THE LIFE + LEGACY OF BLAKE CAZIER
seveneightfive contributor coordinator Kristen Shook
The following article is a first person account of the short life of Blake Cazier and the foundation that formed by his family in the aftermath of his death.
It is my belief and hope there are not many in our community who are unfamiliar with the incredible life and legacy of Blake Cazier. Jaclyn and Chris welcomed their son just a few days before Christmas in 2014. Jaclyn reflects on this time as being the happiest and most content moment of her entire life. Holding her baby as she watched Christmas lights from her hospital room window is a memory she shares often with a smile. From the very first moment, she adored her son, Blake.
Shortly after his first birthday, Blake was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. Jaclyn distinctly recalls the moment the team of doctors told her their baby had cancer: “I knew it was really bad even before they had said Blake had cancer. I remember grabbing him in that crib and holding him so tight screaming, ‘Not my baby! Oh God, not my baby!’ Every cell inside of my body screamed for this to not be true, and I knew that very first day, I would never watch him grow old.” Sadly, Jaclyn’s initial fears were not unfounded with this aggressive form of blood cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
For the next fifteen months, the Topeka community rallied behind Blake and his entire family. This little boy, a baby, learning how to walk with an IV pole received fervent prayers for his recovery. Bright orange “Team Blake” shirts flooded social media in support of this precious child fighting for his life. Many people were drawn to Blake’s powerful story told through his mother’s perspective on the “Team Blake” Facebook page. Jaclyn’s posts throughout Blake’s journey showed the horror that is pediatric cancer. Through it all, the Cazier’s tremendous faith and endless love for their son never faltered. Jaclyn never left Blake’s side; her dedication was steadfast as she fought for her baby.
Mothers across the country, around the world even, placed themselves in her shoes and celebrated Blake’s progress, and later wept with broken hearts as Blake’s treatment failed. The Caziers scoured the country as they searched for treatment options to save their 2-year-old son.
Blake left the loving arms of his family to enter a heaven filled with cows and trains, no more “ouchies” or pain on March 7, 2017. Jaclyn has described some of Blake’s final moments as more than any parent should ever have to bear. Throughout his journey, Blake’s contagious smile, giggles, and beautiful blue eyes are contained within memories his family absolutely cherishes. In his short two years on this side of heaven, Blake touched more lives than most people do in an entire lifetime. Hearts were shattered the day Blake went to be with the Lord. The community showed up in droves to a gathering supporting his family the very next day at Felker Park. Jaclyn begged the community to not forget her son and the enormous impact he made during his heartbreakingly short life.
I remember Blake’s funeral so vividly; it impacted my life to a great extent as a mother to a little boy the same age as Blake. Topeka Bible Church was overflowing with friends, family, and complete strangers who fell in love with Blake and wanted to pay tribute to this special little boy. Due to the church being over capacity, an additional congregation area even filled across the street. There was not a single person at Blake’s funeral who was not overcome with emotion. Blake’s tiny casket, painted like the trains he loved so dearly, pierced you right to the very core. As Chris and Jaclyn poignantly and lovingly delivered their son’s eulogy, everyone mourned the loss of such a young life. Jaclyn read Nancy Tillman’s book, Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You. Truly, their love has found their son through the legacy they have built in his memory. The entire service was founded on the belief it was not “goodbye,” it was, “until we see you again, sweet boy.”
Prior to Team Blake Foundation becoming an official 501(c)(3) in April 2018, numerous children and families battling AML received assistance in Blake’s name given by the Cazier family. Just a few months after Blake went to be with the Lord, Jaclyn headed back to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. We left early that morning as the sun was peeking into one of the most beautiful orange sunrises I have seen. Before going into the hospital, it was one of the hardest moments I have ever watched a person, much less a friend, go through. Jaclyn is the bravest woman I have ever known; she has shown insurmountable courage on countless occasions and continues to do so. For the mother who walked out months earlier without a piece of her heart, she walked back in on a mission to help children with cancer. We met a darling little boy named Carter, and an incredible, full-of-faith little girl named Rachel, who we knew was at an extremely hard point in her treatment. It is a reminder of the devastating reality of childhood cancer both children struggled with treatment options and later joined Blake in heaven. This was the first of many trips back to Children’s Mercy. Jaclyn has been unrelenting when it comes to loudly advocating for children, raising more than $50,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, starting Team Blake Foundation with her husband and family, all while proving a mother’s love knows no bounds.
Today, Blake’s legacy extends throughout the entire country. Care packages are sent around the U.S. to children battling cancer at tough points in their treatment. Children in Kansas receive assistance through the foundation to relieve the financial burden cancer devastates families with. To date, more than $100,000 has been dispersed to families in need. As a small foundation, we rely heavily on support from our community. The 20/30 Club of Topeka has been a huge blessing by providing generous grants for the past four years! Advisors Excel has also always been a strong supporter of Blake and the foundation. The Annual Team Blake Memorial Golf Tournament is the foundation’s largest fundraiser. This tournament is incredibly near and dear to the Caziers, especially the very first year when Blake was able to attend.
If you are interested in learning more about this year’s tournament taking place Sunday, 9/11/22, or how to get involved in other waysplease visit foreverteamblake.com
Children facing a cancer diagnosis today are unfortunately left with a shocking lack of treatment options. While certain forms of childhood cancers are quite treatable, side effects can be devastating to the child. Nationally, childhood cancer research receives only a 4% allocation on an annual basis. As their protectors, children should receive it all; they unequivocally deserve so much more. To the children who are fighting for their lives, they should have countless treatment options. Time is of the essence when a child desperately needs help, and for children to be denied trials due to extensive qualifying criteria is incredibly unfair. Most often, the people making the biggest moves with the loudest voices in the world of childhood cancer research are the parents who have buried their children. How can we not stand by their sides to advocate for more? More options, more support, and more time, really.
To Jaclyn, the foundation means everything to her. She describes her outlook for the foundation, as founder and president, to be one of “hope.” She goes on to say, “Our hope is to protect children who are diagnosed with cancer. Our goal is to fund any treatment or research so these children can live long, happy lives without any complications or side effects of the treatment.” While there are many traumatic triggers for the Cazier family stemming from their son’s battle, they admirably walk right into the fight in Blake’s memory for other children.
It can be said with absolute certainty the Caziers cherished the time they had with Blake, they just wanted so much more of it. Something I will always remember, with tears in my eyes, is what Jaclyn said during her son’s eulogy: “I wanted to see you on your first day of school. I wanted to dance with you at your wedding. I wanted to hold your babies.” The longing is unfathomable. Blake’s courage and bravery continues to inspire others to live their lives with no less than a little boy did; people are inspired to do more and to be better. The essence of Team Blake Foundation is standing with children, advocating for change, and supporting those who need it most. Having a mother’s heart extends beyond yourself; you want the very best for all children. I tell Jaclyn I can picture Blake watching her relentless efforts to help children, this side of heaven, all in his name, proudly saying, “That’s my mom!” May the work we do in your memory, leave a legacy as lasting as yours, Blake.