One Tuscaloosa mom who lost her first child to cancer is organizing a getaway weekend for other grieving moms to come together, get pampered and start the healing process.

Kim Eaton runs a foundation called "Angel's Hope," which for the past five years has worked with families impacted by childhood cancer. Eaton explained to The Thread that the foundation is named in honor of her first daughter, Angel, who tragically passed away from cancer at 18 years old.

WHAT IS ANGEL'S HOPE?

In short, Angel's Hope is dedicated to serving the children and their families going through childhood cancer by providing activity programs to the children, gifting them personalized boxes of their favorite toys and even larger special events.

Eaton said one of her favorite activities the foundation does each year is a calendar photoshoot, featuring 12 different cancer fighters throughout the state. Those 12 children are able to tell their own stories and participate in a guanine photoshoot.

"Everything we do is pretty much Angel inspired," Eaton said. "It's either things she talked about wanting to do or things she already did. There are retreats out there already for grieving families, but not specifically for mothers. That's obviously something I relate to the most."

(Kim Eaton)
(Kim Eaton)
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This 4-day retreat is something new for Angel's Hope. A group of moms will spend Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend at Orange Beach to experience a weekend full of massages, yoga, meditation, free meals and so much more.

This comes at no cost to moms, Eaton explained. She's partnering with local businesses and looking for sponsors or individuals who are interested in lending their services. The purpose of the retreat isn't just to recharge, but also to help grieving moms come together and learn skills to take back home with them.

For example, the moms will not just be getting meals, they will also be learning how to cook simple meals for themselves. In addition to practicing yoga, the moms will learn breathing and meditation exercises to help them if they get overwhelmed with grief.

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"Moms don't take care of themselves to begin with, they're taking care of everybody except for themselves," Eaton said. "When you have to bury a child, it's even harder to pick yourself back up. This weekend isn't just about treating these moms, but also about reiterating the importance of self care, and teaching them how to take care of themselves again."

The main event will be the group sessions, according to Eaton. Each mom will have the opportunity to talk about their child and their feelings. Each session will have a certain focus, ranging from guilt to learning how to continue parenting your other children.

Eaton said this is such a unique opportunity for moms to be around other moms who have undergone the same experiences.

"This is an opportunity to talk with people that truly understand what you're going through," she said. "These moms will be able to find a group of people who they can feel comfortable being open around."

REMEMBERING ANGEL

Angel could be best described as a dreamer, Eaton told The Thread. She wanted to pursue her passion of being a make-up artist on Broadway. She had several interests including theatre, music and listening to vinyl records. She also played keyboard, guitar and ukulele.

Eaton's bond to her daughter was incredibly strong from the moment Angel was born, and is something she knows these others moms can relate to.

(Kim Eaton)
(Kim Eaton)
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"I had Angel when I was 19 years old. I was a single mom her entire life," she said. "I know it might seem bad to say, but we were literally best friends. We grew up together. That's a feeling you can't duplicate."

Eaton lived in the Tuscaloosa area and worked for several years at The Tuscaloosa News, where Angel appeared so often she was dubbed the "newspaper mascot." Angel attended and graduated from Hillcrest High School.

Angel was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in October 2013, just one month before her 16th birthday. This cancer is a rare form of bone cancer, and affects only 200 people each year.

After undergoing three months of chemo therapy, six weeks of radiation, and a surgery that finally removed the tumor along with three of her ribs, Angel was finally cancer free on February 28, 2014.

(Kim Eaton)
(Kim Eaton)
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"She was very proud of her scar," Eaton said. "She would always compare it to others' and say 'mine's bigger.'"

Angel had no evidence of diseased (NED) for fifteen months, until she found out in April of 2016 that she had relapsed. The cancer had spread to several parts of her body.

 

(Kim Eaton)
(Kim Eaton)
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At the same time, Eaton had become pregnant with her second child. She said Angel had "always wanted to be a big sister." Eaton gave birth to another baby girl in summer of 2016, and Angel got to meet her little sister and spend time with her for six and a half weeks.

 

Angel died at 12:40 p.m on September 18, 2016. She was only 18 years old.

THE START OF SOMETHING MEANINGFUL

It's like a completely different world when your child dies, especially with a disease... Going through that, you have so much support from the hospital, social workers, people reaching out and helping you with things. When your child dies, that eventually just goes away. They move on with their lives, and you expect them to, but your world just stops.

Eaton said this moms' retreat is something she's dreamed of doing for over three years. She's overjoyed that the foundation is finally at a place where she can afford this and put it together.

She also started on the path to getting her PhD this past summer. She's conducting research and studying what grieving families like these moms need, and what additional services should be available.

(Kim Eaton)
(Kim Eaton)
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Eaton told The Thread that this retreat could serve as an exciting "in-the-field" exercise with a lot more heart put behind it.

In the future, she hopes to do at least two retreats per year, changing the location up each time and even extending the invitation to fathers, couples, and whole families.

"This is something I had always needed," she said. "Now I'm glad I can help other moms work through this same grieving process together."

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