Real-Life Stories

Childhood Cancer Survivor Goes From Cancer Free to College Grad

by Erinn Jessop, St. Baldrick's Foundation
July 17, 2018
collage of Sean during treatment and at graduation

(Left) Sean in treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. (Right) Sean with his mom, Marcia, and dad, Richard, during his graduation from Indiana University.

Honored Kid Sean Kligler graduated from college in May. The day was a tangle of emotions – happiness and sadness both.

“At graduation, I was happy — all those years of schooling finally paid off. I was able to get a college degree,” he said. “Of course, I was sad as well. I really enjoyed my time in college and I made some really good friends along the way.”

But there was another emotion mixed into that bittersweet day. It was gratitude. That’s because when Sean was 5 years old, he was diagnosed with childhood cancer. And when you have cancer, surviving to graduate college, or even attend college, is anything but guaranteed.

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Real-Life Stories

What Is It Like to Be a Childhood Cancer Survivor? It’s Complicated.

by Zoe Enderle Wagner
June 25, 2018

Honored Kid Zoe was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when she was a teenager. Now, almost four years after finishing treatment and getting the news that the cancer was gone, Zoe is taking a look at what she’s learned during her cancer — and cancer-free — journey.

Zoe Wagner

Honored Kid Zoe Wagner is now 19 years old and has been cancer free for four years.

The anticipation of upcoming milestones and the overall exploratory nature of the teenage years make the age of 15 a common time to be naïve – and naive I was. Life was simple and my carefree spirit allowed me to believe it would always be that way. This trusting nature also led me to ignore the severity of the disease symptoms I was having for months. As these symptoms got worse, my uncomplicated mind created uncomplicated explanations for the way I was feeling. I told myself that I was always tired because I was a teenager, and that this exhaustion was the cause of my daily headaches. I blamed my newly heavy periods on ordinary hormonal changes, bruising on being clumsy, unusually pale skin on it simply not being sunny enough out, and weight loss on, well, it happens. It wasn’t until red needle-prick like dots appeared all over my legs that I requested to go to the doctor.

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Families

Dear Son, I’m Proud to be Your Dad

by Dan Tilton
June 16, 2018

From the moment he was born, Ambassador Kellan has been fighting childhood cancer and its devastating effects. But he doesn’t fight alone. His dad, Dan, is right there with him — and Dan wouldn’t have it any other way. In honor of Father’s Day, Dan wrote this letter to Kellan to share how blessed he feels to be his dad.

Kellan and Dan

Ambassador Kellan and his dad, Dan.

Dear Kellan,

As I sit here writing this letter, you are in the operating room at Boston Children’s Hospital. This is a familiar place to you, your Mom and me. As we walked down the halls yesterday to check in, waves of emotion came over me as I reflected on the past six years. We have spent many days and weeks here since your birth.

They’ve told us that your operation will be approximately nine hours, but I know it’ll feel like a lifetime before I see you again. So, here I wait and try to put into words what it means to be your Dad. I don’t know that it’s possible to say exactly what it means to me. Although your smile and thumbs up prior to today’s surgery tells part of it.

Since day one of your life, you have been an inspiration. We watched your battle with cancer begin on the day of your birth. Chemotherapy started on day three. Your tumor resection surgery was month three. Hundreds of visits to the doctor, scans and appointments followed. At 17 months, you got your wheelchair and started to run, Kellan style. At year five we celebrated no evidence of disease — cancer free! Although you are free from cancer, you are paralyzed. Cancer left its mark, but it doesn’t define you or your remarkable life. This year, you were named an Ambassador for St Baldrick’s, an honor I know you don’t take lightly. Your willingness and ability to advocate for all children and families impacted by childhood cancer humbles me. You speak about it from the heart and I am filled with pride when you and your Mother work so hard for others.

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Real-Life Stories

Meet the 20-Year Childhood Cancer Survivor Who Proved Her Doctors Wrong

by Erinn Jessop, St. Baldrick's Foundation
June 13, 2018
Rebecca Morrow with her daughter

Rebecca smiles with her 2-year-old daughter, Sophie.

Childhood cancer had already taken so many things from Rebecca Morrow. During treatment, her hair dropped out twice. She missed her entire seventh-grade year. Her social life evaporated. The treatment devastated her developing body. Sometimes when treatment got really tough, her drive to survive crumbled.

So, when the doctors told a teenage Rebecca that she’d likely never have children of her own, she shrugged it off.

Rebecca had already lost so much to childhood cancer. What was one more thing?

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Real-Life Stories

I’m a 30-Year Childhood Cancer Survivor … and I Know We Can Do Better

by Nora Morris Kulkarni
June 4, 2018

It’s National Cancer Survivors month and Nora, a 30-year survivor, has an important message for you — that being a childhood cancer survivor isn’t the end of the fight, not by a long shot. That’s why pediatric cancer survivors need you to fund kids’ cancer research, because more research not only makes more survivors, it helps those survivors live long and healthy lives.

Nora with a sign

Nora is a 30-year survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She was diagnosed in March 1988 at the age of 10.

Dear St. Baldrick’s Supporter,

On my 10th birthday, I tripped. That’s all it was … I tripped and sprained my ankle. I was a healthy preteen, who would take any chance to dance around to George Michael or Rick Astley, but my ankle just wouldn’t heal. Months of wrong diagnoses followed until March 14, 1988, when I got the news I had cancer; lymphoma had spread to my bones. I had stage 4 cancer.

