With 2018 winding down, it’s time to thank this year’s St. Baldrick’s Ambassadors for their help raising funds and awareness for pediatric cancer research. This group of five kids and their families inspired us with their unique stories of courage and their refusal to give up hope.
We’ll be welcoming a new group of Ambassadors in the new year. For now, let’s check in on the 2018 team to see how they’re doing and what they enjoyed about the Ambassador experience.
Our 2018 Ambassadors, from left: Brooks, Kellan, Maya, Zach, and Julia.
This year we remembered Brooks, who loved dance parties, Hot Wheels, monster trucks, Legos and playing sports.
Brooks passed away at age six after fighting inoperable brain and spinal tumors. He underwent radiation, shunt placement, chemotherapy and many drugs to prolong his life. Through it all, he remained upbeat and courageous. He also inspired those around him to be bigger than brave – that’s why his Mom, Tracey, started the Be Brooks Brave website.
Tracey uses the site to keep Brooks’ memory close and raise money for pediatric cancer research – in fact, you can find a painting by Brooks as one of our Holiday Gift Guide items. Brooks’ colorful and inspiring artwork continues to help raise thousands of dollars for childhood cancer research – impressive!
Brooks’ parents have also been active in childhood cancer advocacy efforts and helped push the STAR Act through Congress this past year. When asked how she felt about Brooks being named a 2018 Ambassador, Tracey replied, “We wanted to make a difference in the lives of other children by raising money for a cure in his honor … St. Baldrick’s allowed us a safe and supportive platform to raise money, share Brooks’ story, and help other families facing similar situations.”
Julia had a big year serving as a St. Baldrick’s Ambassador. Along with her Mom and Dad, she was interviewed by NBC4 at ZavaZone, an indoor theme park in Northern Virginia. “It was SO much fun!” Julia, age 12, said afterwards. Looking back at some of the other St. Baldrick’s events, Julia said she loved participating in the fundraisers, especially the one where Santa shaved his head for kids’ cancer research. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Julia can’t wait for Christmas, which she marks as her half-birthday.
As for her health, Julia is upbeat and feeling well. That’s remarkable given that she’s undergone many surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to treat her ependymoma brain tumor since her diagnosis at age eight. Clearly, there’s good reason this girl – who sings, dances, and plays the piano and ukulele – is known as “SuperJulia”.
Looking ahead to 2019, Julia is excited to keep improving her grades and have a fun summer, her favorite time of the year. When asked what she’d say to other kids fighting cancer, Julia replied, “I would say keep smiling. It makes all the pain in your heart go away and the physical pain more bearable.”
St. Baldrick’s head-shaving events are designed to be lots of fun while reminding us of the importance of fighting pediatric cancer. Maya, a nine-year-old from Washington State, loved playing a big role at these events. “I liked helping shave people’s hair,” Maya said when looking back at her time as a St. Baldrick’s Ambassador. “It’s a fun way to help raise money for research.”
Maya certainly knows a few things about the importance of childhood cancer research. In July 2016, just before she turned seven, doctors discovered a tumor on her left kidney. The organ was quickly removed; not long after, radiation and chemotherapy began. Still, it wasn’t enough: doctors discovered that more aggressive cancer cells had emerged, resulting in Maya being placed on a particularly intensive chemotherapy regimen.
Such rigorous treatment would have brought many people to their knees, but “Mighty Maya” fought on. Roughly two and a half years later, Maya is NED, meaning she shows “no evidence of disease”. Looking ahead, she’s excited about spending the holidays with her family and becoming a safety patrol crossing guard at her school. When asked what she’d say to other kids fighting cancer, Maya replied, “Think positive and try not to think about the bad thoughts!”
Kellan loves helping other people. When asked about his favorite experiences as an Ambassador, Kellan replied, “I liked being interviewed by the news and telling my story, I felt like I was helping people.”
With a cherubic face and an irresistible laugh, it’s no wonder this charming gentleman likes working with and helping people. But beyond that smiling face is a fierce warrior who faced down stage III neuroblastoma from the night he was born. Before he was a week old, Kellan was on chemotherapy and battling for his life.
Over the next few months, little Kellan continued to fight. Before he could speak, he’d already beaten cancer, being declared NED when he was just three months old. While the cancer left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down, it did nothing to slow his rising energy.
Looking ahead to 2019, Kellan is excited to do some skiing, his favorite sport. He’s also looking forward to his birthday: “I’m going to be seven this year and that’s old,” he said. Kellan adds that he really appreciates the hard work of those researchers who helped him beat cancer. “When I grow up I’m going to be a fisherman,” Kellan says, adding “I wouldn’t have been able to grow up if you hadn’t been a researcher.”
At 17 and a licensed driver, Zach is the oldest of our 2018 Ambassadors. But those 17 years haven’t always been easy for Zach, who’s faced cancer not once, not twice, but three times. In fact, Zach has faced cancer so often that he refers to it as “The Beast”.
Since he was six, Zach has repeatedly faced down and defeated The Beast, or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Each one of those battles was a challenge, perhaps none more difficult than the third and last, when Zach’s cancer resisted typical treatment options. Just as things were beginning to look grim, Zach entered a clinical trial that used immunotherapy to help him beat the cancer into remission and undergo a bone marrow transplant, which his brother Ben provided.
Following a tough recovery from surgery, Zach learned he was cancer-free. In time, his hair grew back and he gained the strength to get his license, go back to school, and head to Washington, DC, to meet with members of Congress and press for more action on childhood cancer research.
Looking back over his time as an Ambassador, Zach says he really enjoyed his time in the nation’s capital, noting “I was able to share my story and reinforce the importance of funding childhood cancer.” When asked what he’d say to other kids facing cancer, Zach replied, “Focus on the positive, keep looking forward and keep fighting – you can do it!”
In January, we’ll be introducing a new team of Ambassadors for 2019. But that doesn’t mean we’ll part ways with our 2018 crew: they’ll remain an inspiration in our hearts and an example of what’s possible when we refuse to give up hope.
Childhood cancer cures start with you. Fund lifesaving research today.