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5-year-old December 5th Fund has helped 60 St. Louis families ‘forget cancer’ for a day

While one family spent a recent day out and about making memories to last a lifetime, a couple dozen volunteers transformed their backyard into an outdoor refuge full of flowers, landscaping and seating areas.
Tom Wiley
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The December 5th Fund
While one family spent a recent day out and about making memories to last a lifetime, a couple of dozen volunteers transformed their backyard into an outdoor refuge full of flowers, landscaping and seating areas.

Six years ago this month, Tom Wiley woke up to a confusing and wonderful smell: pancakes. His wife, Laura, had made them. She’d been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer but had woken up bright and early — and was feeling unusually well.

For the Wiley family, who would lose Laura the following month, that special day — Dec. 5, 2015 — still stands out, full of fond memories in the midst of a deeply difficult time. In addition to a wonderful breakfast, Tom Wiley recalls putting up Christmas decorations with Laura and their children. There was also an impromptu dance party.

“It was a sight to see, and I knew at that moment that’s something that I needed to really just kind of take in and just absorb. Because I knew that was pretty special. I knew we weren’t probably going to have a lot of moments like that,” Wiley told host Sarah Fenske on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Tom Wiley, who lost his late wife to breast cancer in 2016, has since started a St. Louis-based nonprofit to support other families in their journeys. He also recently remarried and gained two stepchildren.
Tom Wiley, who lost his wife to breast cancer in 2016, has since started a St. Louis-based nonprofit to support other families in their journeys. He also recently remarried and gained two stepchildren.

He remembers it as “the last good day” they had together.

“We sat down as a family and we just talked, and we just kind of caught up, and the cancer diagnosis [and] everything we were going through was not at the forefront of our conversation,” Wiley said.

In the months that followed Laura’s passing, Wiley reflected on that day and decided he wanted to find a way to help other families “forget cancer” for a day.

“I started thinking about how amazing our community was during that whole diagnosis,” he said, “and how they would just show up to our home. And they would mow the lawn, they would do grocery shopping for us, they would clean our home — without even asking us.”

Knowing that such support is not necessarily a given for everyone in such straits, Wiley started The December 5th Fund in December 2016, leaving a long career in advertising and marketing to do so. The nonprofit has since helped 60 families in the St. Louis area.

Wiley estimates that several thousand people have been touched by the efforts.

How it works: The organization comes up with a day full of rich experiences for the affected family, while a volunteer army of 20 to 60 people get to work on domestic tasks at the family’s home — taking care of to-dos that often fall by the wayside during a cancer journey.

How The December 5th Fund makes life easier for St. Louis families dealing with cancer
Listen as host Sarah Fenske talks with the nonprofit's founder, Tom Wiley.

“And the family doesn’t typically know that we’re at their house doing these makeovers or cleaning the house,” Wiley explained. “So when they come home, they don’t come home to a to-do list — they come home to this stress-free environment. And it’s no longer a burden for them.”

The December 5th Fund also spearheads a Helping Hands Support Program, providing three to six months of in-home professional services — everything from meal prep and lawn care to child care, depending on expressed needs.

This Saturday, the nonprofit is expanding its efforts into Illinois, with plans in place to help its first family on the east side, in the town of Moro.

“We will build our volunteer corps over in southern Illinois,” Wiley said of the organization’s hopes going forward. “We started with 30 volunteers in St. Louis back on December 17th in 2016. And now we’re at over 500 volunteers.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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