June is National Cancer Survivor Month, a time to celebrate childhood cancer survivors and recognize that when a child is declared cancer-free, their cancer story isn’t over. Surviving childhood cancer is just the first step in a lifelong journey.
Editor’s Note: Brooke is an Ambassador and Honored Kid who just graduated from Stanford University. As Cancer Survivors Month continues on the St. Baldrick’s Blog, we’re letting her tell the story of how she got to this day in her own words.
On Thursday, September 24, 2015, my friends were finishing up their first week of junior year at Stanford. I was lying in a hospital bed, watching as my brother’s stem cells were infused into my body, replacing the bone marrow that had turned against me.
On Friday, September 25, my friends celebrated their first weekend back together at school. I had a grand mal seizure.
When I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the end of my sophomore year of college, I knew that I was going to have a very different college experience from my peers. I had no idea how different it would be.
I had the impression that I would either die or I would live and return to my previous life. I had a high-risk form of leukemia that did not respond to my first round of chemotherapy, and at first it seemed that the death option was more likely.
But when I got into remission on a salvage round of chemotherapy and proceeded to my bone marrow transplant, I was hopeful that a return to “normal life” was possible.
What jumps out after talking with Shane Callaghan? His positivity. In a recent interview with Shane and his dad, Casey, Shane took center stage with his upbeat, can-do attitude – in spite of a lifetime worth of medical setbacks for a kid who is only 14. Shane has faced multiple treatments for osteosarcoma, which was first diagnosed in October 2015.
The following July, Shane was declared cancer-free. But the cancer in his left leg returned in March 2018. Following his relapse, chemotherapy led to an infection that severely damaged his kidneys. While his kidneys are better, they only function at 50% and are unable to handle heavy doses of chemo. On April 1, 2019, Shane’s left leg was amputated to remove the cancer and ultimately save his life.
Editor’s Note: Today on the St. Baldrick’s blog, we’ve decided to hand the microphone over to Dan Butler, whose son, Sullivan, was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, at the age of 10. June is Cancer Survivors Month at St. Baldrick’s, and the first Father’s Day after Sullivan’s diagnosis and treatment was especially meaningful for Dan.
Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of June, Cancer Survivors Month, we are hearing from and about those who have been diagnosed with pediatric cancers, and learning about the long-term impact and late effects of cancer treatments. The month of June also marks four years since the focus of this blog post, Brooke, was first diagnosed.
When you’re a kid with cancer, you’re not thinking about long-term impacts of treatment: you just want to get better. Parents, too, are rightly focused on a desire to put cancer behind the family and get on with life.
While some childhood cancers still have no cure, overall survival rates have climbed into a figure that’s around 80%, so more attention is being paid to those long-term impacts. What if the treatment you get today can lead to all sorts of unwanted side effects later? And, if you survive as a child, as you move into adolescence and then adulthood, what can be done to ensure you have the best possible quality of life?
Dr. John Gates, a survivor now in his 40s, has worked tirelessly to help treat kids with cancer, and to ensure that those who do survive know how to face future challenges head on.