Honoring Isabella 11 Years Later

Every year I say it, but how is that even possible?  So much has happened since 2012 and everything looks so different.  My family, ISF, Levine – everything she knew then, she wouldn’t recognize today.  As each year passes, the pain luckily lessens – although it’s still there if I let it in.  Sometimes it feels like there is so little of her left in the Foundation because the majority of the faces of ISF never met her, they only know of her.  We don’t get to talk about her as much as we once did because there are so many new kids that we are focused on and so many things we are trying to accomplish.  

But then I found myself at an ISF event Monday and she felt more present than she had been in a long time.  

The news highlighted RED as a “First Alert Weather Day” predicting severe storms for our outdoor event.  In 16 years we have never had an event canceled, so we knew we might be due.  We showed up that morning, managing some clouds and wind – only to find ourselves in the middle of the most gorgeous summer day the moment the golf carts hit the paths.  Not a cloud in the sky.  I got to sit and watch the most amazing people come through and play.  Dr. Oesterheld and his team, smiling and wearing accomplishments proudly.  My son, brother, mom, and stepdad are all laughing and loving the day. Massive groups of interns, inspired by what they know of Isabella were onsite to help.  Teams and teams of people who never knew her story until the event but are hopefully changed forever.  It was great.

And then someone walked up and said, what’s the story with this photo?  It’s a photo I hate of myself – like most photos when she was still alive.  I look worn and tired.  She, however, looks happy.  I found myself launching into the details of the day the picture was taken like it was just yesterday.  It was a summer day and everyone her age was at the pool.  But instead, she chose to walk what was once called Time Warner Cable Arena, now Spectrum Center, to collect money for the Ronald McDonald House.  She asked everyone.  If they donated, she was excited to give them a little red heart sticker to wear, which should indicate they have given and not to ask them again for a donation.  But she didn’t care if they were wearing a red heart sticker indicating this – she asked them all.  And all of them donated to her, sometimes multiple times.  I found myself telling this stranger the story so enthusiastically and telling him, days like that were why this foundation was built.  It was just who she was.  She was bound and determined to leave the world in a better place than when she found it, even in these little moments.

Erin and Isabella Santos

She should have been splashing in the pool and playing with her friends – but instead, she chose to spend her day doing this.  She believed that she could make a difference no matter how little the difference was in the grand scheme.  We still believe in doing things this way.  And I think ISF inspires people to feel that way too.  Every single person can inspire change and every single thing you do matters.

It also proves something to me that I needed to remember.  Just when I think she is gone – she gives us the gift of the most beautiful day and the chance to tell her story and inspire people.  There she was… front and center, reminding her Mom that she is still there and always will be.

– Erin Santos, Isabella’s Mom and Founder of ISF



Want To Honor Isabella?

The school year is approaching. Please consider donating money or purchasing school supplies for children with cancer in honor of Isabella. This is a difficult time for children who cannot attend school because of treatment…let’s make this an exciting time for them.

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