Giovanna Moses celebrated her 30th birthday in a big way – with a visit to the Great Wall of China.
With her 40th birthday looming next month, Giovanna wondered how she’d top her last celebration.
Maybe a visit to another of the world’s wonders? An exotic trip?
Yet, as she sat in an exam room at Children’s Hospital last summer, Giovanna realized there would be no exotic vacation this birthday.
Circumstances in her life were vastly different from 10 years ago when she and her husband Cevin, and their 1-year-old son, John, were living in Korea where Cevin was stationed with the military.
The family had grown to include Diana, 9, and Katherine, 2 and a half, and they were now living in Giovanna’s hometown of Delavan, where she works as an optometrist at Morrison Eye Clinic and Cevin, a native of San Antonio, Texas, as a maintenance supervisor at Tankcraft Corp.
It was Katherine Mary Grace who prompted the visit to Children’s Hospital last summer after Giovanna noticed unusual bruising on her daughter. The diagnosis was sobering.
Katherine, their spunky, energetic daughter with the big blue eyes and the perennial smile, had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
While doctors told the couple the cancer had a high cure rate, they also told them the treatment would be intense and would last about two years.
“I had been all excited to do something equal to the trip to the Great Wall of China,” Giovanna told the Catholic Herald in an interview at her home last week, “I wanted to pick another of the world’s wonders and do that, but as I sat in the exam room, waiting, I realized I was not going to go anywhere exotic for my birthday.”
Katherine’s diagnosis and her treatment – which began with a 28-day hospital stay – put any birthday plans on hold.
Giving back to the community
But earlier this year, Giovanna came up with a new, grandiose way to celebrate 40 years, a way that would help her give back to the community which, she said, has been so supportive of her family throughout Katherine’s illness.
She’s hosting a blood drive on Wednesday, June 4, and is hoping to draw 76 donors and collect 58 units ofblood for BloodCenter of Wisconsin. The drive initially began as a “40 bags for 40 years,” but according to Nancy Ziolecki, account representative-donor recruitment at BloodCenter of Wisconsin, the response has been so overwhelming that they have raised the goal.
“Originally, we targeted her goal at 40 units, but we already got 55 donors signed up so we upped the goal and are trying to sign up 20 more people,” she told the Catholic Herald in a phone interview.
On the day of the drive, BloodCenter will set up its equipment at the Community Centre in Delavan, and in a festive birthday setting complete with balloons, will collect blood that will help others in the community like Katherine.
“With the BloodCenter, the blood stays in the local community, so this is a great way for me to give back to our immediate community and the people who have done so much to help us,” said Giovanna, explaining
|Join Giovanna Moses’ 40th birthday celebration by donating blood on Wednesday, June 4 at the Community Centre
(Community Bank CBD), 826 E. Geneva St., Delavan, from 2 to 7 p.m. Make an appointment at www.bcw.edu/forty4forty, or contact Giovanna, firstname.lastname@example.org or (262) 203-3295.
Please bring a photo ID.
that in the months since Katherine was diagnosed with leukemia, the community has provided an outpouring of support, including gas cards, meals, even a house cleaning to sterilize things before Katherine returned home last fall.
“I don’t know how we will ever be able to repay that debt,” she said of the help the family has received.
Positive attitudes confront challenges
Mother and daughter’s outgoing, bubbly, positive personalities show no hint of the challenges the Moses family has faced since Katherine’s birth.
“We were always planning for a third child,” explained Giovanna, and once the family returned to the Delavan area after time in Alabama, Korea, Sheboygan and for Cevin, a seven-month tour in Iraq, they were ready to add to their family.
The pregnancy was difficult, said Giovanna, explaining she was aware that her chance of having a baby with Down syndrome was higher since she was over 35.
Prenatal tests indicated there was a strong possibility their baby would have the genetic, chromosomal disorder, but Giovanna said she and Cevin approached the likelihood with a positive attitude.
“We had a 17 percent chance – one in six – but I likened it to planning a picnic. If the weatherman says there is a 17 percent chance of rain, would you cancel your picnic?”
Katherine was born with Down syndrome, but Giovanna said, “It was not really a shock. We had been planning for that for a long time.”
She added that Katherine was also healthy otherwise until one day last summer when Giovanna was dressing her in a bathing suit and noticed small, tiny red dots on her skin which proved to be tiny bruises.
While her fears of cancer were confirmed, she said she and Cevin approached the situation with the same resolve they used with the Down syndrome diagnosis.
“I feel like, once we knew it was Down syndrome, we said, ‘Let’s tackle this,’ and while you can never prepare for how to deal with leukemia, we approached it the same way,” she said, adding statistics indicate Katherine has a good chance of beating it.
Support from faith community
Their faith and the faith community they have at St. Andrew School and Parish in Delavan have been a big support, she said.
“Friends have helped and their faith has helped me through,” she said, adding she’s part of an “incredibly supportive moms group” that has walked with her throughout the pregnancy and the current diagnosis.
Gretchen Wolfer, a fellow St. Andrew School parent, who also attended St. Andrew School with Giovanna years ago, is one of many from the parish who have signed up for the blood drive.
Admitting that the thought of the needles at the blood drive is not pleasant, Wolfer said, “When I think of Katherine, I would do it in an instant. Her smiling face brightens any day, even if you think you’re having a bad day. She lights up everyone’s life. She is happy all the time, she is dancing all the time.”
Wolfer said the St. Andrew community has readily got on board with the blood drive idea.
“As a school family we are very supportive. The outpouring has been huge,” she said, adding she’s heard from friends of Giovanna’s from the past who want to help out. “I am so proud of (Giovanna) for wanting to do this,” adding that she realizes the importance of being a blood donor since her own mother died of cancer seven years ago.
Blood drives instigated by family members of those with cancer or serious illnesses are not unusual, according to Ziolecki, but they are welcomed and greatly needed by BloodCenter, she said.
“It’s a very personal way to give back to the community,” said Ziolecki. “What Giovanna is doing is raising awareness in how much blood and blood products are needed,” she added, noting that the center is the local provider to communities in 35 counties in the state.
Katherine’s story inspires prayer
Giovanna’s first job after graduating from Marquette University in 1997 was as a medical technologist at BloodCenter of Wisconsin where she worked in its satellite lab at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin cross-matching blood products for kids in need of transfusions.
The fact that in a sense, with the blood drive for her birthday, she is returning to her roots, is not lost on Giovanna.
“Since that time, I went on to study optometry … but I never forgot where it all started. There is a lot of job satisfaction knowing you’re helping children get the blood products they need to stay alive, be it after an accident, during surgery, because of premature birth or disease, such as cancer.
“It’s that last one that really hits home now,” she added.
Throughout her family’s journey with Katherine, Giovanna said faith has supported them.
“I don’t think this challenged our faith, it was never ‘why did God do this to us?’ God had given us a couple hiccups already,” she said, adding she prefers to look upon the family’s situation positively.
Explaining how she’s heard through social media that Katherine’s story has encouraged people to pray, she said, “She’s a tool that God is using to bring joy to others, but also to bring people to him, and if I can be a part of that, I feel a calling to do so.”