Mind & Spirit

Lifting the Spirits of Young Adults with Cancer

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Since its inception nearly six years ago, the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation has fulfilled the wishes of 75 young adults from 17 states. Read about Nikolas Ritschel’s story and find out how to get involved.

Nik’s Home Run is the major fundraising event for the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation (NRF), a charity that serves young adults ages 18 to 24 who are fighting cancer.

Nik’s Home Run is the major fundraising event for the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation (NRF), a charity that serves young adults ages 18 to 24 who are fighting cancer.

For the past six years, Nik’s Home Run 7K Race, 1.5-mile Fun Walk, Virtual Run and Silent Auction has lifted the spirits of young adults with cancer.

Nik’s Home Run is the major fundraising event for the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation (NRF). This small, hometown charity with a national reach is similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for children, but instead serves young adults ages 18 to 24 who are fighting cancer. Wishes include respite family vacations (often to Disney World), unique experiences like swimming with dolphins, and even small but cherished gifts like iPhones. Each wish fulfillment brings lasting memories, hope and renewed energy to young adults and their families as they continue their ongoing, difficult cancer battles.

One mother told NRF, “Thank you for providing us the happiest time in the saddest time of our lives.”

Since its inception nearly six years ago, the foundation has fulfilled the wishes of 75 young adults from 17 states, delivering a total of more than $250,000 worth of fun. Each wish costs about $5,000. The hope at this year’s event, which took place in October, was to raise $75,000 to fulfill 15 new wishes. The event brought in nearly $70,000.

“Although this was short of our goal, it’s a big increase from last year,” says Rockford resident Kelli Ritschel Boehle, founder and executive director of NRF. “We’re very excited to continue in 2018 to provide grants to young adults fighting cancer.”

Ritschel Boehle founded NRF in response to her son’s battle with cancer.

“It all started with my son, Nik, who was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma just before his 18th birthday,” she explains. “Our family was able to go with him on a wonderful Make-A-Wish respite vacation. Nik knew the emotional side of the cancer battle and experienced firsthand the strong, positive difference programs like Make-A-Wish provide.”

Nik’s good friend, Nate, was diagnosed with a similar cancer just months after his 18th birthday, making him ineligible for Make-A-Wish.

“When Nik heard this and discovered similar organizations also end their programs at age 18, he asked me several times to help,” Ritschel Boehle says. “I was too busy supporting his cancer fight to listen. Nik strongly held onto his beliefs. The night before Nik died, he made one more plea by playing a Dave Matthews song. The lyrics say, ‘to change the world, start with one step… however small, the first step is hardest of all.’

“At the time, little did I know it would be Nik’s last request, or that the seed planted by his request would grow into a foundation to fulfill the wishes of young adults fighting cancer.

“Our first step helped Nate, who was from Idaho, with a respite trip to California,” Ritschel Boehle explains. “We next helped Stephanie and William, from Pennsylvania, with family trips to Florida, and then Amanda and Jacob, from Illinois, with respite trips to Disney.”

This important work continues, but only with support from the public.

Funds are raised from the Silent Auction and registration fees for the Race, Fun Walk and Virtual Run. But NRF’s major funding source is from race sponsorships.

At Nik’s Home Run, banners illustrate the unique stories of those served by Nik’s Wish. Participants may dedicate their race to someone special by adding a photo to the Dreaming Tree.

“Cancer attacks these young adults like a thief in the night, robbing them of their hopes and dreams just as they’ve stepped foot into adulthood. There’s never a good time to hear ‘you have cancer,’” Ritschel Boehle says. “It’s especially hard when you’ve just turned 18. Instead of planning your future, you’re fighting for your life. Close friends are now off at college or starting families, but you’re with your parents in a hospital’s pediatric ward having chemo pumped into your veins. Just yesterday you were so excited to finally be out on your own, free of your parents, and today, they are your lifeline. We often hear this when young adult cancer survivors come to us for a Nik’s Wish grant.

“When patients are diagnosed with cancer at this age, the prognosis is typically not as favorable as older patients with other known cancers,” Ritschel Boehle adds. “Most of the Nik’s Wish grant recipients are diagnosed with some sort of Sarcoma. Standard treatment for Sarcoma cancers is strong chemotherapy and radiation to give the patient the best chance for survival.

“Nik’s cancer was called Synovial Sarcoma,” Ritschel Boehle adds. “His tumor wrapped around his spine. Nik underwent surgery to remove the tumor and fuse his spine back together with pins and rods. Immediately following the surgery, Nik underwent seven rounds of chemo and 42 proton radiation treatments.”

Nik’s Wish has grown from just a few dedicated volunteers around a kitchen table to more than 30 people. The foundation is always in need of more volunteers, but it especially needs wish coordinators who can work directly with the young adults and their families to plan, arrange and fulfill their Nik wishes.

“Our handful of wish coordinators are simply amazing,” Ritschel Boehle says. “They work their wizardry to fulfill unique individual wishes, such as Sean’s [diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma] desire to not only see ‘Hamilton’ in New York City, but to actually meet the cast members, which he did.”

If you have the heart for such a rewarding challenge, go to nikolasritschelfoundation.org to learn more about volunteering.

“We’d love to have you join us,” Ritschel Boehle says. “Not only will you positively affect the lives of these cancer warriors and their families in their deepest time of need, but the experience will have a profound, positive effect on your life as well.”

The Nikolas Ritschel Foundation is a public charity exempt from Federal Tax under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

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