When Blythe Brenden was in college, she remembers her grandfather’s requirement for each grandchild before Thanksgiving—you must do a certain number of hours of service for your community before he’d invite you to join his Thanksgiving table.
“Deep down, he’s the reason I do what I do,” Blythe said. “I’m forever grateful to my grandfather for working as hard as he did to give me the opportunity to be engaged and connected to the community.”
This simple holiday requirement instilled in Blythe her family’s tradition of generosity and community engagement that she has carried forward into her own life. Blythe first started volunteering for CCRF events over 20 years ago, and today she generously supports integrative therapy programs through her giving. We asked Blythe a few questions about why she gives, what drives her to make a difference, and where she’s seen the positive change she’s made possible.
What’s your giving philosophy? What kinds of causes are important to you?
My family has always talked about the importance of sharing the big three—time, talent and treasure. I started out giving my time and talent by helping with gala events at CCRF, and now I also help financially by supporting programs like the integrative therapies CCRF supports at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s hospital.
I also think it’s important to get involved so you can see the impact you’re making. I do what I do because it’s important to me and it makes me feel really good, and the impact I’m making is that I’m helping families, I’m engaging, I’m providing a program or service that I know otherwise would not be provided to them.
You specifically support integrative therapies through Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Why do those programs appeal to you?
I support integrative therapies (programs such as music therapy, aromatherapy, guided imagery, massage therapy and other techniques) because I think they should be integrated into treatment plans that doctors and nurses provide. Plus, many families wouldn’t have access to these programs without outside funding, so being able to provide that is satisfying.
You’ll hear over and over again from patients who have experienced music therapy in particular that they can’t explain why, but they know it has been extremely helpful to them. It’s affected their awareness or their communication or their pain levels, and I want to support that because I know how hard it is to find funding.
My goal in supporting these programs is that people can see how effective they are and that they’ll eventually become just the way we do medicine and patient care. I want doctors and nurses to have all the tools in the toolbox they need to help patients get better in every way.
Talk about a time you saw up close the impact your generosity has had on kids and families fighting cancer.
I love that this kind of work benefits the whole family, and it’s something you can take with you when you leave the hospital. If you learn to play an instrument or how to calm yourself or change your mindset with deep breathing or meditation, those are skills you can take with you anywhere, and you don’t have to be sick to use them.
Not too long ago, I got a tremendous letter from a child who had a bone marrow transplant and had gone through a really tough time. He wrote to me to say he got a lot out of the integrative therapies, but they were even more helpful for his mom.
I thought it was so interesting how he recognized how much his mom needed that help at a time when she was always by his side, not thinking about herself. He even acknowledged the sacrifices she was making to be there for him—it was so impactful to me that he was so attuned to knowing that his mom needed to be cared for, and the integrative therapies helped do that for both of them.
What would you tell others who are considering donating or supporting a specific cause at CCRF?
I actually talk to a lot of young people about carefully choosing causes they’re passionate about and then jumping in and getting involved themselves, because that’s how you see the impact. I’d also tell them to communicate well with the organization and be flexible. For an organization like CCRF that has taken on such a big mission, research needs and resource needs can change quickly. If you can be there to help them go in whatever new direction is going to make the biggest difference, that’s really valuable.
To learn more about how integrative therapies are helping kids with cancer, read The Healing Power of Music Therapy - Gracie's Story or Easing the Pain of Transplant - Alex's Story.