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Woman With Cancer Writes Book for Children


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There are no words that can explain to a child why their mother would die.

Kristen Milligan understands this all too well.

When Milligan was diagnosed with a rare, terminal liver cancer five years ago, she worried that her three children, Ashlea, Luke and Rebecca, would get lost trying to understand why their mother was sick.

Instead of shielding the painful truth from their children, Milligan, 34, and her husband Deric, 37, both originally from Lakeland and now living in Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y., decided to be honest.

"The more we've included them, the more comfortable they are because they know what's going on," Kristen Milligan said.

Milligan attempted to find children's books to help her children better understand, but she couldn't find anything.

"After a long time of complaining, I wrote one myself," Milligan said.

And so, "A Train's Rust, A Toy Maker's Love," was written.

The book is about a family of trains that lives in a tree house. When the trains decide to move to the ground, they realize their lives are not perfect anymore. Then, the mother train begins to rust, Milligan said.

"I originally wrote it for my kids," she said. It was eventually published.

The family has decided to devote itself to helping others deal with the spiritual, financial and emotional aspects of cancer.

In May, Deric and Kristen Milligan established Inheritance of Hope, a faith-based, nonprofit agency.

"It's to serve the families who have children under the age of 18 living with a terminally ill parent," Kristen Milligan said.

As of now, the organization is online-based. The Web site, www.InheritanceofHope.com, provides online resources and links to provide information about cancer and counseling.

Recently, three online communities were launched on the Web site, for parents, caregivers and children.

The communities are "very monitored," Milligan said, but allow people a way to connect with others who are facing the same situations.

Deric Milligan, former band director at Mulberry High School, is currently an MBA student at New York University. He plays the trumpet professionally at West Point.

A few months ago, he prepared a business plan for Inheritance of Hope and entered it in NYU's Stern School of Business' Business Plan Competition. His plan is among a dozen still in the running for the award.

If he wins, the Milligans will receive $100,000 to put toward the agency. The results will be announced in late April.

During the summer, Inheritance of Hope will sponsor two camps. They will be held in New York, but are open to people nationwide. The first camp will be just for children, the second for children and their parents.

Each will include adventure activities such as whitewater rafting. The camps will not cost the families a dime.

"It's real important for us to make those camps free of charge," Kristen Milligan said.

In the past few years, both Kristen and Deric Milligan have found that it helps to be around those who are dealing with the same issues. It is helpful for their children also.

Their oldest daughter, Ashlea, 9, has the hardest time coping. "She seems to open up with other kids," Kristen Milligan said.

While the cancer in Kristen's liver has cleared, it has moved to her lungs. She has had two lung surgeries and recently started a new chemotherapy treatment.

Because her children are home-schooled, Milligan has been able to take them with her to some chemotherapy treatments over the years.

Milligan said their 5-year-old daughter Rebecca thinks that everybody's mom has cancer.

But the Milligans know that cancer takes its toll on the entire family, even on their 7-year-old son Luke, who is usually the optimist of the family. "When I'm struggling, he has these fits of anger," Milligan said.

Two other books will be released soon, including "Bunny Goes to Chemotherapy" and "Consider it Pure Joy."

All the books have spiritual undertones, and all proceeds go directly to Inheritance of Hope, Kristen Milligan said.

Some local businesses and organizations have supported the agency, such as Clark, Nikdel, Powell Design & Communications in Winter Haven. Chris Nikdel, the firm's creative director, designed the Inheritance of Hope logo, free of charge.

"I was inspired by Kristen's courage in rising above what would bring most of our lives to an abrupt halt," Nikdel said. "When I saw her dedication to this mission of hope and the level of her humility, I was proud to be able to share our design talent to assist in bringing her vision for the logo to life."

Most of the help comes from individual donations though.

In December, Milligan spoke at First Presbyterian Church in Lakeland. "So many people in Lakeland have been so supportive," she said.

The Milligans hope their organization can help ease the pain for families across America. They hope to start support groups soon.

"It's (Inheritance of Hope) big for us and for our kids," Milligan said. "It's helping us focus our attention on something that's beneficial."

[ Sarah Stegall can be reached at sarah.stegall@yahoo.com, or 802-7527. ]

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