Her goddaughter, Cameron Lea Walter, has Stage 3 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Cameron, who lives in Vermillion, is 2½ years old. Not only is Thomas organizing a fundraiser, which will be tonight, but she decided to do something else.
About $3,000 has already been raised. If that number reaches $30,000 by the end of this weekend, Thomas will have her head shaved. That hair will go to a company that makes wigs for people with cancer.
Thomas, who is also Cameron's great-aunt, feels compassion for “this little innocent thing that can't fend for herself. I'm her godmother. And I need to stand up,” she said.
The fundraiser begins at 6 p.m. at the reception hall at Schriver's Memorial Mortuary and Crematory, 414 Fifth Ave. N.W.
Originally, tonight's gathering was going to be a small Pampered Chef party, with the proceeds going to Cameron. Thomas then decided on a small fundraiser. But an email sent out by Margaret Artz, a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church, generated a huge response.
When it became apparent that tonight's fundraiser will be substantial, Thomas decided to just “bring it on” and see what happened. Why not offer to cut her hair?
She's now getting checks in the mail from people she doesn't even know.
“In the first week, I raised $2,500, and I haven't even had the fundraiser yet,” said Thomas, who credits much of the success to prayer.
Cameron is the daughter of Katie Walter of Vermillion and Derrick Walter of Bridgewater. Katie, an Aberdeen native, is the former Katie Cameron. A physical therapist, she is Thomas' niece.
On June 3, Cameron had trouble breathing, and doctors found a tumor on her lung that was the size of a man's hand, Thomas said. The tumor had pushed her heart and her esophagus to the right side. The lymphoma, which was diagnosed June 7, has traveled into her kidneys, Thomas said.
Doctors are treating the illness aggressively. Cameron will undergo three years of treatment. As of now, she's undergoing spinal chemotherapy every Friday for nine months. Doctors believe the lymphoma started four to six weeks before the symptoms began. The little girl has started to lose her hair.
Cameron won't be at the fundraiser tonight, partly because the chemo has weakened her immune system.
Thomas has read that cancer costs a family an average of $720 a month out of pocket. Her initial fundraising goal of $2,500 would have paid for Cameron's expenses for three months. If $30,000 is raised this weekend, that would pay for all three years that her treatment continues, Thomas noted.
Thomas comes from a large family. She is one of eight children of Herman and Janet Pfeiffer.
The family is "blessed with an abundant amount of friends," and they live in a generous community, she said. It breaks her heart, she said, to see people who don’t have what others have.
Thomas gets lots of compliments on her thick, curly dark blonde hair. But she's prepared to give it up. If the fundraising goal is reached, her hair will be no longer than an inch.
Lots of people have donated items for the fundraiser.
“Oh my gosh, you should see my living room. It's full of stuff,” said Thomas, a massage therapist.
Enough food has been donated to feed 400 people. The evening will includes a silent raffle. Among the items donated are three, 20-pound ribeye roasts, a bicycle, a Kindle Fire and rounds of golf.
If you are not able to attend, you can mail a donation to Thomas at 810 N. Washington St., Aberdeen, SD 57401.