Parents rise from the unthinkable to fight childhood cancer in the Inland Northwest
By Taylor Shillam
Photo Courtesy of The Anna Schindler Foundation
“No one ever thinks their child will get cancer,” Polly Schindler said.
Polly and Joe Schindler started the Anna Schindler Foundation 10 years ago in honor of their daughter Anna, who passed away in the summer of 2010 after a five-month battle with liver cancer. She was only 6 years old.
“This only happens to the families on the Saturday St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital commercials,” Polly had thought when her family was placed in an unimaginable position.
It was from an experience she never dreamed she would have—an experience encompassing surgeries, hospitalizations, treatment, her little girl’s courageous fight, and the overwhelming support she received through it all—that drove Polly and her husband to create Anna’s legacy.
“Following her passing, we felt inspired to start a nonprofit in her honor,” Polly recalled. “We had been greatly supported during Anna’s sickness, and we wanted to do the same for others. The community surrounded us with support and believed in our mission.”
On January 1, 2011, the Anna Schindler Foundation was formed. The foundation’s mission was to provide emotional and financial support to Inland Northwest families fighting childhood cancer, while raising awareness for the cause.
The Schindlers experienced firsthand the financial impact placed on a family with a child fighting cancer, and the priceless impact a supportive community can have.
Since its beginning, the foundation has supported more than 400 Inland Northwest families, raising over $1 million to directly support families in their fight against cancer.
In 2011, their initial goal was to be able to give $5,000 to affected families. Instead, they gave $8,000, and the foundation has since continued to explode in terms of growth and support.
In 2019 and 2020, the Anna Schindler Foundation gave $230,000 in support to local childhood cancer families.
“We assist with medical bills, mortgages, rent, utility bills, car payments and all living expenses, because one parent usually has to quit work to care for their child,” Polly explained.
Their support goes beyond financial; they come through for their families in priceless moments.
Polly recalled Lily, a child from Coeur d’Alene battling leukemia at the young age of 4. Lily was treated in Spokane before being transported to Seattle for several months, while her father stayed in town to care for her siblings. One night, Polly’s phone rang with a call from Lily’s mother. Lily wasn’t doing well. Her father needed to be with her. The foundation stepped in and booked Lily’s father on the first flight out of Spokane, early the next morning. That afternoon, 4-year-old Lily passed away with both her parents by her side. Lily’s story is just one example of the life-changing impact that remains at the very heart of the Anna Schindler Foundation.
In addition, the foundation has built Spokane’s first respite homes for families going through childhood cancer treatment. Anna’s Homes was inspired by the many families Polly and Joe met throughout their daughter’s treatment at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.
“During critical parts of treatment, these immune-compromised children need to stay close to the hospital,” Polly recalled. This requires families from outside the area to find nearby housing for the duration of treatment.
The Schindlers were inspired to build family homes specifically designed for the needs of pediatric oncology families, and in 2017 they broke ground on construction on Anna’s Homes.
Polly recalled meeting a couple at a fundraiser, who later offered to pay the $78,000 balance required to fund the homes. “The dream of Anna’s Homes could not have been turned into a reality without the incredible love and support of the community and local business partners.”
The goal of building the individual townhomes was to provide a safe, inexpensive family living option that didn’t yet exist in the area—a home away from home. Anna’s Homes have now housed over 20 families, with plans to build four additional homes in 2022.
The foundation’s annual Anna’s Homes Gala, typically held in Spokane, is canceled in 2021 due to COVID precautions, but the foundation looks forward to their 11th annual Anna Schindler Memorial Golf Tournament on September 11. (Last year, the event sold out and brought in a net $175,000 for their Anna’s Homes and Family Support programs.)
“Until there is a cure for cancer, the ASF will continue to help families and appreciate all donations,” Polly stated.
Community members can sign up to volunteer their time, donate to the foundation’s annual auctions, and learn more about the work inspired by Anna Schindler at AnnaSchindlerFoundation.com.
The foundation is active on Facebook and Instagram, and encourages community members to help spread awareness by sharing the posts and stories of local warriors.
In addition to overseeing the foundation, the Schindlers remain family focused with their eight children (“seven, with one in heaven,” as they often say), aged 9 to 26.
Polly often visits the pediatric oncology floor at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital to offer support to the families there, and Joe, a firefighter, dedicates much of his time to the service of others.
“I consider it a privilege to serve with such amazing people who want to help these families battle cancer,” he has said of the community surrounding the ASF.
Rising from an unthinkable experience, Polly and Joe Schindler have created miraculous opportunities with the Anna Schindler Foundation.
“Seeing our little girl’s fight, we knew we would give forward when ours was over.”
Today, they remain in the fight, battling childhood cancer throughout the Inland Northwest. They continue to be a light for children like Anna and for families just like theirs, providing compassion and support for the community that helped them through their hardest moments.