Emily Linneman continues to have an impact on people’s lives nearly three years after she lost her brave fight against cancer – and that impact doesn’t show signs of going away.
“Although we lost Emily with our eyes and ears, she is with us, as we carry on her legacy by doing more, living with grace,” says a page on the Emily’s Ride website.
Emily’s Ride, a 501[c] nonprofit, helps to grant the wishes of children with cancer, assists their parents with paying bills, and provides needed items that medical insurance won’t cover. The ride is one of several fundraising efforts in Emily’s name, orchestrated by family members and others who were touched by her life.
Emily was 17 when she passed away on Dec. 12, 2015. Her mother, Kimberly [Kim] Christ Linneman, says those that loved her as a family member or fell in love with her when they met are simply carrying out her daughter’s wishes.
“Emily was wise beyond her years and she would have moments when she would say ‘I want you to help others when I’m gone,’” Kim said, noting that a lot of people helped them when Emily was sick.
Emily was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer when she was just starting high school at Holt High in Wentzville.
“When she was first diagnosed, the doctors said they caught it early, and it was in a good spot, and she had a great chance to survive,” Kim said.
Her left leg was amputated below the knee and she went into remission for eight months. Then, cancer came back. Emily didn’t want to have her other leg amputated, so doctors removed part of her kneecap and shin bone, replacing them with metal. But cancer came back as an inoperable tumor in her leg.
Kim knew what a serious family illness could mean – bucket lists and bills to pay often without the means to pay them. Emily’s father, Jeffery A. Linneman, passed away from leukemia in 2010.
Emily’s bucket list included playing basketball and softball again on a limited basis. She got a tattoo, a miniature pig as a pet and a ride on a Harley motorcycle in the first Emily’s Ride event. She also fulfilled her last wish; she got married – in a way.
Emily and Jake Schroer fell in love and exchanged vows at a special ceremony in October 2015. Big Dave, a tattoo artist and ordained minister officiated the ceremony in front of many of the couple’s friends and family. Even though it wasn’t a real marriage, her mother said the sentiments were. Emily had always wanted to be a bride.
She lost the use of her legs three days before the ceremony and couldn’t walk down the aisle. “I think she knew what was happening,” Kim said. By the end of October, hospice care was in the offing.
Emily wasn’t apt to talk about herself or complain. Her mother said she felt bad for smaller children who were fighting cancer. “She always commented, ‘They are small and shouldn’t have to go through this,’” Kim said. “She would have something delivered and say, ‘Mom, see how happy that made me, so make sure you do that when I’m gone.’”
Wishing it forward
These days, Kim, her mother Catja Christ, her sister Nicole, and Emily’s brother Brendan and sister Breanna along with other family members and friends remain busy.
In August, Kim and others stopped by SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital to meet Tiana and her mom. Tiana is battling osteosarcoma in her pelvis and trying to finish her senior year in high school. Emily’s Ride donated $2,000 to them.
“Thank you all who help and donate to Emily’s Ride,” Tiana said in a message posted to the Emily’s Ride Facebook page. “You really have no idea how this helps my heart!”
From mouse races to the motorcycle ride to other activities, Kim said Emily’s team had raised as much as $16,000 annually since her death. Leads on who gets donations come from contacts at Cardinal Glennon and friends’ suggestions.
“Someone from the childhood cancer community will reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I know someone who needs help, this is their Facebook page,’” Kim said. “And then we look at it and review it and reach out to mom or dad and say, ‘Where do you need help? Does the child need a wish granted? Do you need help with medical bills?’”
“One day [Kim] just messaged me out of the blue,” said Dana Manley, whose foster child, 5-year-old Sydney, had a form of kidney cancer. “I knew about her daughter Emily … but I really didn’t know her.”
Kim asked if she and her mom and sister could visit with Dana and Sydney. “They came to the cancer center and presented us with a check for $1,000 just to help us,” Manley said. “They knew … what it was like to have a cancer diagnosis and offered as much help as we needed.” The Manleys lived in Hermann and had to travel to St. Louis five days a week for Sydney’s treatment. “Every week for almost three years, 87 miles one way,” Manley said.
It wasn’t just financial but emotional support they received, Manley said. “In the cancer community, the most help you get often is from the parents of a child with cancer, or who had a child that passed from cancer, because they know what you’re going through,” Manley said.
Diagnosed in March 2015, Sydney’s cancer returned three times. She had a kidney removed, multiple chemotherapy and radiation treatments, a stem cell transplant, and a very painful tumor on her liver. She passed in February and, like Kim, her family has set up a foundation to help other children experience a wish come true.
When Sydney passed away, 9,400 people were following her on Facebook, lending emotional support and prayers. According to Manley, Sydney said, “Remember when everybody was sending me on trips and stuff to experience? I want you to do that for other kids.”
“So that’s why we did the Bucket List Foundation,” Manley said.
“She got to do a lot of things she wanted to [do] and she wanted to make sure that other kids got that, too,” Manley said.
Part of what motivates Manley and Kim is keeping their daughters’ names on people’s minds.“You don’t want your kids to be forgotten,” Kim said. “If you do something in her name, her name always gets brought up.”
Brian Miller, director of marketing and communications with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Missouri & Kansas, said the philanthropic nature of the St. Louis community “is second to none.”
This year, it’s actually third.
According to a 2017 assessment of America’s most charitable cities by Charity Navigator, St. Louis ranked third in charitable giving among the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan markets. It was second in 2016.
Miller notes that many established nonprofits started as grassroots movements, including Make-A-Wish in the 1980s. Today, the nonprofit is on course to grant wishes for more than 340 children in Missouri and Kansas this year. Emily was a Make-A-Wish recipient.
“To see one of our wish families decide to what we call ‘wish it forward’ and do good for others after they received something is very inspiring and shows the caring nature of the St. Louis area,” Miller said.
Social media has helped spur this movement, Miller said.
“As far as the philanthropic landscape is concerned, online giving is trending up and I don’t see it slowing down. The emergence of that is definitely fueling how we create communities of giving in St. Louis and there are a lot of wonderful causes,” Miller said.
The work in Emily’s name remains ongoing, Christ said, noting that the battle against cancer is “an expensive battle.” She said Emily’s family was blessed because Kim had insurance, compared to parents they’ve met who don’t.
She added that the people involved with their fundraising effort seem to like doing it. “We have such a wonderful time that evening [or day], it’s just amazing to see the enjoyment between the people that work [the event] and people that come to participate,” Christ said. “They don’t think twice about giving their money. It’s very heartwarming.”
She also is amazed by the children. “When you get on these [hospital] floors and see these kids, and, yes, they have terrible days, yes, they’re grumpy a lot of times, but it amazes me how they always have a smile,” Christ said.
Kim offers this advice for families fighting a serious illness:
“First and foremost, if people are offering help, take it,” she said. “There is no need to do it on your own if there are people willing to help. Doing it all on your own will wear you out.
“Secondly, don’t take stressful words to heart. As a caregiver, you are going to be yelled at more than anybody by the person who loves you more than anybody. They know you’re not going anywhere and they have to yell at somebody.”
Kim said she does not anticipate the fundraising efforts of Emily’s Ride going away anytime soon. “I would think as long as I’m physically able to do it [I will],” Kim said.
She noted, when the group receives donations and awards gifts, they try to take a photo to post on the Emily’s Ride website [emilysride.org] and Facebook page “to show the people donating to us where their money is going.”