When Wisconsin natives Carla and Peter Emanuel began their journey helping cancer patients more than 25-years ago little could they have imagined that they would end up in Little Rock, Arkansas. "Peter was offered the position as Director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Today, this phenomenal research institution is on the verge of being a National Institute of Heath Designated Cancer Center." This distinction is due in large part of the work of the Emanuels who are active lobbyists both on the state and national levels. Peter continues to do research in addition to his role as the institute's director and specializes in leukemia, one of several blood cancers that affect nearly 173,000 people.
Carla regularly volunteers upwards of 40 hours a week at UAMS and works directly with cancer patients and their families or caregivers. This puts her in a unique position to see the everyday needs of these families. After years of emptying out her purse to treat a family to a meal, gathering up donations to fix a patient's vehicle so it can make it to and from the hospital for treatments, or even getting hotel rooms for people traveling from afar, Carla began thinking about ways to help on a larger scale.
The idea for the feather pin came from what can only be described as divine intervention. "I was at a gala event and a man came up to me and rather forcefully asked, 'When will YOU PEOPLE make a pin for men to wear when they have survived cancer?' Well, I was taken aback but said something like, 'That's a great idea. We'll get to work on that.' But really I brushed it aside because people say things like that all the time." Fast forward to a year or so later and Carla and her husband were attending an event in Birmingham, Alabama, and a man came up and again asked when they were going to make a pin for men. "It was erie, he used the exact same words. I turned to Peter and asked if he had seen that man and he didn't but laughed and said, 'Well, I guess you had better get started on that pin.' But soon after we moved to Little Rock and I thought I was off the hook." Not so fast! Carla says that during a formal event she spotted a man who resembled the Birmingham gentleman and he made a beeline through the crowd and right up to Carla. For the third time in just a few years a man asked her when she was going to work on a pin for cancer survivors. Once again, Peter, who had been standing next to Carla in a receiving line, did not see this gentleman. After her third encounter she decided she had better comply. The man has henceforth been nicknamed the Birmingham Angel by Carla's family and friends.
All of the Cancer Survivor Feather products are designed in a gender neutral way and are intended for ALL survivors-- be that the patient, caregiver, family, or friends who endure the cancer process. It is Carla's hope that people will see the pin on others and share their personal stories about how cancer has impacted their lives.
Carla's long term goal is to be able to provide immediate solutions for those she encounters while volunteering. A secondary goal is to share stories and focus on how we are winning this battle in big and small ways; ultimately she would like to use proceeds for something long lasting such as purchasing property near UAMS to build off-site housing for patients and families who need a place to stay and rest after treatments.
When it was time to design the pin Carla contacted with the mother of a childhood friend in Wisconsin. Over the years she had kept up with this woman and on many of her letters and cards she would doodle out a beautiful feather. Carla kept many of these over the years, even framing some.
Gail kicked around several design ideas but the ladies kept coming back to the feather. Gail describes the feather as a battle feather. It has been through a life changing epic battle, just as those who go through cancer as a patient, a caregiver, a family member, or even a friend feels battle scarred by the experience. The feather is also beautiful, just as are those who face cancer with courage and bravery.