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Mothers Form Support Group To Help Families Cope With Childhood Cancer

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RALEIGH — If your child had cancer, would you deal with it and then put it behind you or let it inspire you to help others? Two Triangle women have made it their mission to help families in need.

Sherry Oakley and Claire Wilson share a unique bond and friendship.

The women met five years ago at

UNC Hospitals

, where Oakley's 5-year-old son, Jordan, and Wilson's 7-year-old son, Christopher, were being treated for

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma


Jordan and Christopher also became friends.

"They were a couple of years apart in age, but they shared some common interests -- cars, trucks, NASCAR," says Oakley.

The boys also shared the rigors of chemotherapy, long hospital stays and, eventually, remission.

As Jordan and Christopher got better, their mothers started the Tarheel Angels Foundation, a support group for parents whose children have cancer.

"We wanted a chance to give back to a place that has done so much and to be able to help other families, because it's an experience you don't understand until you've been through it," says Oakley.

However, as Jordan got stronger, Christopher got sick again. In need of a bone marrow transplant, Christopher never fully recovered. He lost his four-year battle with cancer in May.

After Christopher's death, Wilson considered leaving Tarheel Angels, but stayed in honor of her brave son.

"I'd like to just go crawl in a hole and not come out, but realistically, I know life must go on," she says.

Even as the Oakleys watch Jordan soar through childhood, they know how quickly it can all be taken away.

"One thing that's missing that I wish we had was a guarantee," says Oakley. "Seventy to 80 percent is good. As a parent I'd like to see 100 percent."

Tarheel Angels meets regularly at UNC, helping families and raising money for cancer research. Part of the group's mission is to help fund a fellowship at the N.C. Children's Hospital.

The group also provides bags which contain toothbrushes, combs and other items families need when a routine trip to the doctor becomes a lengthy hospital stay.

Tarheel Angels is also therapeutic for Oakley and Wilson, two mothers who endured the same life-changing experience with two very different outcomes.


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