By Dawn M Chiossi
As every breast cancer survivor knows, pink is also the color of strength. In the case of Wayne’s Dayna Pink Wishes Foundation, it is also the color that represents caring and compassion.
Founded 16 years ago, Dayna’s Pink Wishes Foundation is a non-profit organization that brings the magic of the holiday season and throughout the year to children with families struggling with a cancer diagnosis. They provide toys to children that have lost a parent to cancer, or for families who are suffering financial hardship as a result of this illness.
To date Dana’s Pink Wishes Foundation has granted holiday wishes to thousands of children.
Dayna’s Pink Wishes Foundation is the inspiration of Wayne Breast Cancer Survivor, Dayna Bottazzi Varano. After a long and arduous journey, the foundation became both this Wayne mom’s passion and purpose. Affectionately named after Varano by a good friend, Dayna’s Pink Wishes Foundation symbolizes both the strength and sisterhood of breast cancer survivors and the generosity of Varano herself.
2007 should have been a banner year for this busy and dynamic mom who had just given birth to her second child, but Varano’s life was forever changed when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.
She was 39 years old.
Doctors told her that her condition was so severe that her treatment required a double mastectomy, aggressive rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radiation. Unfortunately, as it often happens in cases like this, Varano also endured an infection called C-diff. The condition caused her to have a two-week hospital stay.
As terrible as all of this was, for Varano, it was even worse to see her family’s anguish.
Being part of a close-knit family, as a mom, a wife, a daughter, it was the thought of them, that got her through her multiple treatments.
“I am born and raised a Jersey girl,” quips Varano. “I grew up in Essex County, but have lived in Wayne for almost 20 years now. I ran my own business in the legal industry for about a decade. When I had my first child, I decided to stop working and focus on raising my family.”
The idea of her family enduring without her was too much to bear. Through her multiple treatments, Varano distracted herself by fundraising. She considers Dayna’s Pink Wishes similar to Toys for Tots, an organization that she had been involved with for several years.
“When I was 35, one of my friends wanted to throw me a great party. I didn’t feel quite comfortable receiving an exorbitant amount of gifts and elected to put the gift-giving to something more meaningful,” she explains. “Being a new mom, kids were always on my mind so I decided to align with my Toys for Tots charter.”
As a very independent woman, when her cancer diagnosis came, it threw her for a loop. “I had two very small children at home and I was in a complete state of shock,” Varano says candidly. “I consider myself lucky to have been able to receive the treatment that I did, and also to have survived it up to that time. Many girls do not. Being sick forced me to lean on the support of those around me. I am not the type of woman to ask for help, and doing so was really difficult for me. I felt fortunate to have the benefit of my family and friends, but as I delved into the research of this disease, I couldn’t help but wonder about the other women who were managing their lives during their treatment.”
When Varano describes that she began connecting with other survivors, she tells, “It was around this time that I began to learn of the financial hardships that accompany so many women in treatment.”
Although she was fundraising for Avon’s Breast Cancer Foundation during the last of her chemo treatments and served as co-chair of fundraising for the Young Survivors Coalition’s Annual Gala, as well as on their advisory board, she felt she needed to take action on a more personal level to create something that would help these families. More specifically, she wanted to help the children of these survivors. That’s how Dayna’s Pink Wishes began.
“I wanted to be able to have something positive come from my cancer diagnosis and to share my strengths and resources with women that I knew needed them. These children suffer so much when their mothers are in treatment,” Varano says. “When a mom succumbs to their cancer diagnosis, I want to be able to offer something to these families to give them a moment of joy during such a dark time.”
With all operations running from Varano’s home office, 100% of what is donated goes straight to the families.
Hundreds of volunteers who give to the foundation in their own way, from arranging gift deliveries to wrapping, to research, to donations.
Varano discloses that even children who require volunteer hours for their various organizations are always happy to help out.
In addition, what began as an annual event to support families, now proudly has expanded to a yearlong endeavor. Dayna’s Pink Wishes focuses on multiple forms of support requests beyond holiday wish lists. “We’ve afforded necessary items, clothing, back to school supplies, we’ve satisfied birthday lists as well as financed birthday parties. The organization has even paid for things like summer camps, paid for school musical instruments, and even coordinated the opportunity for kids to see a musician that they liked.”
When possible, Dayna’s Pink Wishes also gives support to the mom by way of housecleaning services and related needs.
“There are endless ways for people to help,” Varano tells. “The easiest and most needed way is to make a cash/check donation to Dayna’s Pink Wishes. For people who would like to be more involved in the process, they can donate an unwrapped toy, satisfy a wish list for a child, or sponsor an entire family.”
Dayna’s Pink Wishes even offers the option to pick up a prepaid wish list at your local store, wrap and deliver it to the family.
“I am thrilled that so many people are getting more and more involved with direct sponsorship,” Varano tells. “This can be for a child or the entire family. It can be annually or just for the holiday. People love to see their energy and kindness have an impact. There is no better way than to directly engage with the people you are helping.”
Although popularity was never the goal of Dayna’s Pink Wishes, the feedback they have received has been amazing. “At our annual fundraiser, I share some of the thank you letters from the families and kids we’ve helped. As you can imagine they are quite touching and I cry trying to read through them. I think it’s important for our supporters to hear these intimate stories and how our efforts have the ability to introduce joy even at such a difficult and even tragic time.” Varano shares.
Varano mentions that she has even been recognized by the New York Yankees, spending a game day with the team, and was honored to receive the Ambassador of Altruism Award from WISPER, an organization supporting women.
She has lots of ideas and hopes regarding the foundation. “We are going to be looking at more serious grant money and other means of funding. I want to satisfy every wish I receive, and I need to secure the resources to do that. I have a vision of starting up a scholarship division, and I am hopeful that I will see that come to fruition.”
“Dana’s Pink Wishes has offered women in treatment some reprieve by satisfying her holiday shopping. It helps a mom when we have the ability to say ‘We’ve got this, don’t worry,’ so she could focus on her health. Sometimes we step in, in lieu of mom, and we need to infuse our support right into a grieving family. Sometimes that is right down to delivering trees or holiday meals. We want to fill the holes that cancer has created as much as we possibly can.” Varano shares.
When asked what inspires her the most about this foundation, she does not hesitate. “The human spirit,” she answers. “To see the willingness and desire of those with the ability to give, actually get to satisfy that desire. I also know that these families are inspired when they receive such acts of kindness from strangers. They are inspired to fight another day or to keep their heart open and be able to go on. If Dayna’s Pink Wishes can inspire someone to get up the next day and hug their kids and try again, because of an act of kindness, that’s a great thing to facilitate.”