Sam playing the cello.
Twenty-year-old Sam is a Renaissance man – an accomplished musician, pilot, and philanthropist. He’s also a three-time shavee, childhood cancer survivor, and 2024 St. Baldrick’s Ambassador who is committed to making a difference in the lives of other kids with cancer.
My name is Sam Macarah, and I’m a childhood cancer survivor.
Before cancer, when I was twelve or thirteen years old, I joined the Civil Air Patrol because I’ve always dreamed of becoming a pilot. It also opened opportunities to serve my community, including getting involved with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. In both 2018 and 2019, I shaved my head, raising over $10,000 for kids with cancer.
Sam shaving his head in at the 2019 LAFD/LAPD head-shaving event.
I never imagined I would become one of them.
In January 2021, a high fever and muscle pain landed me in the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. My mom and I were shocked when I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia. It was a medical emergency, and I was admitted immediately.
The day after I was diagnosed, I spoke with a kind oncologist with decades of experience. He explained that APL has a very difficult induction phase of treatment, but that after about a month in the hospital, the worst would likely be behind me, and after about a year I’d be done with treatment, with a great college essay topic in my back pocket!
Left: Sam with a thumbs up, Middle: Sam post-op, Right: Sam doing physical therapy to walk again
What we didn’t talk about was that this intensive treatment phase can sometimes cause dangerous bleeds. In my case, I suffered a bleed that compressed my spinal cord, causing me to become paralyzed from the waist down. My platelets were so low we were told I couldn’t have surgery and would therefore probably never walk again. After a long night in the ICU being pumped full of blood products and chemo, doctors determined I was well enough, barely, to have major spinal surgery, relieving the pressure of the bleed and giving me a fighting chance to one day, walk. I was in the hospital for three months after surgery.
Left: Sam and his sister hugging at the hospital, Right: Sam recovering at home while his sister sleeps in his arms.
While I was in the hospital I had dark moments, especially right after surgery, but when my sister was finally able to visit, I became deeply emotional, which motivated me to keep working – to get healthy, to push through physical therapy and regain my ability to walk, to finish my junior year of high school online, and to get back to doing the things I loved.
Finishing junior year was tough, and I couldn’t do everything (for example, I had to drop down a level in English and math), but I’m proud that I finished and was able to return in person my senior year and graduate with my class. Now, I’m in the middle of my sophomore year at San Diego State University (SDSU) where I play upright bass in the SDSU Symphony Orchestra, have joined a fraternity, and plan to major in history with a possible minor in music education.
Left: Sam and his mom in SDSU gear, his sister Abby in UCSB gear, Right: Sam with his dad and sister Abby.
It was a long road, but thanks to excellent care and support from my community, I’m in remission and healthy. I am lucky.
I know there are kids who aren’t as lucky. I go back for follow-up appointments, and I’m reminded there are many kids still suffering. It inspired me to shave my head again after my hair grew back following cancer treatment, raising an additional $11,000 for research. Mostly, it inspires me to pass along what my caregivers gave me – hope.
Recently at the hospital, I ran into one of the physical therapists who treated me, sitting with a patient of hers and the patient’s parents. I stopped and talked with them for a few minutes, and then I ran into the mom again, who asked me about my recovery. We spoke for a while. I could tell she was worried about her daughter, and wanted to hear my story, because the therapist had been so happy about my progress. It felt good to be able to reassure her that things would get better. Seeing her relief made me glad I could help her in that small way.
My friends and family brought light to me in my darkest time, and I am glad that now I can support other children and their families through difficult times, which I intend to continue doing, in as many ways as I can.
Sam and his family.
Supporting St. Baldricks is one of the most important ways I’m able to give back. The Children’s Oncology Group network clinical trial, through which I received my treatment, was supported, and partly funded by St. Baldrick’s. The types of treatments available for my type of leukemia twenty years ago were highly toxic and had dangerous side effects that could last a lifetime. By contrast, the treatment I received through this study is highly effective and has very little risk of long-term side effects. My good health today is in large part due to the important work that St. Baldrick’s volunteers and donors are making possible on behalf of kids with cancer. I’m very grateful and I’m going to keep doing everything I can to support this wonderful organization. Thank you!
Help fund research to find cures and better treatments for kids like Sam.
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