Brooklynn - 4 years old

Diagnosis:  acute lymphoblastic leukemia

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Brooklynn's story:

The little indicators that something was wrong with Brooklynn started slowly. She wasn’t gaining weight. Spots appeared on her legs. Overnight, a freckle appeared on her face, though it was red in color, not brown. Then the spots on her legs got worse. With growing concern, Brooklynn’s mom took her to the pediatrician. Tests revealed that Brooklynn’s hemoglobin was low and that she was anemic. Brooklynn was admitted to the local hospital, where tests soon revealed she suffered from leukemia, but it wasn’t clear what kind. “I was so scared,” said Brooklynn’s mother. “Just the thought of knowing my child had leukemia, but not really knowing the details. There were a million thoughts going through my head.” She worried about her daughter’s future. Brooklynn’s mother asked the doctor where they should go for treatment. “If it were my child,” the doctor said, “I’d go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.” Soon, Brooklynn and her mom were in an ambulance on their way to St. Jude, where doctors determined that Brooklynn suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. Brooklynn started treatment on a two-and-a-half year chemotherapy protocol. “St. Jude is a wonderful place,” said Brooklynn’s mom. “We love our doctor. He’s so warm and comforting. And Brooklynn loves the playrooms and her nurses.” Brooklynn’s mother knew that no family ever pays St. Jude for anything, but she was amazed to learn that extends beyond medical care. “I had no idea they also provided meals, transportation and a place for us to stay,” she said. “It was icing on the cake to realize we didn’t need to worry about any of that.” Brooklynn’s family is grateful for everything St. Jude has done for them. “There’s no place I’d rather be for Brooklynn’s treatment,” said her mom. “I’m very proud of her, how’s she handling everything.” Even in the midst of treatment, Brooklynn is a fun-loving chatterbox who asks a million questions about everything under the sun. Brooklynn loves singing, dancing and painting. She’s responded well to treatment, and her cancer is in remission.

 

Hillary - 20 years old from Louisiana

b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia/non-Hodgkin lymphoma

On a recent afternoon, 20-year-old Hillary pushed herself to finish an extraordinary journey. Hooked up to fluids and an IV pole, a mask covering her face to keep germs at bay, Hillary turned a corner on the floor of the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®. A crowd of onlookers broke into loud cheers and applause. With that final corner rounded, Hillary had completed walking a marathon within the walls of the St. Jude. With confetti flying around her, Hillary hugged her mother, then members of her care team, her journey complete. Hillary has always been active. There wasn’t any way she was going to let two separate battles with cancer slow her down. When Hillary was just a toddler, she fell in love with dance. She watched with rapt attention the heels that pounded the stage and was wooed by the sweet sound of jingle taps. Hillary didn’t know the teens who were jigging in those clogging shoes. But by the end of the rousing performance, she had found her calling. Hillary has won national awards for clogging and danced with her college dance team. Her repertoire includes tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, lyrical and dance line. “Dance was my life,” Hillary said. But in 2008, something happened to Hillary that threatened to end her dance career forever. She fell ill during dance practice. Her family turned to St. Jude for her treatment and care after she was found to suffer from b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After three years of chemotherapy that pushed her cancer into remission, Hillary thought she’d conquered cancer forever, but her victory would be short lived. Doctors soon learned Hillary suffered from an unrelated form of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She began her second cancer battle in October 2011. Having two unrelated cancer diagnoses back-to-back like this is very rare. Hillary’s continuing treatment includes a recent bone marrow transplant at St. Jude. Hillary has pushed herself to remain active. Being able to dance for an audience is what she misses most, and she knows she needs to work hard to make her dreams a reality. The idea of walking the length of a marathon - 26.2 miles - helped keep Hillary focused on the benefits of remaining active after her bone marrow transplant. She walked at least one mile each day to build strength, endurance and prevent fluid build-up in her lungs. Three weeks after her transplant, Hillary walked 26.2 miles or 286 laps in the corridors of the BMT Unit, becoming the first St. Jude patient to cover the distance of a marathon while receiving inpatient care. With a marathon behind her and her body getting stronger every day, Hillary can’t wait to dance again soon. 

Ian - 6 years old - Country of Origin: Mexico

Diagnosis:

Ian was found to suffer from medulloblastoma in November 2012

Ian's story:

There was something Ian’s mom didn’t want to confide to anyone. Even though the secret troubled her, she didn’t mention it. To mention it might make it come true. One night, after her little son Ian had fallen asleep cuddled next to her in bed, he woke up suddenly and hugged her tightly. “What happened?” she asked. Ian replied, “Mom, you know what? God just came to me, and He told me that I have to go. It’s time for me to go to heaven.” She told him, “No, only old people go to heaven.” “No, there are lots of kids who go, too,” said Ian. Ian’s mom dreaded to think what could have caused her child to say such a disturbing thing. Ian was a happy, intelligent, active boy. True, he had been losing his balance and falling a lot, but his parents thought it was because he was too busy playing to pay proper attention. The doctor suspected the cause was flat feet. But now, Ian’s mother felt that something was very wrong and pushed for Ian to receive an MRI. The scan revealed Ian suffered from a brain tumor. The doctors said he had between six months and two years to live. Ian was just 5 years old. Four days later, Ian underwent surgery near the family’s home in Mexico, during which most of the tumor was removed. Afterward, he was in a coma for 19 days. While her son lay unresponsive in the hospital, Ian’s mother struggled with questions that had no answers. “Why me? Why him? Why my child?” she thought as she kept vigil by his bed. Although Ian and his parents lived in Mexico, his great-aunt lived in the United States and donated money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She called Ian’s mom and told her about St. Jude. “This place treats children from all over the world,” she said. Ian was brought to St. Jude, and suddenly, there was hope. St. Jude has the largest pediatric brain tumor research program in the country and the world’s best survival rates. At St. Jude, Ian’s doctor determined the tumor to be a type known as medulloblastoma. “It gave me peace of mind to know Ian’s oncologist is a pediatric neurologist who specializes in medulloblastoma,” says Ian’s mom. The tumor was attacked with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Ian’s family uprooted their lives and moved thousands of miles from home to bring Ian to St. Jude for the lifesaving treatment he needed. One thing they didn’t have to worry about was how to pay for it. “We’re thankful that no family ever receives a bill from St. Jude,” says Ian’s mom. “We haven’t paid one penny for anything. It’s been the best help we can ever have. It’s a blessing we don’t have to think about money, and we’re still getting the best treatment.” Ian has recently finished treatment and is doing well. Once his blood count returns to normal, he and his family will return to their home in Mexico. They will visit St. Jude every three months for checkups. “My child is very brave,” says Ian’s mom with pride. “He’s an example to us all.”