Plus, read experiences of moms of children with cancer
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Good morning and happy Monday! As we near the end of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we’re sharing the stories of three moms whose kids have battled or are currently battling cancer. Excerpts of their stories are below, but we encourage you to read them in full on our website.

Also included in this week’s newsletter is coverage from the third annual Flourish Fund event, which gives Des Moines women business owners the opportunity to pitch their next idea for a chance to receive community funding. This year’s winner is Marti Payseur, who is the owner of Thistle’s Summit Bakery.

Have a great week!

Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

You never think it’ll be you, and then it is’: Three mothers of children with cancer share their experiences
Each year, more than 15,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. Roughly 11% of those diagnosed die. Yet research on pediatric cancer remains underfunded – just 4% of the federal budget for cancer research is earmarked for childhood cancer.

Although the issue deserves to be paid attention to all the time, September is designated as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

The Business Record talked with three mothers of pediatric cancer patients – one whose child is a cancer survivor, one whose child died from cancer and one whose child is currently fighting cancer.

The following stories have been formatted to be in their own words and have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Read their full stories on our website.
Jen Storbeck

Jen Storbeck is the mother of Camryn, who was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma in October 2010 and died in April 2014. Every year, the Storbecks host Princess Camryn’s Christmas in July event, where they collect donations and items for Blank Children’s Hospital and Children’s Cancer Connection. She and her family live in Clive.

Camryn will always be 7. She should be almost 15.

She was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma just before her fourth birthday. She was healthy and normal. We had twins in May of 2010 and all of a sudden she started acting strange. The twins were 2 months old and we thought that she was just aching for attention. She didn’t want to walk. We went to doctors for 2½ months before getting a diagnosis.

To find out that we had a cancer diagnosis was shattering. We’d never heard of neuroblastoma. They sent us in for some scans and we checked into the hospital for three days. We came to find out that she had a tumor the size of a gelatinous grapefruit in her stomach that nobody had been able to find.

We had several hospitalizations when they couldn’t get her counts up. The longest time we spent in the hospital was for three weeks straight. I was thankful that there was a Starbucks at the hospital. You lose yourself in so many things when you’re living in a hospital on a regular basis. By the fifth or sixth time staying there, you realize that you definitely don’t need jeans – you need slippers and sweatpants.

Before Camryn was diagnosed, I sold insurance and worked from home. About the time that the twins were born, I started slowing things down a little bit, and after she was diagnosed, I quit my job altogether. So I was basically in charge of taking care of her. It was a full-time job, going back and forth to clinics. We were fortunate in that I could quit my job. My husband is a firefighter for the city of Des Moines and has excellent benefits.

I feel like the twins were raised by our family and friends. Our parents would come and stay with them, our best friends would take them whenever they could. I don’t remember having to do anything other than go on autopilot and do everything I needed to be there for Camryn.

Your whole focus becomes that child. You’re given that child because you’re supposed to take care of them and then you feel like a failure because your child has cancer and you think that you’ve done something wrong. Obviously it’s not your fault. But you think, "What can I do to help? What can I do to make my child better?" As a mom, it was my job to be strong for her, but it was to teach her how to be strong, too.

Lori Cook

Lori Cook is the mother of Kellan, who at 4 years old was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2016. Now 9 years old, Kellan has been cancer-free for two years. They live in Des Moines.

Kellan hadn’t really been sick, per se. He kept complaining of his butt hurting. At first we thought he was constipated. We took him to urgent care and they told us he had perianal strep and something viral. They didn’t do any bloodwork but they did give him antibiotics. He briefly got better but then the symptoms came back. I took him to a different urgent care clinic on July 3. They said the reason he was saying his bottom hurt was because there was pressure from his organs being enlarged.

They told us that we needed to be seen at the hospital. We ended up at the Blank Children’s Hospital emergency room and later that afternoon we were admitted.

I do medical billing for Mercy. I’m definitely not a medical professional but I had picked up on a few things. I would hear the doctors mention hemoglobins and I started to think that it was either some kind of cancer or a kind of blood disorder. That night, the doctor told us he had leukemia.

The next day, they did surgery to put his port in and start chemo. He was in the hospital for four or five days. It was completely overwhelming. The first six months were the hardest and most intense.

At the beginning, I was not taking care of myself very well. My gums were bleeding and my fingernails started to peel apart. I would sometimes get a rash all over from stress. I was too focused on making sure Kellan was OK and not taking care of myself as well as I should. After that six-month period, it got better. In a weird way, I was getting used to the routine of everything.

I had a hard time talking to people about it without bursting into tears. I cried in so many places – even when going to the pharmacy. After a while, I could explain what was happening without completely losing it. Thankfully I had a lot of good support from family and friends.

Dawn Popelka

Dawn Popelka is the mother of Austin, 4, who was diagnosed with Wilms tumor earlier this year. She, her husband and their three kids live in Clinton County.

You never think it’ll be you, and then it is.

I’m incredibly close with my sister. Last October, we dramatically lost her husband. We were really sidetracked with family trauma and helping her. Just after Christmas, we started noticing Austin not wanting to get up and play. He’s always had a bit of a tummy but I noticed that his abdomen was sticking out a bit more. We took him to our doctor on Jan. 7 and she knew that something wasn’t right. She sent us to the emergency room. The doctors did an amazing job. My husband was just off work and I had him on speakerphone and the doctor told us that there was a coconut-sized mass coming out of his left kidney and that Iowa City had a bed waiting for us and we’d be going by ambulance.

We got to the hospital in Iowa City at about midnight. There were doctors and surgeons coming in at all hours.

