At age 21, Hannah Jankowski has been cancer free for three years. While she’s still recovering from the after effects of a surgery done in 2015 and will soon have open-heart surgery, she put aside her own struggles to bring smiles to the faces of ten Flagler County children who are also childhood cancer survivors or who are still battling cancer.
In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Hannah Jankowski and her mother, Jennifer Pellicer, invited the 13 children in the county who are dealing with cancer, plus their family and friends, to a dinner and photo shoot at Bull Creek Fish Camp on Sunday, Sept. 2. While a few couldn’t make it to the dinner, Jankowski said she was happy with the turnout.
“It meant a lot to me and my mom to be able to put it together and host it and kind of stand up for these children, because we’re quite a bit further out than they are,” she said. “And we had the resources to be able to put this together for them.”
"We figured it would be the best way to raise awareness — to take a picture and post it and show who we are and what we’re going through."
- HANNAH JANKOWSKI, childhood cancer survivor
A golden light filled the sky as the sun set, matching many of the orange T-shirts that some attendees wore in support of the children. Flagler Beach resident AJ Neste, who is a close friend of the Hannah's family, snapped photos of each family present, as well as group photos.
“Every time Hannah contacts me, she always has something on her heart that she wants to give back and help. I love that about her; she’s an inspiring kid,” Neste said. “So, when she contacted me about it, I was excited to help in any way that I could.”
Jankowski said one of the goals of the event was to help the children feel like they’re not alone — that there’s a support system behind them.
The idea for the dinner came to light when Jankowski and Pellicer held a benefit on July 29 for local teen Toni Musselman, who is fighting multi-cell leukemia.
“We had five local childhood cancer survivors there in the same room,” Jankowski said of the Team Toni fundraiser. “We took a picture together, and it just touched our hearts so much that we wanted to get every one of us together because we knew there were so many more, and we figured it would be the best way to raise awareness — to take a picture and post it and show who we are and what we’re going through.”
She said about 70 people gathered at the dinner in September, where food and laughs were shared. They hope to make the event into an annual dinner, where they’ll document the children’s growth and journey through Neste’s photography.
“I like photography very much as well, and [Neste] just kind of took me under his wing and showed me pointers, just gave me advice and always has been there for my family,” Jankowski said.
Neste said he was honored to be able to capture those moments for the children.
“I think every family in some way has dealt with cancer. I lost my grandmother to cancer, and it impacted my family,” Neste said. “And if there’s a way you can kind of help kids in that type of scenario where they’re fighting for their lives, you end up feeling like you’re the one that’s blessed. Just being a parent myself, even when my kids just have the flu, it’s devastating for the family. I couldn’t imagine the stress of having a child with cancer. So, I think it’s the father in me, as well, that feels for the parents. And if there’s a way I can help them, then I’m all for it.”