The Tran family gathered around a computer on a Zoom call, talking about bike riding and swimming, is a miracle in and of itself. Just about any normal family activity feels like an incredible blessing for Long and Mary Tran, parents of Rylie, 16; Jordan, 14; Abby, 9; and Tobi, 6.
In 2009, on Rylie’s third birthday, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (Pre-B). While Rylie doesn’t recall much about treatment, her parents do. Even amidst their joy that Rylie beat cancer and is thriving today, remembering the pain and hardship of time in their lives and what Rylie had to endure is emotional.
“I forget what we have been through until I hear families going through it now,” said Mary. “I’ll have flashbacks. I’ve blocked it in my head because it was so traumatic.”
And that was just the beginning. Seven years after Rylie’s diagnosis, she and little sister Abby were playing in the living room when Rylie noticed a lump on Abby’s neck. When the family received the call that Abby, too, had cancer, diagnosed with Ganglioneuroblastoma, Long’s immediate reaction was to say, “No. I can’t do this.”
Long says it was Mary who gave him strength to keep moving forward. The family leaned on the support of friends and family, who even held a concert to help raise funds for the Long family during their girls’ battles with cancer.
In the midst of Rylie’s battle, the Trans knew they wanted to help others on similar journeys. Long remembers thinking Rylie would die and wishing he’d had another parent who’d been in a similar situation to tell him there was hope and that Rylie could survive the unimaginable. The family founded their own nonprofit 13 years ago when Rylie was undergoing treatment. Faith Kids is named after Rylie, whose middle name is Faith, and stands for Fighting Against Illness to Heal Kids. The organization lends support to others in the throes of cancer and helps connect families of newly-diagnosed children with parents who have been in their shoes.
“I tell them exactly what I went through and how I felt, so they can see it may be bad, but there is hope,” said Long. “Treatment is not easy and there’s no roadmap — you just have to navigate it the best you can, one day and one step at a time.”
In addition, Faith Kids helps families whose kids are fighting cancer with bills and housing. They partner with other local charities doing similar work, plan fun activities for families and help families who want to start their own charities in honor or memory of their children. They also help pay for funerals.
“In the last two months, we’ve attended the funerals of six kids we have helped,” said Long. “We get the honor of helping pay for their funerals. This is a community no parent wants to be a part of, we share a bond that no one really wants to share, but we get so invested in these families and it’s very powerful.”
The Tran family also serves as advocates for Children’s Health Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that strives to improve the health of children through support of research, education and clinical care throughout Oklahoma. Previously known as Children’s Hospital Foundation, the organization’s new name reflects its expanded role in improving the health of kids across the state. Children’s Health Foundation named Rylie and Abby the 2022 Champion Children to help raise money to fund pediatric cancer research and help find a cure for childhood cancer.
“The Children’s Health Foundations is part of our village and their fight is our fight,” said Long. “We’ve been through it twice and know the importance of having support. For us to be able to use our story of hope to help fundraise to hopefully find a cure or to help put a smile on a kid’s face who is going through it — we’re going todo whatever it takes to help the cause. We have a duty to give back because we have been loved so much.”
The Trans say they experience some guilt that their girls are thriving when that’s not the case for other kids they’ve gotten to know. Sometimes it feels hard to share their girls’ celebrations or milestones with families who’ve lost kids, but Mary and Long say those parents often want to share those celebrations with them.
“Love on them as much as you can,” advises Mary on supporting parents whose kids have passed away. “Don’t treat them like you feel sorry for them; families don’t want pity.”
The Trans take the love and support they received and pass that to others through Faith Kids’ annual fundraiser, a bowling tournament started by a friend when Rylie was undergoing treatment. This year’s event will be held Oct. 1. The morning session is for families their nonprofits supports to come enjoy some family fun, and the evening session is for the community to help raise funds to continue their work.
“100 percent of what we raise goes back to the community,” said Long.
While it can be a challenge for the Tran family to balance full-time careers, parenting, running a charity and serving Children’s Health Foundation, they collectively feel they have a duty to the families who don’t get to watch their kids grow up.
“They get to be normal kids, and a lot of other kids don’t,” said Long of Rylie and Abby. “My wife and I feel like we’re the lucky ones. Our story has a happy ending.”
Learn more about supporting local families whose children are battling cancer through Faith Kids at faithkids10.org. Learn more about supporting pediatric cancer research, education and clinical care through Children’s Health Foundation at chfkids.com.