Alisa describes her niece, Malia, as a “firecracker” who loved her friends and family fiercely, and continued playing soccer even during chemotherapy to treat her Wilms tumor. When the 9-year-old from Forrest Lake, Minnesota passed away in 2010, it was her determination and her boundless love for life that her family wanted to remember most. They remembered one day during Malia’s Make-A-Wish trip when they threw convention to the wind and ate ice cream for breakfast. So in Malia’s honor, her family started “Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day” on Malia’s birthday to raise awareness of childhood cancer and celebrate her life.
Today, Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (February 18) is a day to raise awareness of the prevalence of childhood cancer, celebrate kids who are currently fighting cancer and honor those how have passed away. Since 2013, Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day has been celebrated in over 80 countries by families who share photos of themselves at malls, drive-thrus, and kitchen tables eating ice cream for breakfast.
We interviewed Alisa, Malia’s aunt, about Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day’s mission and her niece’s legacy.
What was the inspiration for Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day?
When Malia died, we wanted to remember her in a fun way. So on her birthday in 2013, my sister invited our closest friends and family to eat ice cream for breakfast and post pictures to her Facebook page. It was such an encouraging and fun way to remember the way Malia approached life. The next year, an uncle suggested we open it up to anyone who wanted to participate, so in 2014, we went public and had 55 other childhood cancer kids and their families participate in the day by remembering, partying on or supporting them through their journey of childhood cancer. It has grown every year since.
How have you seen Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day raise awareness for childhood cancer?
May people have said they had no idea that so many children had childhood cancer, and that they now know that cancer in kids is not rare. (On average, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer per day in the United States.) Families have also been encouraged that they are not alone in remembering their child or supporting their child. We were quite lucky to have an amazing community around us during Malia’s cancer journey, but sadly, many families feel very alone. We are glad that for at least one day, families can see their communities rally around their child.
As you know, moments of joy count so much more when a family is in the middle of something as grueling as cancer treatment or grief. Why do you think this lighthearted theme has resonated so strongly with so many people?
Understandably so, many pediatric cancer awareness strategies focus on the pain and suffering of the journey, or focus on raising funds. We want to focus on the kids – kids who are still making faces at their families, messing up the hospital playrooms and who lived whole lives before cancer entered their world. Yes, they have cancer, but they are also still kids. It’s Malia’s life that we want to remember, not just her death. I think many other cancer families feel the same way.
What do you wish more people knew about childhood cancer?
It is NOT rare. Each day in the U.S., 43 kids are diagnosed with cancer. And less than 4% of all federal cancer research funding is specifically directed towards childhood cancer research. Today, nearly 20% of children who are diagnosed with cancer in developed countries die from it. We need more research to ensure that isn’t a reality anymore.
What can awareness do for kids and families who are fighting cancer today?
Awareness can empower folks to get involved with the children and families they know who are fighting cancer by praying, bringing meals, and being an understanding friend. And awareness can move people towards getting involved by funding research that will eventually find a cure.
How can people celebrate Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day with you?
To participate in Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, all you have to do is post a selfie of you eating ice cream and let us know who you are eating for. While you’re at it, tag @eaticecreamforbreakfast on Facebook and Instagram and @eaticecreamday on Twitter, and use the hashtag #kidsgetcancertoo. Tell your friends and family why you’re participating and why they should join you in raising awareness.
To learn more about Malia, her family, and the origins of Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, visit their website at EatIceCreamforBreakfastDay.com.
Are you inspired by Malia and her family’s story? You can rally your own community behind childhood cancer research by starting your own event or fundraiser. We have everything you need to make your idea a reality while making a difference for kids with cancer.