With May being brain tumor awareness month we couldn’t think of a better sister to kick off our May ‘Sisters Series’ than Savanna Tate, founder and president of HayesTough Foundation, and mom of six.
Why did you start the HayesTough Foundation?
I, along with my husband Steve, am a parent to six beautiful children, one of those being Hayes, our angel warrior and reason behind the HayesTough Foundation. While I consider myself well educated in school, I found my greatest learning experience has been being the mother to a baby fighting brain cancer.
Being a mother to six children completed me. I had three children already, but at the ultrasound for what was supposed to be our 4th and final, we found out we were actually pregnant with triplets. I battled through a difficult pregnancy and welcomed three perfect babies to our family. Our day to day life far surpassed what I had envisioned pre-children. My kids were happy and the babies were magical additions. Life was perfect.
In January 2016, after nearly a month of our youngest Hayes being sick with no answers, we received devastating news that he had a large mass in his head, which would require immediate surgery. During the intensive surgery, the doctors were able to remove the entire tumor. A miracle!
A few weeks later we received the pathology results of the tumor. Our sweet baby boy had brain cancer. An extremely rare brain tumor called Choroid Plexus Carcinoma. We googled the term and we were immediately knocked down, hope broken, again.
We started chemo on January 30, 2016. We had a long road ahead of us. The plan was to go through six rounds of intense chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant. After completing six hellish rounds, the scans showed us that the chemo had done its job and Hayes got to ring the bell signaling an end of treatment! It was bliss and I was so proud of my baby!
To celebrate, we planned a family vacation to Disneyland. All of our kids had battled through the past nine months and they deserved to celebrate their accomplishment. Seeing Hayes with Mickey was one of those moments I will never forget. He was happy, a regular boy without wires and tubes or hospital rooms! It was the happiest time of our lives!
On the drive home from California, Hayes threw up. He threw up several times. It was happening again. Those all too familiar symptoms that I had known so well from nine months before. They were back and the pit in my stomach returned.
The doctors did scans and we were officially informed of the devastating news. Our baby’s cancer was back and this time, they couldn’t do a thing. It was located in an area of his brain that controlled the vomit reflux. He was vomiting uncontrollably and within hours of his scans his right eye started to “drift”. My beautiful perfect 19 month old boy was being overcome by the monster and I felt more broken than I knew was possible. I didn’t know how I would survive, how any of us would.
The doctors arranged for Hayes to come home on hospice. We kept him comfortable with morphine and he slept the days away. I didn’t leave his side. For an entire week I held my boy, stroked his hair and watched him peacefully sleep. It was sad and awful, but I felt closer to heaven than ever.
On December 3, 2016, I held my baby as he took his last labored breath. We didn’t experience the miracle I had prayed so hard for. But I did receive the miracle of knowing that each of us can make a difference.
I want nothing short of finding a cure for every child. My love for these kids is beyond measure and that is why I started the HayesTough Foundation. I believe our children deserve more than what they are receiving. Hope is something each person facing a life-threatening illness deserves. I aspire to brighten the lives of these families whose worlds have been turned upside down by illness. I believe they need a reason to have hope and still find joy.
How did you channel your strength to start the HayesTough Foundation while fighting your own battle with Hayes?
Nothing prepares you for becoming a “momcologist” but, I found through my experiences, that sometimes parents know more than any “expert”. I believed in my child. Love gives you a crazy kind of Brave! While I am known for being an extreme optimist, I believe in doing everything possible—and thinking beyond what is currently possible—for pediatric cancer patients and families. I want to share the hope I had for my baby with others facing this disease.
You recently went to Washington D.C. to share Hayes’ story with Congress in hopes that they will increase funding. What was that like?
While in DC I felt like screaming our story. When telling congressmen about Hayes and having them respond with, “I am so sorry! But, the budget…” I wanted to blow up! How could anything be more important than the lives of our children?! But, I will say, I feel strongly that my husband and I made an impact! That Hayes left them with a need to help! I feel hopeful that we did what we set out to do. We won’t know for a few more months, but I feel confident that they will vote to increase pediatric cancer research!
I believe in honoring my son through this work and I will continue to strive to make a difference. I feel that I owe it to the children fighting so hard for their lives every day to give them and their families all the support they need.
Do you have fears about the foundation? What is the biggest fear you are knocking down to keep the business moving forward?
My fears are that people will stop donating. That we won’t be able to help families that are in desperate need of our help. We survive off of the giving hearts of others. I need to have faith that others won’t forget my baby boy and the impact he left on this world.
Who has been your biggest cheerleader?
My biggest cheerleader has been my best friend Krista. There is no way I could have done anything I have done without her. She believes in me and reminds me that I am doing something great. I adore her! Everyone needs a Krista in their lives!
With six kids, we are sure you don’t get much time for your self. What is something you do for self-care?
I get ready every day. It probably seems like something small and unimportant, but feeling beautiful and taken care of helps me conquer the big things. So, I never let life steal away that time of taking care of myself.
What do you hope your children are learning from you?
I hope my kids realize their potential. I am just a stay at home mom, from Utah that didn’t graduate from college yet I believe in myself. I believe I can change the world for the better and I pray that my kids find that in themselves. We all can make an impact.
What advice would you give to people who are enduring challenges?
The one thing that I would tell people is that you are stronger than you realize. We have a tendency to let our challenges make us feel weak, but they actually make us stronger. We are able to do impossible things when we realize our strength. I would also encourage people to lean on others. People that love you want to help and there is nothing wrong with reaching out to your tribe.
What’s next for the HayesTough Foundation?
We will have a music video coming out soon to showcase the many faces of childhood cancer. We are hoping to set off a firestorm of downloads and raise money for the thousands of children facing this disease. We also have a big “childhood cancer awareness” month in September. We have big plans and will finish off the month with a gala.
The HayesTough Foundation is dedicated to providing financial support and hope to families affected by childhood cancer. My goal is always raising awareness and funds. Sending a cancer family on a memory making vacation or giving a family medical financial support are the things that keep me going. Every year nearly 100,000 kids die from Childhood Cancer, which is almost 300 kids per day. Despite these numbers, childhood cancer research is vastly underfunded. My final goal is to raise money for childhood cancer research. So much needs to be done!
What is your go-to singing – top of your lungs, windows – down in a car song?
Music is all depending on my mood, but, if I am in the mood to dance, I love listening to Latin music! Even though I can’t understand a word he is saying, listening to Pit Bulls “Echa Pa’lla” is my ultimate party/dance song!
If you would like to find out how you can support families fighting childhood cancer, please visit HayesTough Foundation.