Christmas Angels

December 2020 View more

Celebrating the holidays takes on a different feel when your child is battling cancer. Between countless doctors’ appointments, the rigors of treatment, and sheer emotional exhaustion, it’s nearly impossible for parents to think about planning a family Christmas celebration. Impossible, that is, without a little help from a few angels. Through its 12 Days of Christmas Program, Cal’s Angels enables families to focus on making precious memories during the holidays by taking care of their shopping needs.

Cal’s Angels is a pediatric cancer foundation established in 2007 in memory of Cal Sutter, a 13-year-old who lost his battle with leukemia.

Cal’s legacy of kindness and generosity lives on through the nonprofit’s mission of granting wishes, raising awareness, and funding pediatric cancer research. A couple of years after its founding, Cal’s Angels established the 12 Days of Christmas, a physician-referral-based program for children fighting cancer under special circumstances during the holiday season.

“We created this program to help relieve the burden of holiday shopping so that families can focus on creating lasting memories,” explains Stacey Wahlberg, president and cofounder of the St. Charles–based nonprofit. “It gives parents the opportunity to focus on the sick child and know the other family members are not going to be missing out. It’s an enormous relief.”

As Cal’s stepmom, Wahlberg experienced firsthand the challenges of celebrating the holidays when he underwent treatment. She also witnessed his siblings feeling left out as Cal seemed to get all the attention and receive countless gifts from well-wishers. “We wanted to do something for families that also lifts up the siblings. They watch someone else get all the attention and they don’t understand it. And rightfully so—they are children.”
Wahlberg points out that jealousy and animosity often ensue. “It’s
something you don’t realize until you are going through it.”

The holiday program provides gifts for each child in the family from their wish list. The family also receives a gift card for groceries or a catered
holiday dinner, lots of baked goods, and even a gingerbread house that everyone can build together.

“After my daughter’s relapse, I was so lost. I didn’t know if we were going to come home much less be able to plan for Christmas,” explains Esther, who wishes to use first names only for privacy purposes. “Thanks to Cal’s Angels, we came home to an amazing amount of love and support through gifts—not only for [our daughter] Ava, but for [siblings] Gwen and Jude, so they wouldn’t be forgotten either.” Cal’s Angels supports over 50 families and 150 children each holiday season.

The nonprofit’s gift giving is not limited to the Christmas season. Cal’s Angels continually collects and distributes toys and gift cards for monthly parties hosted by the children’s hospitals. “We collect over 10,000 toys, which sounds like an enormous amount, but because we bring them to seven different locations, it gets weeded through pretty quickly,” Wahlberg points out.

The nonprofit also funds pediatric cancer research and clinical trials. Last year, Cal’s Angels donated $1 million to Lurie Children’s Hospital to help fund a robot that works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to find new treatments for pediatric cancer patients.

“Those of us who are healthy need to count our blessings,” says Wahlberg. “So many of our neighbors are dealing with something much larger and are just trying to get by. If you are able to reach out and donate within your own community, I think that’s huge.”

For more information on Cal’s Angels, or to shop the wish list for the program, visit

Photos courtesy Cal’s Angels