By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
She is a motivational speaker.
She serves as a spokesperson.
She spearheads local projects.
And she still finds time to be a student, maintain good grades, enjoy dancing, run track and even attend religion class.
Such is the life of Elizabeth Weidner, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Teutopolis Junior High School.
And, yes, she is a cancer patient, dealing with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma.
Elizabeth, the daughter of Matt and Jennifer Weidner, is not your typical teenager. The disease has forced her to deal with challenges that, quite honestly, 14-year-olds shouldn’t have to deal with. There have been treatments, pills, hospital stays and a multitude of bad, bad days.
But she doesn’t sulk or feel sorry for herself. That’s not Elizabeth’s style.
Instead, she maintains a positive outlook, stays active, looks for ways to help others and remains absolutely determined to beat this horrible disease.
“After going through so many treatments and being told by everybody how well I was doing, last summer I was told I still had cancer,” Elizabeth recalled. “I died a little inside when I heard that. But I knew I had to get back up and keep fighting. I won’t beat this if I give up.”
Giving up doesn’t appear to be in Elizabeth’s DNA.
She was first diagnosed with cancer January 20, 2016. She has received treatments at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. It was difficult hearing she still had cancer, but at least the disease hadn’t gotten worse. It has been maintained for the past year.
Elizabeth is now seeing Dr. Brian Weiss, a Neuroblastoma specialist at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She goes for three-month checkups. She’s not currently receiving treatments, but she still takes about 20 pills a day.
This remarkable young lady, however, is not letting cancer prevent her from making a positive difference.
She has made numerous speaking engagements and been involved with a variety of projects. She was recently involved with a Community Service Project that exceeded all expectations.
“During my time at the hospital in St. Louis, we had to make several trips to the emergency room,” Elizabeth noted. “Sometimes, we didn’t even have time to take extra clothes or make sure we had our bathroom items. And some of those trips resulted in long stays.”
That experience was the catalyst Elizabeth used to start a drive to collect travel amenities – items like soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, deodorant, razors, lotions and even hot chocolate; the type of items that are normally provided by motels.
She wanted to collect these items and donate them to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Cardinal Glennon — who are both part of the Children’s Miracle Network of Greater St. Louis — so other families wouldn’t have to worry about going out and buying them during their time at the hospital.
She started promoting the project in January and continued it for about six weeks. She didn’t know what to expect, but never expected what followed.
Whether it was fellow students handing her an item or two at school, people bringing a box full or businesses delivering car loads, the response was – as Elizabeth says – amazing.
“We just couldn’t believe it,” Jennifer admitted. “You can’t believe how many vehicle loads of stuff we had in our barn.”
There were several outlets where people could deliver items – Country Haven, Habing Furniture, Teutopolis Village Hall, Premier Broadcasting, St. Thomas School and Farmhouse Consignment in Newton, Dieterich Grade School, St. Joseph School in Olney, Old Mac’s Drive-Thru, A Queen’s Dream Pageant & Prom Wear, University of Illinois Extension office, Bunn Corporation (Springfield), Effingham Sunrise Rotary and all of the Dollar General stores in Effingham County.
The end result was nearly 50,000 items being collected. Heartland Dental donated 2,000 toothbrushes, St. Thomas School delivered another 2,000 items and the Dollar General stores collected enough to fill one truck and 2½ car loads.
Elizabeth said most days she was given enough items at school to fill her backpack.
“We stayed up late multiple nights, trying to get everything sorted,” she remembered. “Our whole family worked together to get everything done on time.”
“It was pretty nuts,” Jennifer added.
“Especially that last night,” Elizabeth continued. “We were trying to fit everything into the boxes we had. It was just crazy.”
That feeling of amazement was rekindled when the Weidner’s made their delivery to St. Louis Children’s Hospital in a trailer donated by DDS-Jason Ruholl. The hospital was expecting to fill a couple carts. They were overwhelmed when the trailed arrived, filled with all those items.
“Is that your trailer?” Elizabeth remembered being asked. “When we opened the doors, they just said ‘Oh my gosh.’ They were amazed.”
“They had no idea of what our communities could do,” Jennifer said. “There’s no way to know everyone that took part, but we thank them all. The response was wonderful.”
The family is still receiving items and will continue to do so. They were unable to get all the items in the first load to the hospital and are planning to make a second delivery sometime this summer.
Even though this project is winding down, Elizabeth is not. She has no plans to slow down.
“After my transplant, I had to spend 100 days in my house,” she said. “Now I try to spend as much time out as possible. I was very active before the disease and I want to keep busy. I want to help people and I want to make a difference.”
One way she is hoping to make a difference is by spreading the message about childhood cancer.
“I definitely care about everyone that has cancer. But my focus is on childhood cancers,” Elizabeth noted. “Did you know that for all the money raised for cancer research, only four percent is designated for childhood cancer? That makes me mad.”
Elizabeth pointed out that 91,250 children die every year from childhood cancer. It’s the No. 1 cause of death for children.
“We need a higher percentage of those funds given for childhood cancer to develop more medicines,” she emphasized. “I want to beat this disease as bad as anyone, so I believe it’s important that people are aware of this and that information is out there.”
She takes every opportunity she has to spread that message. And as the reigning Junior Miss Effingham County Queen, she has been provided several of those opportunities.
“Elizabeth is doing so much,” Jennifer said. “She is actually motivating adults with cancer to not give up. There aren’t many 14-year-olds that can motivate others, but she’s pretty powerful.”
She will have another opportunity when she competes in the Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen Pageant in June. There are 22 contestants in the event that will be held in Marion.
One of Elizabeth’s motivations comes from friends who have passed away due to cancer.
“That certainly motivates me,” she said. “I’m trying to show that even though they have passed, they are not forgotten. Cancer does not define us.
“I do get tired at times, but I don’t like to show it,” Elizabeth added. “There are times I need to rest because I don’t want to go back to the hospital any more than I have to.
“I believe how we act and how we choose to live is very important. And it’s important to me to share this story and help others as much as I can.”