Aky Jones (left), Steven “Red” Morgan and Derrick Jones color during a March 2, 2103, afternoon of fun in the art room of Clinton’s Clubhouse in Cane Ridge, Tenn. (TMP Photos/M. Willard)
Renal cell carcinoma. Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. Albeolar rhabdomyosarcoma. Ganglioglioma. Neuroblastoma. Leukemia.
These are words no child should know, much less be able to pronounce. But for too many children these are words they know all too well.
Medulloblastoma was Clinton Milliken’s word and his battle. A battle the 7-year-old boy and Murfreesboro resident lost on Jan. 19, 2012.
Clinton’s battle with his word inspired his mother Kim Milliken to launch Clinton’s Club, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for pediatric cancer and provides support for families who are fighting their own battles.
“Cancer is very isolating,” Milliken explained, adding she launched Clinton’s Club to help others through the process of nursing a child with cancer, like she did for two years.
Much of that time was spent at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, where families live onsite.
“There are lots of opportunities for families to mesh together (at St. Jude) and there isn’t that here,” Milliken said.
Here, families go to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt for treatments and then they go home.
But at St. Jude, patients and their families are surrounded by others who are going through the same experiences, Milliken said.
“Literally, everything you do is with the same people. You live with them. You eat with them. You go to treatments together,” she said, adding those shared experiences create a bond between families.
“These people get what you’re going through,” she said about her time at St. Jude, “and that’s what I want to do here.”
Milliken’s first step to creating a sense of camaraderie for the pediatric cancer community in Middle Tennessee was starting Clinton’s Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness for pediatric cancer and providing support for patients and their families.
One of Clinton’s Club’s first projects was creating Colors for Hope, a line of nail polish that was inspired by the wish of Taylor “Tay” Filorimo. Tay was a Riverdale High School student, whose word was Renal cell carcinoma.
Milliken’s most recent step was opening Clinton’s Club House, located at 6264 Pettus Road in Cane Ridge.
At no cost to the families, the club house will provide a refuge for pediatric cancer patients and their families, Clinton’s Club Vice President Lori Woodard-Hoyt explained.
“This place is for kids and families,” she said, “for anyone who needs it.”
Woodard-Hoyt said the idea for the club house came directly from Clinton.
“One day when we were at Vanderbilt, Clinton said ‘I just want a club house and I want you to help my friends,’” she said.
To keep his mind off his cancer treatment, Woodard-Hoyt asked him what his club house would be like.
Clinton said he wanted a game room, an art room, a place to camp and fish, an outdoor theater and, mostly, “a place where my friends can be normal kids.”
So that’s what Milliken and Woodard-Hoyt did, created a place for kids who are undergoing or recovering from treatments, or recovering from survivor’s guilt, can go and just be kids.
At the club house, families may come together to share a meal, receive counseling or take part in activities planned just for them, Woodard-Hoyt explained.
“The focus here is on a very clean, sterile technique for immune-compromised kids,” she said, adding Dr. Graf Hilgenhurst from Precision Pain Care in Smyrna lives close by for emergencies.
But building a club house for pediatric cancer patients wasn’t an easy task.
With very little money, the two women and a host of volunteers transformed the 113-year-old farm house over the course of a few weekends into a club house with rooms for games and art, a reading nook, an outdoor theater, and acres to camp on and hike over.
“He didn’t just know his mother and I would get this done, he expected it,” Woodard-Hoyt said.
After all the work was done, Woodard-Hoyt was overcome with emotion for the work that had been done and the people who had lost their battles with unpronounceable words.
“At that moment, the only thing missing is Clinton and Tay and that would make it perfect,” she said.