Blogging for a Cure: Robert’s Snow and David Macaulay

October 22, 2007 @ 12:08 am | Filed under: , , ,

"There are things I think people have a need to know . . . I want them
to look around more — to pay attention to the world around them, to
take an extra moment to look at things, to think about things."

—David Macauley

Ten and a half years ago, when our 21-month-old daughter was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Scott and I were told to be thankful it was ALL and not some other kind of cancer. We were thankful, strange as it was to feel glad about anything related to a cancer diagnosis. We knew that the prognosis was better for kids with ALL than with other types of cancer.

But we were a full week into treatment before we found out how very good the prognosis actually was. Jane had started the week with two complete blood exchanges, purging her body of all the cancerous white blood cells that had escaped her bone marrow and were coursing through her tiny veins. She had made it through the first terrible week of chemotherapy—the fevers, the vomiting, the countless needle sticks. One week down, years to go. The head of the hem/onc department came in to meet us, and he asked us, rather professorially, what our goal was with Jane’s treatment.

"Remission?" I asked. He smiled in obvious amusement.

"Yes, of course," he said, shrugging. "We will get her into remission, and very soon. But that is just the beginning. Our goal is to keep her in remission. Our goal is a cure."

Scott and I stared at him. I started to cry. A week earlier, during the nightmarish hour between leaving our pediatrician’s office and arriving, per his urgent instructions, at the children’s hospital emergency room, we had swung by our apartment to restock the diaper bag. On the way out the door, I had grabbed an old (but not that old) medical reference book we happened to have on the shelf. In the car I read aloud to Scott in horror. If the pediatrician was right, if the baby had leukemia, the best-case scenario, according to this tome, was a five-to-seven-year survival rate.

Until that moment when the Chief Oncologist said the word "cure," Scott and I had believed our best hope at the end of putting Jane through the torture of chemotherapy was that she would live to see her ninth birthday.

"I didn’t know," I croaked. "I didn’t know there was a cure for cancer."

"For this kind, there is," said the doctor.

We all know that ALL is but one of the many, many kinds of cancer. The treatment—the cure—doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for a lot of people, especially children. Ten years later, Jane is still in remission and spilling joy everywhere she goes. If you find joy on this blog, she is a large part of the reason why. I threw that old medical reference book in the trash long ago, because the hard work of doctors and researchers, and the courage of patients who came before my Jane, had rendered its somber pronouncements inaccurate.

At the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, researchers are working on more, and better, cures. This research is paid for by the Jimmy Fund, named after a 12-year-old cancer patient who made a radio appeal in 1948 that brought in some $200,000 in funding for research that first year. Jimmy, like Jane, survived his cancer. It’s possible that Jane survived because of breakthroughs in chemotherapy protocols developed by the doctors at Dana-Farber—I don’t have any idea who all the people were whose work saved my daughter’s life. I only know that I am thankful to the very marrow of my bones. And hers.

Children’s book illustrator Grace Lin wrote a picture book called Robert’s Snow during her husband’s fight against bone cancer. Robert Mercer was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma just months after he and Grace were married. Grace tells the story on the Robert’s Snow site:

Nine months later, Robert was declared cancer-free. "Robert’s Snow"
was accepted for publication. We felt that our good luck had finally
arrived. But, in March 2004, Robert’s cancer returned. We were
devastated. Our doctor told us that Robert’s best chance for long-term
survival was a breakthrough in cancer research.

So we decided to help the doctors the best we could. Because
"Robert’s Snow" had meant so much to us the first time, we decided to
use it as an inspiration for a fundraiser. We recruited children’s book
artists to paint wooden snowflakes and auctioned them off — the
proceeds going to cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The response was tremendous. "Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure" snowballed greater than we ever dreamed.

I am grieved to say that Robert Mercer passed away this summer. But Robert’s Snow lives on. To date, the Robert’s Snow snowflake auctions have raised over $200,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year’s auctions will begin in November, and you can bid on a stunning array of snowflakes illustrated by some of the most talented artists in children’s books.

Starting last week, bloggers all over the kidlitosphere joined in an effort to spread awareness of the upcoming Robert’s Snow auctions. Encouraged by Jules and Eisha of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, who dreamed up the "Blogging for a Cure" event, dozens of bloggers are featuring snowflakes by some of the participating illustrators. There are many, many more snowflakes being auctioned in addition to the ones you will see in these posts. I encourage you to go explore the auction site and feast your eyes on all these beautiful pieces of art.

Here is one of them. What an honor it is to be able to feature David Macaulay’s snowflake here at Bonny Glen. I mean, David Macaulay! Caldecott winner! Author of The Way Things Work! The man who taught Jane what a laser is, and how parking meters work, and what is the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion!

David Macaulay painted a snowflake for the Robert’s Snow auction. Here it is, front and back, reproduced here with permission:


Don’t you love that sweet, pensive face?

Ten years ago, when Jane was diagnosed, David Macauley’s books already had pride of place on our living room shelf. I first saw The Way Things Work in the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school. I bought a copy with my employee discount. I hoped to have children one day, lots of them, and I knew they’d want to know how stuff worked.

Now here it is 2007 and I’ve got those children, a lot of them!, and they are indeed full of ‘satiable curtiosities. David Macauley’s books have helped show them the world. Sit down with one of his black-and-white "Building Books" masterpieces, and you’re likely to spend the whole rest of the day immersed in the details of another corner of the world. Here are some of the books he wrote and illustrated, a homeschooler’s dream library:

City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction

Cathedral    Mill   Pyramid

He also wrote the Caldecott winner Black and White, a stunner of a picture book, as well as the charming Angelo.

