Lake Norman & Mooresville

She helps group that helped daughter

Ask 7-year-old Davidson resident Marnie Howiler what she remembers about the time she spent battling cancer in 2009-2010. She recalls needles and fear, but also remembers puppets. And crafts. And watching movies.

For Marnie, patient-assistance programs that brought activities like these to the hospital provided her with a much-needed dose of joy.

Now her mother, Robbie, is helping to bring these types of programs to other pediatric cancer patients through her involvement in an organization called the Promise Circle.

Members of the Promise Circle describe themselves as "a dedicated volunteer group of women who work to maximize outcomes for patient support programs funded or administered by the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation."

Howiler discovered the fledgling group in late 2010, when they asked her to tell her daughter's story (Marnie has been considered No Evidence of Disease since May 2010).

"Going through Marnie's treatment, we (Robbie and husband, Ken) realized that there are patient-assistance programs that help them still feel like kids," she said.

Up until then, Howiler had been involved primarily in groups that raise funds for research, such as Cookies for Kids' Cancer and CureSearch.

But when she met the 28 members of the Promise Circle, she saw another opportunity in the fight against pediatric cancer.

"I liked their goals. I'm so focused on research and everything to help kids survive, but it's also so important that kids are happy and well-adjusted at the end of treatment."

2011 was the Promise Circle's first full year as an organization, and they were able to achieve some rather lofty goals, including raising $65,000 in grant money.

In addition to membership dues, the group sponsored a bake sale (with profits matched by the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation).

After reviewing nearly 60 grant applications, recipients were chosen, ranging from educational programming for teenagers and young adults to providing resources for palliative care to integrated sibling support initiatives.

Though she's involved in many pediatric cancer-awareness organizations, Howiler finds the Promise Circle unique in that she is one of the only members with a child who battled the disease.

"This group is special because it's made up primarily of people who haven't been affected by childhood cancer but still want to help," she said.

Members hail not just from the area, but places as far away as Texas and Washington State. Many are so dedicated they fly in to Charlotte for the annual meetings held in May and October, where Jeff Gordon and his wife are often speakers.