Memphis, TN, is known for its heavenly barbecue, rich civil rights history, and Elvis Presley. A lively city where blues music can be heard blasting from Beale Street a mile away, Memphis is the home of 650,000 people—and almost 8,000 of them are little children with life-threatening cancer.
I was given the opportunity to visit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with Lancôme in early October. Lancôme, which has raised nearly $3 million since starting it's partnership in 2010, hosts a makeover party for St. Jude patients and their families every year, and I was fortunate enough to get in on the fun. Prior to joining 25 editors and influencers on the trip, I honestly didn’t know too much about St. Jude. I was shocked to learn that the hospital treats 7,800 patients every year, but the families never see a bill for treatment, housing, travel or food. Never. It costs over $2 million a day to operate the hospital, but every child that’s admitted isn’t charged a penny.
On our first day of the trip, we toured the Target House, a beautifully furnished, state-of-the-art facility, where up to 98 St. Jude patients and families live for free. Each room was decorated by a famous celebrity, actor, musician or professional athlete. My favorite room was the Shaun White living room, which was decked out with snowboards and was, of course, bright orange.
The next day, we boarded the bus to head to St. Jude. We were greeted by our tour guide, Lindsey Wilkerson, who was super bubbly and energetic—you’d never know that she was a former St. Jude patient and survivor. As she walked and talked through the hospital tour, I was struggling to stay dry-eyed. The kids that we met looked just like the ones painted on the murals along every St. Jude hallway—in wheelchairs, with their heads wrapped in scarves or nothing at all. They were sick but still smiling. I was digging my nails into my skin, trying desperately not to cry in front of the adorable 6-year-olds that wheeled by, with their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers pushing the chair behind them.
Before heading to the Lancôme event across from the hospital, we made our final stop at a statue of Danny Thomas, Founder of St. Jude. Most of the statue was worn and dark green, but the nose was a shiny copper. “Visitors like to rub his nose for good luck,” said Wilkerson. “I feel incredibly lucky to have been a patient at St. Jude many years ago, and I owe it all to Danny Thomas. I named my son Danny after the man that saved my life.”
Once the makeover event began, I couldn’t stop the (happy) tears. We walked into the Danny Thomas ALSAC Pavilion, where a line had formed next to the makeup station. Celebrity makeup-artist Mickey Williams was painting red lips and smokey eyes on attendees, and you could feel the joy buzzing in the room. It reminded me of how transformative makeup really is, especially to a young girl going through chemo, who has lost all of her hair and probably some of her confidence, too. Lancôme invited beauty editors in to teach makeup application tips, but I’m pretty sure we were the ones that walked away with the biggest lesson: that strength and resilience can often be found in the most surprising yet inspiring places.