Jo Ann Thrailkill, Turning Tragic Loss into the Most Precious Gift of Love

Jo Ann Headshot

I met Jo Ann in February of 2010 and I knew immediately that we would be friends.  Her infectious smile lit up the entire room and touched me profoundly!

We were both attending “Alchemy”, a wonderful workshop sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation.  I was acting as Director of Development for an LA based non-profit organization.  Jo Ann and her husband Jeff were just launching their own non-profit, the Pablove Foundation, in honor of their son Pablo who had died from cancer less than a year before.

Jo Ann was born in New Orleans, Louisiana.  She now lives in Silver Lake in Los Angeles, California, with her husband Jeff Castelaz and their son Grady.  Jo Ann and Jeff’s younger son, Pablo was 5 years old when he was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor, a rare form of childhood kidney cancer. Pablo underwent several surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation over a 13 month period. On June 27, 2009, six days after his sixth birthday, Pablo lost his valiant fight against cancer, and passed away.

When Jo Ann shared her story I cried!  I cannot imagine a greater pain than losing a child. Yet I know that it could happen to any one of us at any moment.  I have seen several other friends lose a child to cancer, an accident, or another debilitating disease.  The inner strength and radiant peace of these moms never ceases to amaze me.  They are a beacon of hope and a constant reminder that my daughters are a precious gift to be cherished each and every day.

Jo Ann and Jeff, turned their sorrow into the most beautiful gift — through the Pablove Foundation they offer hope and support to families everywhere as they honor Pablo’s life and continue his fight against childhood cancer.

 “When Pablo was diagnosed, we knew we had a choice — to be angry at cancer and drop out of the world or to embrace our love for him and make connections with the community of families we had discovered as a result of Pablo’s illness and fight the good fight in his honor.”


 Here is a little glimpse into this beautiful woman’s heart:

Tell us  a little bit about the life you lead

“I started in Los Angeles as a music video producer doing the usual balancing act of family/career/life. After Pablo’s diagnosis, we dropped the other two sides of the triangle and focused on being parents to Pablo and Grady. Now, as Executive Director of The Pablove Foundation, I’m in the unique position of using my parental love as a guiding force in my life and letting that focus my drive as ED of a non-profit dedicated to fighting childhood cancer. All three sides of the triangle now work in tandem with the focus on spreading the message that “kids get cancer too.”

Share a unique or special story with us

“Sitting in the emergency room of Children’s Hospital LA and hearing that our son had cancer is something that will never leave us. After Pablo passed away we wanted to do something to help people in the same position as ours. We didn’t know what it was or how we were going to do it, but we knew we wanted to dedicate ourselves to this cause. While going from one medical appointment to another and attempting to educate ourselves about Pablo’s illness, we discovered that there was very little in the way a community network for families dealing with childhood cancer. There’s only so many times you can Google “Wilms Tumor” before you’re in a constant feedback loop. One core reason we started Pablove was to provide that support and network for families going through the same thing we had been through. From those beginnings three years ago, The Pablove Foundation has grown to encompass more and more aspects in the fight against childhood cancer — now we have an annual Childhood Cancer Symposium where families can get one-on-one time with leading medical experts, we award Childhood Cancer Research Grants yearly to provide seed money for cancer research projects.”

What makes you Scrumptious?

“I love Los Angeles, but I am a New Orleans girl at heart. I split my time between my two hometowns and wherever I am I try to make sure I keep up with my Bikram Yoga classes. In addition to the health benefits, it is an empowering routine that gives me more energy, increases my well-being and just plain makes me happier. Walking out into the day with that kind of bonus energy is one of the best feelings I can imagine.”

Do yo have a special tip or secret to share with other moms for living the Scrumptious LIfe?

“Hug your children. Now. Tell them that you love them. Every day.”

When I saw Jo Ann last month at the annual True Pablove event held in Los Angeles, I saw a woman at peace and radiating a deep and vibrant joy.  Hundreds of children were busy making a variety of crafts.  Families were gathered all around sharing a special afternoon, laughing, enjoying each other’s company, celebrating the gift of love.

I also had the privilege of meeting a handful of children who are part of Pablove Shutterbugs, a program that teaches children living with cancer to develop their creative voice through the art of photography. The program has been cited for its divinely inspired effect on children whose lives become overwhelmed with medical schedules during treatment.  It was so wonderful to see the pride in these children’s eyes, press passes around their necks, as they captured special moments of the event with their cameras, and shared their story with attendees.  They were beautiful, powerful, unforgettable!

JoAnn with Pablove family

Pablo’s legacy, through Jo Ann and Jeff and the Pablove Foundation, is one of pure and unconditional love that will shine through the darkest moments and bring peace and hope when it is needed most.

You can learn more about Jo Ann and the Pablove Foundation here:

About Valerie 

Valerie Remy-Milora is the mother of 3 amazing girls, an author, public speaker, coach and founder of Scrumptious Moms. She is passionate about empowering moms to embrace self care and live a vibrant, joyful life with their loved ones. A health and fitness nut, she is an advocate for chemical-free living, real food and GMO labeling. She believes in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

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  1. Great post. What a sad and wonderful story. Turning such personal grief into an opportunity for other children takes a very special kind of person and certainly a very inspiring one. Thank you for sharing her story.

    • You are welcome Debra. It is truly a beautiful thing for Joanne to have turned her personal sorrow into blessings for so many! I love to see her surrounded by the families she serves, it is deeply touching and truly inspiring!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Her story made me cry, I can’t imaging losing a child. So amazing what she did to honor him.

    • You are welcome Karen. I pray I never find myself in Joanne’s position. I have three daughters and can’t imagine ever been without one of them. I do not doubt for a second that not a day goes by for Joanne when she does not miss Pablo. To see her honor him and his life in such a beautiful way fills me with awe.

  3. Jon Jefferson says:

    The loss of a child can be one of the deepest pains. To bring others hope from your tragedy is a great gift to give.

  4. Thanks for sharing this post. Stories are certainly one path to healing and also a way to connect.

    • You are welcome Jeri. Stories are what connect us as human beings. It is how we learned and how we grow. I love sharing inspirational stories. We all encounter challenges in this journey of ours, and people like Joanne remind us that there is beauty to be found even in the darkest of times.

  5. WOW, I teared up. I cannot imagine what it would be and feel like to lose a child. I applaud her in being able to turn such a horrid tragedy into a positive. 🙂


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