In the 80’s, you didn’t talk about childhood cancer. My world began to shrink the day I got my diagnosis. I couldn’t go to school, I stopped being invited to parties, my old friends drifted away and the new friends I made during treatment were dying. Ask any kid with cancer today if this sounds familiar – they’ll likely say yes. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much and that’s why we need your help.

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Facts

5 Facts About Childhood Cancer Survivors

by Jonathan Fish, M.D.
June 1, 2018

facts about childhood cancer survivors
Dr. Fish is a St. Baldrick’s Scholar at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. His research focuses on improving the health of childhood cancer survivors.

1. Each year, more children diagnosed with cancer will be cured, joining the growing population of long-term childhood cancer survivors.

Thanks to advances in chemotherapy, radiation and surgical techniques, more children and adolescents are being cured of cancer every year. Today, there are over 420,000 survivors of childhood cancer in the United States, representing approximately 1 in 750 young adults, and that number is expected to exceed 500,000 by the year 2020.

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Real-Life Stories

This Is What Childhood Cancer Survivorship Looks Like

by Lauren Bendesky
June 1, 2018

Today is the first day of National Cancer Survivors Month. To kick it off, 2014 Ambassador Lauren shares what survivorship means to her and gives us a peek into what life is like as a childhood cancer survivor.

Lauren

Diagnosed at age 14 while still in high school, Lauren is now 20 years old and is pursuing her dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist, so she can devote her career to both to the treatment of kids with cancer and to the research to find cures.

June 7th, 2012 is a day that will forever be etched into my memory. This was the last day of my freshman year of high school, but also the day my life was forever changed. After eating dinner, my mother began shaking in her seat as my stepfather informed me that the tumor that had been removed from my abdomen was malignant and so were the surrounding lymph nodes. I had stage 4 neuroblastoma.

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Families

Honored Kid Sully Beats Brain Cancer One Step at a Time

by Erinn Jessop, St. Baldrick's Foundation
May 22, 2018

Honored Kid Sully loves to bike, run and wrestle with his brothers like any 11-year-old boy. He even tried out skiing over spring break. You’d never expect that just a year and a half ago, Sully woke up from surgery unable to walk.

Honored Kid Sullivan before his diagnosis

Honored Kid Sully loves to bike, run, ride roller coasters and play with his brothers, Cashel and Finn. He wants to be a civil engineer when he grows up and dreams of designing the world’s best roller coasters.

It all started with back pain. It was innocuous at first. Hot baths would relieve Sully’s pain for a while, but it would come back with a vengeance. Finally, after many doctor’s visits, a lot of ibuprofen and no improvement, Sully’s parents, Dan and Jen, brought their son to the ER.

Hours later, the boy was in emergency brain surgery.

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Real-Life Stories

Childhood Cancer Survivors Shouldn’t Spend Their Lives Struggling

by Marianne Bergman
May 18, 2018

Marianne’s daughter, Melissa, is a 31-year survivor of pediatric brain cancer — essentially, she’s a miracle. But being a survivor doesn’t mean that the childhood cancer journey is over. Just the opposite. Here is Marianne with the story of a recent difficult chapter of Melissa’s ongoing struggle with the long-term effects of her treatment.

Melissa with her nurse

Marianne’s daughter, Melissa, with her nurse of 31 years. Melissa was diagnosed with brain cancer as a child and has since struggled with severe long-term effects from the intense treatment she received.

It’s been over 31 years and it can still make my heart race with fear. Cancer. Cancer. Cancer.

Melissa, my daughter, has lived independently for over 17 years, despite limitations caused by treatment for pediatric brain cancer. Seventeen years after finishing treatment, she began suffering through many seizures and 8 strokes. She was forced to quit her job with Disney and rely on disability benefits to pay her bills.

Learn more about childhood cancer survivors like Melissa >

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Families

6 Cancer Moms Reflect on Mother’s Day

by Erinn Jessop, St. Baldrick's Foundation
May 13, 2018

At St. Baldrick’s, funding childhood cancer research is our mission. But for six of our staff, the goal is deeply personal — because their children were diagnosed with cancer. Read on for thoughts from these moms on what Mother’s Day means to them, what they’ve learned about motherhood through the good times and bad, and how childhood cancer has changed their lives forever.

St. Baldrick’s staff members and cancer moms from left to right: Robyn with her son Keaton, Nancy with her son, Scott, and Vanessa with her daughter, Aubrey.

Danielle

Danielle and Mason

Danielle holds her son Mason, who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in 2006. A force to be reckoned with, the little boy faced his cancer with stalwart determination and his signature stubbornness. Mason died in 2007.

Mother’s Day is always bittersweet for me. I will always be a mom to three boys. I just do not have one here with me because cancer took Mason’s life from us. Mother’s Day reminds me of Mason’s laughter, competitive nature, his love for his brother and the family we had. I am Mason’s mom. Cancer made me do things to my son I never imagined I would have to do to my child to get him to survive. Cancer taught me how to be a fierce advocate for my child. Cancer made me live my worst moments as a mom and some of the best. Cancer taught me I had to take care of and protect all my kids, not just the one who was sick. Cancer broke my heart. But being a mom to Mason, Mateo, and Marcus puts my heart back together every day.

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