The Power of a Thank You

We are living in a world now where the anonymous donor is admired. All the random acts of kindness being done around the world and shared on social media are exploding. I personally love them and love doing them too. ISF has organized days of RAoK in Isabella’s name and they are such inspiring days to be a part of. I also love when we are able to help out families in times of need by paying mortgages in an effort to offer a little relief during hard times. No thank you necessary – we don’t need one from you. Our society is being taught that asking for a thank you is selfish and is only needed to boost one’s ego. Just do nice things because you can – and go on your way.

I have to say I’m a firm believer in this. I’m not waiting at my mailbox for a thank you note for a birthday gift and I’m not waiting in my kitchen for my family to thank me for cooking dinner. It’s not necessary for me and I didn’t think it was important, until someone thanked me.

We flew in on Thursday afternoon. I remember looking out my airplane window and saying, “It’s all white down there.” Grand Rapids was draped in snow and it sent chills down my body just looking at it. All I wanted to do was get in and out of this town as quickly as possible. I need to get pictures for social media to show where exactly our largest donation was being sent. We needed to do some hand shaking, introductions and hear more about what was going on in this snowy town. My expectations weren’t too high honestly. It was just another hospital visit.

The gratitude came in a little wave at first. I went for the handshake, and she went for the hug. It wasn’t a cold doctor hug; it was a real one – that honestly startled me a bit. We were treated to dinner with members of her staff and I could see the excitement in their eyes. We could ask anything we wanted and no conversation was off limits. The money we gave was turned around quickly and children were already on the trial and doing well. So well in fact that an iPhone came out at the table showing brain lesions of a current patient from a scan. Flip to the next picture and the brain lesions are gone. We heard words like cure, survival, collaboration and success. I left the dinner energized and wanting more, and that is just what we got.

The next day at the hospital was overwhelming. There was a crowd of employees waiting for us in the lobby who all wanted to shake our hands and say thank you. I know they were busy, but they stopped what they were doing to make sure they made us feel special. They honored our daughter and spoke of her as if they knew her. They talked about how thankful families of children battling cancer are to the work we do. Children will live longer and better lives because of our donation. Thank you from the doctors, the employees, the families, the children who are fighting and the ones being diagnosed tomorrow.

This whole experience got to me. I never thought I needed or wanted a thank you until I got one. It filled a bucket inside of me that I didn’t know needed to be filled. It made me feel like all the hours, days and weeks that we all spend doing this, was in fact making a difference. It wasn’t just checks in the mail and social media postings, it became something different. These people were honored to receive our hard earned donation and the smiles on their faces told that story.

Our tour through the facility continued much like the early morning greeting. Employees stopped what that were doing and got out of their chairs to come thank us and tell us how important this money was to them. I can’t tell you how many times we were thanked. Oddly, it was the first time I allowed myself to feel proud of the work we were doing. It also felt somehow different this time in terms of Isabella. This was not a business making a donation, this felt like a gift I was giving for the first time in her honor. It changed everything for me and it was all due to a thank you.

I wanted so badly for my employees, the members of the board, and everyone who has ever supported ISF to be there with us. It wasn’t Stuart and I that deserved that day of thanks. We never would have received these words without all of you. You all do it out of the kindness of your heart, not because you have a child fighting who needs the cure – you do it because you are amazing people. I’m so honored to know people like you and hope and pray that I am able to show you how thankful I am to you for helping us fund these treatments. I should be the one getting out of my seat and stopping what I’m doing to shake your hand and say thank you when I see you. I want you all to feel what I felt in Grand Rapids a couple of weeks ago. I want you to know that I’m humbled by your generosity and support. I’m grateful to you all for everything you do and hope that you are as excited as I am about where we are going and what we can accomplish, because of you.

I can only hope you feel cherished and thanked for all you do for ISF. It means the world to me.

Thank you all so very very much.




Who Would She Be…

How am I old enough to have an 11 year old? I’m way too young to have a pre-teen in the house, right? It’s hard to believe that she would be going into middle school next year. That can’t be right.

At a Super Bowl party, we found ourselves at a house that was celebrating an 11th birthday. Their daughter was a friend of Isabella’s and she was as tall as me. I found myself looking at her and thinking, would Isabella have been that tall? Every time I’m around Isabella’s friends I catch myself asking so many questions to the parents.

“What kind of things is she into?”

“What kind of music does she like?”

“Is she into boys yet?”

“Are her hormones kicking in?”


I must sound so interested in their child, but the truth is… I’m just interested in mine. Even this morning I found myself Googling, “What are 11 year old girls into?”. I’m sure this put me on a flagged list with the Government, but really I just want to know.

