On Sunday, September 11, the Seventh Annual Team Blake Golf Tournament will take place at Great Life Shawnee Country Club to raise money for children fighting cancer. Many Topekans have followed the story behind this fundraiser's origin since 2016 when the city fell in love with little Blake Cazier, a handsome blue-eyed boy with a ready smile and contagious laugh. The toddler spent half his life fighting the rare blood cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia. He succumbed to the disease in 2017.
Blake was born on December 23, 2014. His mom, Jaclyn Cazier, remembers sitting with him in her arms on Christmas Eve. Outside her hospital room's window, she could see the holiday light show put on by Topeka Bible Church, where her family attends.
"That was a very special Christmas. I'll never forget it." says Jaclyn.
The cancer diagnosis came just after Blake's first birthday. He spent the majority of 2016 in hospitals. The treatment started at Topeka's Stormont Vail Hospital and Trauma Center. Blake's routine was spending one month in the hospital, one week at home, and then repeating the process.
Jaclyn remembers Blake would sit and cry at the hospital's elevator doors the first week back because he knew the elevator could take him outside to freedom. When the time came to leave, his face would light up when he got into the car, as if he was saying, "Mom, we're out of there! We're going home!"
Blake went into remission twice, only to have the cancer return. His journey continued at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City for a bone marrow transplant. After a short period of remission, the cancer returned, and he went to a hospital in Cincinnati to participate in a medical trial. When that treatment failed, he returned to Children's Mercy, where he passed away on March 7, 2017.
During those horrific 15 months, Jaclyn kept family and friends informed of Blake's journey on a Team Blake Facebook. It also became her daily journal, where she shared her hopes, fears, and blessings. The page soon had followers from Topeka and all over the country. "Everybody was drawn to Blake," says Jaclyn. "He just became a local hero, and actually a hero all over the United States."
Those followers sent presents to Blake and money to Jaclyn and her husband, Chris, which helped pay bills so they could be with their son. That is why the Team Blake Foundation's mission is to supply care packages to young cancer patients, filled with specially chosen items to fit their interests. The non-profit also provides financial, spiritual, and emotional support to the kids' families.
Jaclyn explains, "The kids are so excited to open these boxes that they forget they're sick. That's one of the reasons we do these care packages. When Blake was sick, we had people sending us packages from all over the United States. People would do homemade quilts of Thomas the Train, or they made him little hero capes that had 'Blake' on them with Thomas the Train. He loved Thomas the Train. I have a couple of videos saved of him unboxing them and saying, 'Whoaaaa!' He forgot for that moment that he was sick and was actually just a little boy playing with his toys. "That's all that those kids want to do at that age. Play with their toys. They don't want to be tied to all these wires, cords, and IV tubes. They just want to forget that."
"I never in a million years would have guessed that one of my children would have cancer," Jaclyn says. "You see the St. Jude commercials, and you're like, 'That's so sad. Surely that would never happen.' It does happen more than you know. It happens right here in Topeka, and one of them was my child. There are just not a lot of resources out there where people can get help. The bills keep coming. Your other kids are still there. You still have a house. You still have a job. Just having people help us and having the community rally around us and support us was huge for us. It gave us more quality time with Blake. It took away the other burdens of how we would pay the bills that month. We didn't have to worry about all that stuff, and we got to focus our time on Blake."
The golf tournament is held in September because it's Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It's also the month Blake received his stem cells during his bone marrow transplant. The event is a four-person scramble-flighted (charitable) double shotgun start. Tee times are 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. The $400 per team donation includes green fees, a cart, luncheon, beverages, a hole-in-one prize, and a shirt. You can register or donate at foreverteamblake.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We want to keep Blake's memory alive," Jaclyn says, her voice cracking with emotion. "My biggest fear is that people will forget him. He's very real to me. He's still a child of mine, even though he's not physically in my arms. He's in my heart forever. Starting this local non- profit, we can keep his memory alive and help others who are going through what we went through."