“Let Your Light So Shine”: The Gold In September (G9) Childhood Cancer Project
“There are three things that are important to every man in this locker room. His God, his family, and the Green Bay Packers. In that order.” Vince Lombardi
“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your goodness.” Matthew 5:16
By Thomas Woyte
Special to Packerland Pride
This is a story about a young boy, Jack Bartosz, who just before he passed away two years ago from cancer, inspired his twin sister Annie with a message, and a vision of hope for the future — a future without childhood cancer. It is a story about a little girl with a big heart, faith to move mountains, and a very special team.
This is a story about a golden light shining out of the darkness, and the team that was created by a very brave and inspired girl, one that needs the support of every one of us – to win the battle against childhood cancer.
Oh, and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is an MVP on this team, too.
You in? Okay, then. Let’s huddle up. We’ve got to keep the momentum going
“We were in our car returning home from the airport after a trip to New York when we found out Jack’s cancer had relapsed,” she said. “I was crying in the back seat, and Jack said, ‘Annie, why are you crying?’ I remember being mad; feeling it was unfair. Jack was fighting so hard and for so long, more than half his life — seven years — with this disease.
“I said ‘Jack, why aren’t you crying? You’re the one with this cancer.”
He said, ‘You need to be happy, Annie. Everyone should just be happy. When you’re sad, be happy, and when you’re happy, be glad. You just have to believe.”
Imagine this bright-green-eyed golden-haired girl of 11, trying so hard to stay strong for her brother, and mom and dad and everyone else. But it’s just oh-so-hard. Tears are flowing in the back seat next to her best friend and brother, Jack.
He’s crying too, and it’s getting the whole world crying. And thinking. And that’s a good thing, because thinking so often leads to action. It’s a story of faith as tiny as a mustard seed, powerful enough to move mountains. Faith that could part those waters and allow us all to cross over to Michigan, I imagine.
“Jack fought so hard and survived for such a long time because of God and he had such strong willpower,” Annie notes, “I believe he is in heaven watching out for me.”
She also felt obliged to take another step.
“A light that went on in the dark that night,” Annie says. “I thought, if he can do so much in such a short amount of time, then I can push through and do something more. I didn’t want other families to feel the way my family felt.”
So Annie founded G9 (G for gold, 9 for September) to support children and their families who are battling cancer, by uniting foundations, hospitals, organizations and people like Annie. Before G9, there was no one organization uniting all the cancer organizations under one umbrella.
October is breast cancer awareness month, and pink is everywhere. Men stop shaving in November for prostate cancer. But a lot of people do not know September is National childhood cancer awareness month and gold is the official color to show your support.
“I want to get the world wearing gold and thinking about what they can do to help bring an end to childhood cancer,” Annie says.
“I want to tell them, like Jack told me, ‘you just have to believe, and even when it is dark, there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s so hard.
“If you turn that grief and anger into something good, the world is going to be such a better place. Even if their child doesn’t make it, you can do all you can to make sure someone else’s child does make it. It is such a special gift to keep pushing and do what you think is right.”
Jack loved doing things with Annie. He was an avid golfer. He enjoyed all of Wisconsin’s teams and called Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers a friend. They met at the Milwaukee Wave’s MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Game in March, 2010. He saw him on the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee’s stage at “An Evening With Aaron Rodgers” that same year.
Jack joined his friend Emilie Janzen at the Wave game; she is pictured with Aaron on the back of a Wheaties(TM) box featuring Rodgers on the cover. Aaron gave Jack a framed, autographed Wheaties box for his 10th birthday and capped off Jack and Annie’s big day with a call to wish Jack a ‘Happy Birthday.’
“Jack and Aaron were friends through the MACC Fund,” Annie says. “After Jack passed away, I had a special connection with Aaron.
“It was amazing. It was so cool to see my role model standing right. There’s no better way to help get kids to help kids than by someone we look up to, a role model like Aaron we see on T.V., believing in and supporting something we feel so strongly about. For him to support this, and travel, shows what a strong cause this is and how much good can come out of it.”
Rodgers talks about his relationship with Jack and Annie on an ‘it’s Aaron’ segment on the way to the Bartosz house. “Jack meant a lot to me. He was a special, special kid and he was the biggest reason for me doing stuff for the MACC fund. Annie has a lot of strength.”
