want to leave. So we'd tell him, ‘We have a tree and presents at home for you' and he still just didn't want to leave.

"So finally I told him someone else needed the bed and he, said "OK" Nothing else worked but that. "And he was 3 and that generous - it just shocked me.

"So in this case, I think doing too much is the right thing to do."

Nathan's story

On June 12, 2006, Nathan Naas celebrated his third birthday. On June 30, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Nathan underwent surgery the very next morning to remove the tumor, the size of two walnuts. The tumor, a metastatic anaplastic meduloblastoma, was on his cerebellum, which affects balance and many other motor skills.

The tumor was aggressive and had spread very quickly all over Nathan's brain. Aggressive radiation treatment was the family's only option immediately following surgery. After six weeks of radiation, Nathan had six weeks of healing time scheduled before his chemotherapy began. Nathan finished his last round of chemo in January.

Doctors told Nathan's parents, Leigh Anne and Aaron, if the tumor didn't come back in two or three years, it wouldn't come back at all. This type of tumor is so aggressive that if it's going to return, it will come back sooner rather than later. But his cancer did come back in April and Nathan lost his fight this summer, just shy of his fourth birthday.

Aaron and Leigh Anne have one other son, who is in preschool.