There will be three rounds of snowflake auctions, beginning November 19th. If you’d like to see David Macauley’s snowflake hanging on your Christmas tree or in your winter window, it will be sold in the second auction, which starts on November 26th. (Trivia time: one of the other snowflakes in that auction was made by the illustrator of one of my books. Do you know who?)

Many thanks to Mr. Macaulay and all the illustrators who donated these gorgeous works of art for the Robert’s Snow auction, to Grace Lin for founding the event (view her own snowflake here), and to Jules and Eisha for organizing the Blogging for a Cure effort. And many, many thanks to the folks of the Dana-Farber Institute for continuing to work toward cures for other people like Jane.

Here are the rest of this week’s Blogging for a Cure snowflake features (thank you, Tricia and Jen, for the list!):

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

Related links:

Blogging for a Cure page at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

David Macauley page at Houghton Mifflin.

Robert’s Snow main page.

Main auction page.

David Macauley’s snowflake auction page.

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19 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Jules says:

    Wow wow wow, Melissa! This is such a beautifully-written piece. Thank you. What an amazing, powerful story. I am so glad your story has a happy ending and that Jane has been in remission so long.

    And the feature of Macaulay is so well-done. And the entire post is well-crafted and detail-oriented. Thank you so much for participating and giving us a heartfelt, personal story, too. That snowflake is great!

    Jules (reading this a bit early!)

  2. Kris Bordessa says:

    Melissa, what a beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing so openly your own happy ending cancer story. It’s inspirational – I wish that all parents who had to face those first few days of panic after diagnosis could read this and know the joy that Jane has brought to your family, and the potential for successful treatment of ALL. I know there are many, many families who have had similar experiences, but I doubt many of them could put it into words as you have.

  3. Jen Robinson says:

    Ditto what Jules and Kris said, Lissa. Thanks for such a personal and thoughtful piece – I’m so glad that Jane’s story has turned out so well.

  4. Liz in Ink says:

    Oh, I am so moved. This is a beautiful post — and a really great snowflake — and, once again, puts it all in perspective…

  5. TadMack says:

    I’m so glad to read of yet another happy ending. What a blessing – and what a gorgeous snowflake! I love the face, and the lines on the back go so well… Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Susan T. says:

    Melissa, how nice to read of your story with the happy ending.

  7. Susan T. says:

    Melissa, how nice to read of your story with the happy ending.

  8. Sheri says:

    What a touching story. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Beck says:

    This made me cry. I’m so, so glad your child is healthy now.

  10. CityMom says:

    I remember that we were also told to be thankful that my brother’s lymphoma was diagnosed as Hodgkins, and how quickly it became clear that the treatments were going to work for him, he was so sick from the cancer that even with chemo side effects he was improving daily once he started treatment.

    While I know that it is not a zero-sum game, I also remember feeling somewhat guilty, thinking that probably someone else was learning that the lymphoma they had was a non-Hodgkins form that was unlikely to respond to treatment.

    On the other hand, this summer my aunt died of melanoma, a cancer which I used to think just meant having a little peice of skin cut out and which, as we learned, has almost no successful treatment if that first surgery does not do the trick.

    Thanks for your attention to this cause, as you make clear there is progress being made and that progress is really affecting lives and families. Thanks to all of the artists who are participating in helping to save lives.

  11. Tricia says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It makes this whole blogging effort that much more important. I just love the snowflake he created. I continue to be amazed by the creativity and talent of all the illustrators.

  12. Tricia says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It makes this whole blogging effort that much more important. I just love the snowflake he created. I continue to be amazed by the creativity and talent of all the illustrators.

  13. MsMac says:

    So beautifully written. What a wonderful snowflake.

  14. Camille says:

    Your personal experience brings a whole new dimension to this effort. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  15. vivian says:

    Thank you for sharing your family’s story of pain, hope and survival. Absolutely beautiful. Your daughter must be an incredible fighter and have a strong spirit. Here’s to continued blessings.

  16. Vincent Keunen says:

    Hello Melissa,

    A short note from the other side of the world (Belgium, just North of France). I read your post with much interest. To let you know about our family’s story: I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia this March but am cured with a very effective new medication called “Glivec” (or Gleevec). My son Pierre (10 years) was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma just 3 months later… He is today starting high dose chemo here in Liege, where we live. He has a blog (French speaking) at The reason for my message is the following: 2 weeks ago came out a new, excellent book from a well known doctor here in France/Belgium: David Servan-Schreiber. This book describes very simply what can be done to protect ourselves and our children from cancer. It’s very clearly written and uses many recent scientific discoveries. The book is called “Anti-cancer” (see and is currently in French, but I suppose it will be translated to English pretty soon (web site: It’s an excellent read and a life-changing, life-saving book to me. (I have no affiliations with the author!). Good luck. Vincent

  17. Mary Lee says:

    Gorgeous snowflake and wonderful story — makes me tear up every time you write about it. So glad there’s one happy ending out there in the world!

  18. cloudscome says:

    What a lovely post… spilling joy all over! Thank you for giving us your happy ending. Fabulous snowflake too!

  19. Meredith from Merchant Ships says:

    Thank you for sharing Jane’s story–and Robert’s.

    You writers and illustrators are amazing people!