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Eicheles Fundraise in Son's Memory

Tanner Eichele was just 3-and-a-half years old when he died last year. His parents are honoring his memory by fundraising to help sick children.

At the center of an end table in the Eicheles' dining room is a poster dedicated to their son, Tanner. There are two photos of him, two blue hand prints and a flier for a fundraiser in his honor.

At the bottom of the poster is a nameplate, in all lower case letters, that reads "tanner jayden 2007-2011."

The Eicheles lost their son to brain cancer in April of 2011. They put the poster together in his memory. But it's not the only way they're honoring him.

Last year, his parents, Melissa and Andrew, got involved with the St. Baldrick's Foundation, which raises money for pediatric cancer research. This Sunday, Andrew will shave his head to raise money for the charity.

Tanner was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a brain tumor, in Sept. of 2009. He was 22 months old. 40 weeks of chemotherapy treatment had the Eicheles hoping he would stay in good health. Instead, he relapsed.

"About two or three weeks after his treatment was over, he relapsed, and it was all over," Melissa said. "It spread like wildfire, all over his spine, all over his brain."

Doctors gave him four to six weeks to live at that point. He lived for eight months. "And he lived," Melissa said. "He played, and he went to school, and he lived. We never treated him like he was sick. He really got to live his life and enjoy it to the fullest."

During that period, the Eicheles found out about St. Baldrick’s. Volunteers have their heads shaved at a St. Baldrick's event to show solidarity with pediatric cancer victims. These volunteers are sponsored by family and friends, who donate to the charity.

Melissa is a board member for the Lexiebean Foundation, which helps families with pediatric cancer patients pay bills so they can stay at their child's bed side. Once she heard about St. Baldrick's, and how pediatric cancer treatments were under-funded, she knew she wanted to help.

"Only four percent of governmental funds [for cancer] go towards pediatric cancers," she said. "Knowing that St. Baldrick’s raised money only for pediatric cancer research was something that was important for us.”

Tanner attended last year’s St. Baldrick's event at Jackie Reilly’s in Bethpage. A group from Massapequa, led by team captain Mike van Aken, found out about his story and asked the Eicheles if they could sponsor him. 

"We’d never met them before," Melissa said. "I was touched that they wanted to honor Tanner, especially since we had never met them, and we said absolutely."

The group from Massapequa had their heads shaved in his honor, as members of "Tanner's Tank Engines," named for Tanner's favorite character (Thomas the Tank Engine). They met Tanner at the event and, according to Melissa, he gave high-fives to everyone.

Tanner lost his battle with cancer on April 25, 2011. The Eicheles will be at Jackie Reilly's this Sunday for this year’s St. Baldrick's event. His team, including the group from Massapequa, will be back, and they will all be dressed in blue. His mother will volunteer at the event, while his father will have his head shaved, with 2-year-old brother Chase making the first shave.

The Eicheles memorialized their son with the poster in their dining room. But they also want to honor his memory through service, in the hope that other families can have their children saved.

"Since Tanner passed, as hard as it is, we just choose to keep honoring him every day," Melissa said. "If that means helping other kids, then that’s what we do."

Editor's Note: This profile was selected as part of the Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day" series.

Tracey Dones March 12, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Melissa, it was a pleasure meeting you today ,i shaved heads last year in honor of Tanner and this year unfortunately I did it in his memory. I look forward to seeing you next year!
Dave Van Aken March 13, 2012 at 05:44 PM
The strength of the Eichele's is amazing. When we shave at this event and honor Tanner, we honor you and all of the other families who find the strength to help in this horrific fight. I am proud of my brother and all of the other adults and children who shave to help raise funds in the never ending effort to find a cure, and in the case of St. Baldrick's, it's to find a cure for the true innocents of this world, the children. God bless the eichele's and all of the families who are stciken by this disease. Maybe one day they'll find a cure and the suffering will stop. Dave Van Aken

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