Annie is prepping for a taped interview as Rodgers arrives.
“I feel important,” Annie mentions somewhat sheepishly as she allows someone to put powder on her face. Rodgers, pressed into duty as the make-up artist, announces, “You’re very important.”
“Oh my God, it’s Aaron Rodgers,” Annie shouts as she jumps into his arms.
After they’ve mingled with the neighborhood, promoting her cause, Aaron asks, “How are we doing on the statistics? Are we making a difference? We’re doing better right?”
Annie notes, “That’s my goal, though, because everybody focuses on, like, the 80% for five-year survival, but Jack was part of that, and I want to focus on the overall survival rate, and not just the five-year survival rate.”
“What are you trying to get it to?”
“100%,” Annis states, and Rodgers throws a fist-bump her way.
“I’m so proud of you,” he later tells her, sitting next to her looking out over Lake Michigan.
The Green Bay team and Rodgers mean a lot to Annie.
“I’m a huge Packer fan,” Annis said. “I wear Packer jerseys every game day. I have a cheesehead and a three-foot bobble head of Aaron. We have a hallway of memorabilia signed by Aaron, as reminders around the house of things he’s done for us.
“We have a tradition with my Papa (grandfather Thomas Bartosz) to go to a Packer game every year.”
Not that Rodgers is the only member of a strong support system.
“I have friends who were also very close to Jack,” Annie says. “His best friend Nicholas and I have a special connection. Along with a group of other friends who knew Jack and somewhat understand what I’m going through.
“My field hockey coach lost her father to cancer, and is always willing to listen to me. I have many friends, family and coaches to talk to who have been helping me through the tough times.”
Annie is certain as sunrise a day will dawn when somebody’s mom, dad, sister, brother, grandpa, grandma, friend won’t have to undergo what these kids and their families and friends are bearing.
“Helping kids in the future is huge for me,” she says, “I want to be a pediatric surgeon, so I can help families like mine. I know what it’s like, and I know I’ll try my hardest to help each and every family.
“I love writing, reading, math and science; they are so important… I take great pride in my education. My grades are very important to me.”
“If I had one message to put up in lights,” Annie says, “it would be that ‘You can’t win the fight against childhood cancer with just the families affected fighting, because that’s like sending the wounded to fight the war alone.’”
Her enthusiasm and positive attitude are contagious. The 7th-grade class valedictorian and field hockey team captain led her field hockey team to a second-place last year.
“Seeing us make improvements and having my teammates listen to me, understanding what I was trying to do and following through was amazing,” she says. “Vince Lombardi is one of my role models.
“Team sports have always been something that I love, because you’re depending on each other and pushing one another to be your best. I also like individual sports like tennis and swimming where it’s just you in there and you have to reach deep within yourself to bring out your best performance.”
Lombardi told every one of his players, “I need you! Stick with me, I’m going to build a dynasty here!” He reminded his players that in order to win, it takes “… courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive, and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”
As soon as you access Annies’ website — www.goldinseptember.com — you hear a song that has resonated so strongly with her ‘Let your Light So Shine’ by Josh Wilson.
“Whatever you do, just don’t look back,
Oh, somebody needs the light you have,
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart,
Keep on pushing back the dark,
Keep on pushing back the dark.
Let your light so shine…”
The words describe her to a ‘T.’
Annie is on a mission to paint the entire world gold in September.
“If I had one message to put up in lights,” Annie said, “it would be that ‘you can’t win the fight against childhood cancer with just the families affected fighting, because that’s like sending the wounded to fight the war alone.’”
Annie believes in God, and miracles. Like her role model, Vince Lombardi, Annie just knows we can turn things around, and win this battle. Armed with the faith and a vision of better future where families won’t have to go through what her family and so many others have.
“I believe we will find a cure for childhood cancer,” Annie says. “I don’t know how near or how far that will be, but if we keep progressing, if we keep raising awareness, I know we will.”
The full video of Aaron Rodgers with Annie can be found at: http://itsaaron.com/annie
The G9 Golden Celebration of Hope takes place on Friday, September 25, from 5:30-11 p.m. at The Grain Exchange in Milwaukee. A number of Packers alumni are planning to be in attendance. Five award-winning chefs will prepare food for the event.Everything is being donated, so all profits will go to the organization. For more information, visit GoldInSeptember.org or call 262-352-9019.