In January 2017, Kennedy Parker was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called “Ewing Sarcoma” at just 21-years-old. It all started around November 2016, when Kennedy started having sharp pain in her right jaw. Her wisdom teeth were removed, but the pain was still there. The dentist felt there was something more going on.
Kennedy went to see an oral surgeon and she was told to go home, grab clothes because she would be staying for at least the next five days.
She underwent surgery to remove pieces of bone and tissue from her jaw for testing.
A day after being released from the hospital, Kennedy and her family received a phone call. It turned out to be a tumor.
She underwent chemotherapy and eventually had surgery to remove the tumor on April 10, 2017. The surgery was a success and she was then cancer free.
While going through this, she enrolled in Chicago State University as a marketing and business major, was a member of the National Council of Negro Women and the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
Kennedy started her own non-profit organization called Project Kennedy to raise awareness about cancer.
“She was the strongest person I’ve ever met in my life and I’m not saying that because she’s my child,” says Kennedy’s mother Darnesha Evans.
She was cancer free for two years until October 2019, the cancer returned and spread throughout her body. Darnesha says she knew Kennedy did not have much longer to live, but her daughter wanted to make the most out of life. Kennedy passed away in summer of 2020. One of the discussions they had prior to her passing was how they wanted to commemorate her life.
Kennedy wanted her service to be different, she wanted it to be a celebration of her life. She wanted people to wear green and gold, listen to uplifting music, and share their favorite memories of her.
“It was truly a celebration, we do not say funeral because it was not a funeral, she touched everybody,” says Darnesha.
Darnesha continues to keep Kennedy’s memory alive through her organization by sharing Kennedy’s story and helping families impacted by cancer.
Project Kennedy helps families by giving gift baskets featuring gift cards for food and gas, and other expenses to help those whose loved ones are going through cancer treatment.
“We call the gift baskets ‘SMILE Baskets’, which stands for She Makes It Look Easy, we send these to them to brighten up their day and encourage them,” says Darnesha.
The project has received overwhelming and positive support, from not only families impacted by cancer but also from the doctors and nurses who treated Kennedy. Darnesha says it is important to keep the spirit of Kennedy alive by helping others. The Project Kennedy Facebook page helps share the organizations events and outreach.
The organization hosts many fundraising events including an annual virtual walk for Kennedy called ‘Walking for A Friend’.
Kennedy also received multiple blood transfusions during her cancer battle. Darnesha is partnering with the Red Cross in Chicago to a host blood drive in her Kennedy’s memory. Darnesha says raising awareness about donating blood, especially in the African American community is important for those battling illnesses.
If you are eligible and feeling well, visit redcrossblood.org to schedule an appointment to donate.
Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco