VERNAL — Jamie Toftum wants to make life easier for kids who have cancer, so she’s set out to build up their spirits with small plastic bricks.
"There's no words to describe when you touch a child, when you help that child and give them a moment of joy," Toftum said.
As director for the Utah chapter of LEGOs for Leukemia, she said the children who endure chemotherapy and long hospital stays at Primary Children's Medical Center are the real heroes, not her. But she will not deny the special connection she has with them.
"For anybody to hear the words, 'You have cancer,' it's devastating," Toftum said.
Toftum has heard those words herself — twice. She vividly remembers a visit to her doctor's office two years ago.
"I actually said to my husband, right before she came in, I said, 'She's going to come in and tell me I'm a hypochondriac and there's nothing wrong with me, I need a psychologist,'" Toftum recalled.
The problem wasn't in Toftum's head, though. It was in her blood.
"She came in and said, 'You have leukemia,'" Toftum said.
Never one to sit around feeling sorry for herself, Toftum discovered LEGOs for Leukemia — a charity started in 2009 by a Colorado teen who lost his father and his grandparents to cancer. She quickly became head of the program's Utah chapter.
"The majority of my donations come from people who have either lost someone to cancer or know someone who's fighting cancer," Toftum said.
One of the first LEGO sets Toftum sent out went to Carter Hadlock, a 6-year-old Washington state boy with Utah ties who is battling leukemia.
"It was nice to see him really excited over something for the first time in several weeks, and he immediately opened his package and started building all sorts of contraptions and things with his LEGOs," said Amanda Hadlock, Carter's mother.
In March 2012, the Utah LEGOs for Leukemia chapter dropped off 100 boxes of donated LEGO bricks at Primary Children's Medical Center. Toftum wants to collect 900 LEGO brick sets this year. That's the average number of children who annually receive treatment for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses at Primary Children's, she said.
"That would be a dream," Toftum said, "that every child has something that gives them a creative outlet to deal with this illness."
Hadlock believes the folks who run LEGOs for Leukemia are heroes, whose kindness has helped to brighten some of her family's darkest days.
"A box of LEGOs can make the difference between a really, really crummy day and a day that isn't so bad," Hadlock said.
Toftum is still fighting her own battle with leukemia. She was also diagnosed in February with thyroid cancer. Still, she plans to make her annual LEGO donation to Primary Children's Medical Center on April 26.
For more information on where to donate, contact Toftum by email at LfL_UT@yahoo.com.