Grant looks like Stuart. Sophia is a weird mix of us both. But, Isabella would have been me. I crave a vision of what she would look like next to me. Our brown hair would match (if I was currently a brunette), our noses and ears would match – all the way down to our tiny skinny fingers. A mini me if you will, but 24 years younger. Would we fight like cats and dogs, but still enjoy kitchen dance parties when no one was looking? Would we get our nails done together and talk about the drama of her girlfriends or what boy she likes? Would I tell her that she is not going to school looking that way? I’m sure we would have the clothing fights. Would she be smart? Would she be pretty? Would she be wearing braces right now? I will never know.

All I want is answers. I go to bed praying that my 11 year-old daughter will come to me and give me the answers I crave. But instead, I still have nightmares. Just a couple of weeks ago I woke up sobbing. I finally was granted a dream about her, but in my dream she and I were laying in a hospital bed. We were being pushed up and down toy aisles. She laid there on my chest and looked at all the toys that she couldn’t play with. We went up and down each aisle until we came to a room that had a beautiful bed in it. My aunts were making the bed for us. It was the bed we were going to move to where she would die. I was sobbing so loudly that I woke Stuart next to me that night. These are the only times she gets to be in my life – and they are nightmares.

I should be fighting with her in my kitchen, or taking her shopping to buy her the latest cool pair of shoes. I should be driving her and her friends to the movies and listening to them sing at the top of their lungs. I’m sure she would be on her phone constantly and I would lose sleep at night hoping she is not on SnapChat with some boy. But none of this is happening in my life.

My days are filled with chasing Sophia around or watching Grant and his buddies throw the football around the yard. I’m engulfed in the Foundation because it’s my only connection to her that isn’t in the form of nightmares. It’s become my life’s mission to carry her on through the Foundation and hope that what we do has an impact that may even remotely come close to the impact she would have made in my life if she was still alive. My hope is that the work we are doing with the Foundation allows some other mother to fight with her daughter over what she is wearing or take her to get a mani/pedi on her 11th birthday.

Someone should be able to do it, even if it isn’t me

-Isabella’s Mommy

Give the gift of life through a donation to honor Isabella in this special way and help kids fighting today!


IMG_1110Isabella Joanne Santos

March 9, 2005 – June 28, 2012

Cancer Messed with the Wrong Kid

Cancer Messed with the Wrong Kid…


Isabella’s Dream Team is an endurance running program that raises money for The Isabella Santos Foundation (ISF), while training for half and full marathons. ISF is a local Charlotte non-profit charity that raises money for Neuroblastoma research, as well as, supporting our community.

Our goal is to connect people to Isabella and her story, but, unfortunately, her story is just one of many. On average, 163 U.S. children will lose their battle with cancer each month. Did you know that childhood cancer receives less than 4% government funding for research?

Children in the richest nation, with the highest standard of living, the greatest world power, the country that went to the moon, has to rely on lemonade stands, cookie sales, parents shaving their heads and running marathons all to raise money to the stop the #1 killer of our children.

I’ve always believed that you should fight for good causes because you should – it’s what you do. If you can make a difference, do it.” – Kelly C. {Isabella’s Dream Team in 2015}

We continue to be a volunteer based grassroots effort, and look to grow our impact locally and expand into other communities. We are currently recruiting runners and run walkers to join our passionate team in Charlotte and surrounding areas. If you are not local to Charlotte, you could join us virtually from your town, select your own race and still be a part of this growing movement.

Our team has experienced tremendous growth over the past two seasons and we do not expect anything less in 2016.

2014: 25 participants raising $34,000
2015: 64 participants raising $113,000
2016: 100 participants raising $150,000 (goal)

The fundraising component is minimal compared to the larger charities that ask you to cover the difference if you do not meet the minimum. We simply ask each participant to fundraise at least $500, but our hope is that each person will fundraise much more than that. We have very awesome incentives that run each month that encourages everyone to raise the bar.

“I’m running because no parent should have to hear the words, ‘we’re out of options’. I’m running because awareness is nothing next to action.” – Andrew M. {Isabella’s Dream Team 2015}

Our target races this year: RnR Savannah (11/5), Charlotte Marathon (11/12), Nashville Marathon (11/12); all races have a half and full option with the Charlotte Marathon having a marathon relay (5 runners: 4-6 miles increments). Last year, we had teammates that ran the NYC Marathon and Route 66 Half Marathon on behalf of our team. This year, one will be running the Marine Corps Marathon. It’s your choice what race you’d like to do, and we could always tweak the training schedule to match your race calendar.

What we provide:

  • Training schedules (half, marathon & marathon relay)
  • Team swag
  • Weekend long runs, weekday run options
  • Socials
  • Camaraderie
  • Motivation


How to join the team?

Cancer does not define who we are, but the way we fight it does. Join the fight.

Fight cancer. Run with us.