When he was in his surgery on the 9th – which was supposed to take two hours – my husband and I got a call 15 minutes into it and the anesthesiologist said that part of the IV broke off in his arm and so they had to surgically remove that broken part before they could go into the primary surgery where they would remove his tumor and kidney. That was a long day.

At the very beginning of his radiation, I was at the hospital every day. Our alarm would go off at 3:30 a.m. so we could be there at 6:30 a.m. They did offer the Ronald McDonald House to us, but it was worth it to us for Austin to have the normalcy of being at home, sleeping in his own bed and being with his siblings. We were in the hospital for just under two weeks.

The first thing we did was order books to try to help our other kids understand. We’ve learned to devote special time to each child and not just give Austin all of the attention. It’s hard. It’s all a blur and I feel like we’re just in survival mode.

It’s been a roller coaster. Our road map of treatment is 33 weeks long. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re at the phase of waiting and hoping and praying.

Special thanks to Lily Scott and Children's Cancer Connection.

Third annual Flourish event raises $3,500 for ‘plant-based, allergy-friendly, lesbian-owned’ bakery
Marti Payseur pitches her business, Thistle's Summit Bakery at the Flourish Fund event Sept. 21. Photo by Emily Blobaum.
Much like the rest of the world, Marti Payseur did not know what was in store for 2020.

In 2019, Payseur and her partner, Ash Bruxvoort, opened Thistle’s Summit Bed & Breakfast, a 2,800-square-foot Victorian home in Mount Vernon that became "a beacon for the LGBTQ community." About the same time that COVID-19 rolled around, Bruxvoort developed an autoimmune condition, and they were forced to close their doors.

"Turning to carbs in times of trial," Payseur began baking her way through the pandemic in order to help pay bills, focusing on vegan and gluten-free items.

Payseur realized that despite living in eastern Iowa, the majority of her business was coming from Des Moines. This past March, she and Bruxvoort packed their belongings, moved to the city and began operating out of a shared kitchen space in the Drake neighborhood.

With business booming, Payseur hopes to operate Thistle’s Summit Bakery out of a brick and mortar location in the Drake neighborhood by the end of 2022.

Now, she’s $3,500 closer to that goal, thanks to winning the popular vote at Tuesday’s Flourish Fund event.

Left: Travel influencer Gabby Petito. Center: New Fortune editor Alyson Shontell. Right: Dr. Alan Braid.
In the headlines
  • News of Gabby Petitio, a 22-year-old woman who went on a cross-country road trip with her fiance this summer and whose remains were later found in Wyoming, received overwhelming media attention and public scrutiny, particularly on social media. Body camera footage from a 911 call before her death raised questions about possible domestic violence issues. Coverage of Petito’s death and disappearance also brought forth criticism from advocates for missing Indigenous and Black women, pointing out a bias toward "missing white woman syndrome."
  • Last week, Fortune announced that Alyson Shontell will be its next editor-in-chief, making her the first woman to lead the business magazine in its 92-year history. The hire is the latest of a string of women ascending to the top positions of media and news organizations.
  • By way of an opinion piece in the Washington Post, San Antonio doctor Alan Braid disclosed last week that he violated the new Texas anti-abortion law, which prohibits any abortion once cardiac activity is detected and allows citizens to sue those they believe helped a person obtain an abortion. Now Braid is being sued by two people who are seeking to test the legality of the law.
  • In other Texas anti-abortion law news, more than 50 companies have signed a letter titled "Don’t Ban Equality," which argues that abortion restrictions are bad for business. Among the signatories are Lyft, Glossier, Yelp, Stitch Fix, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and Asana.
  • ESPN announced that Melanie Newman and Jessica Mendoza will be the announcers for its first all-woman broadcast team for a nationally televised Major League Baseball game on Sept. 29.
  • In her acceptance speech for winning an Emmy for limited-series writing, Michaela Coel took the opportunity to dedicate her award to "every single survivor of sexual assault." Coel won the award for "I May Destroy You," which reflects her own experience after being sexually assaulted.  
  • A new study found that women who have been sexually assaulted have a higher risk of developing a type of brain damage that has been linked to cognitive decline, dementia and stroke.
  • The University of Iowa will become the first Division I Power Five school to offer women’s wrestling. The team will start competing during the 2023-24 season.
  • The gap between men and women who are enrolled in college is widening, according to Iowa College Aid. The number of male Iowa high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college dropped seven percentage points between 2012 and 2019 (64.5% to 57.3%). The number of women who immediately enrolled after graduating high school dropped by only three percentage points — 74% in 2012 vs. 71.3% in 2019.
A Woman of Quiet Wisdom: Elizabeth Balcarcel
Some people are drawn to their life’s calling almost naturally. For others, like Elizabeth Balcarcel, that larger purpose finds them — perhaps by fate, by chance, or a bit of both.

Balcarcel serves as director of state program technical assistance at Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (IowaCASA), a nonprofit dedicated to providing services to survivors of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault and
preventing sexual violence. She oversees a team that provides training for IowaCASA’s 28 statewide programs for survivors. She couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

But getting there wasn’t so straight and narrow. And as she reflects today, Balcarcel is astonished by how far she has come — as an immigrant turned fearless advocate. READ THE FULL STORY>

Worth checking out
Women fill fewer MBA spots than men, and COVID isn’t helping (Bloomberg). Why abortion rights are a workplace issue (Quartz). The 75 best large workplaces for women (Fortune). Why everybody’s hiring but nobody’s getting hired (Vox). I founded ‘Me Too’ in 2006. The morning it went viral was a nightmare (Time). The culture war over ‘pregnant people’ (The Atlantic). ‘America’s oldest park ranger’ is only her latest chapter (New York Times). It’s time to retire the phrase ‘working mom’ (Romper).
Did you miss our Fearless Friday event last week? Catch a replay on our website.
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