St. Jude pioneered a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to treat childhood cancers.
On Average, 5,400 active patients visit the hospital each year, most of whom are treated on an outpatient basis.
St. Jude is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance. No child is ever denied treatment because of the family’s inability to pay.
St. Jude has increased the survival rate of the most common form of childhood cancer, ALL, from 4 percent when the hospital opened to 85 percent today.
Diagnosis: Aidan was found to suffer from pilocytic astrocytoma in December 2010
Aidan is a blur of motion. One moment he’s standing at the giant chalkboard in his playroom, drawing circles and squares with chalk. The next minute he’s crouched down in front of his train table, lining up train cars. And then he’s out the backdoor with his older brother, racing toward the swing set.
Aidan’s parents delight in their youngest son’s zest for life. For a while, they worried about what his future might hold.
In early 2010, Aidan seemed to stop developing as quickly as his siblings. His parents had difficulty understanding him and his balance was off. That June, Aidan was found to suffer from neurofibromatosis, a disorder that causes tumors to grow on the nerves.
Aidan’s parents barely had time to process that news when, six months later, scans revealed a tumor growing in Aidan’s right optic nerve. He was immediately sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where further tests revealed a second tumor in Aidan’s left optic nerve. The tumors were identified as pilocytic astrocytomas.
At St. Jude, Aidan underwent chemotherapy for 18 months. Because of the location of the tumors, they are inoperable. Doctors know they will begin to grow eventually, and when they do, Aidan will again undergo chemotherapy. “His cancer will never go into remission,” said Aidan’s mother. “He’ll have chemotherapy on and off for the rest of his life.”
Despite this daunting outlook, Aidan’s family has bright hopes for his future. “He’s a happy child, he’s in school and doing well,” said Aidan’s mom. “With everything he’s been through, he’s taught us to just be happy every day.”
Aidan’s parents are grateful for the people who help support St. Jude. “We never have to worry about a bill. When you have a child who is going to have a lifetime of treatment, this means so much,” Aidan’s mom said.
Aidan returns to St. Jude for regular checkups. He loves to see his doctors and nurses, and he especially loves playing with the trains in the playrooms.
Diagnosis: Dawson was found to suffer from acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April 2011.
Dawson is a comedian in training. He's the middle child and loves to make his family laugh. He tells knock-knock jokes and likes Jim Carrey. But in April 2011, things turned serious for Dawson and his family.
Dawson was an active child who liked to hike with his parents and siblings. But one day, he said he was too tired to join the others. Within days, he developed a fever he couldn't shake. Soon his abdomen and lymph nodes swelled. Blood work at the doctor revealed an abnormality. Hours later, Dawson's family learned he suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer.
"My life crashed down upon me," said Dawson's mother.
Dawson traveled by ambulance to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. As he settled into the hospital, his doctor made a special trip on his day off to explain Dawson's treatment to his family. "The moment I met his doctor, I felt confident that Dawson was going to beat this," Dawson's mom said.
Dawson began a St. Jude protocol of phased chemotherapy that will last two-and-a-half years. His cancer was soon in remission.
"I decided we would try to make our time at St. Jude like an adventure," Dawson's mom said. "We would be happy and find the happiness every day. It feels strange to tell you that we’ve had a wonderful time at St. Jude, but that's the truth. Dawson is happy here."
Dawson has a year left of treatment. He's able to receive much of it at the St. Jude affiliate near his family's home. He's in first grade and very outgoing and bright. Dawson likes playing video games and riding his bike. And he likes to try out jokes.
"Why didn't the chicken jump off the diving board?" he asks. A moment later, in a fit of laughter, he supplies the answer: "Because he's too chicken!"
Diagnosis: Joshua was found to suffer from medulloblastoma in May 2011.
Joshua is an active, outdoorsy kid. He loves hiking and fishing and has an awesome rock collection. But a month before Joshua turned 8 years old, he started getting headaches almost every afternoon. At first doctors thought it might be allergies or eye strain. His parents even got Joshua glasses. But the headaches only got worse. That's when tests revealed a large mass in Joshua's brain.
"It was as if my heart stopped," said Joshua's mother. "It was devastating."
The tumor was removed at a local hospital and identified as medulloblastoma. Knowing that Joshua would need more treatment, his family turned to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. St. Jude offers medulloblastoma treatment with high success rates on a schedule that's more compressed than that of other hospitals. Soon after, Joshua's St. Jude journey began.
At St. Jude, Joshua's treatment for medulloblastoma lasted six months. Because of the location of his tumor, he had to have 14 radiation treatments on his brain and spine, and then 17 more just on his brain, for a total of 31 treatments. He also received four rounds of chemotherapy.
"Everybody at St. Jude was just wonderful," said Joshua's mom. "They always had answers to our questions, there was never an unknown. And when you're going through something like that, that means the world." Joshua is now done with treatment and returns to St. Jude every three months for scans.
Joshua spends as much time outdoors as possible. He and his family recently returned from a trip to Alaska, where Joshua panned for gold and took a helicopter ride with his dad over Alaska's Denali National Park. Joshua's most recent set of scans were clear.
Diagnosis: Keshaun was found to suffer from acute myeloid leukemia in November 2011.
Before he got sick, Keshaun could often be found playing ball. He would either be on the baseball field, where he played right field, or, if it was winter, he’d be shooting a round on the basketball court.
But in November 2011, Keshaun started to slow down. He grew increasingly more tired, and he didn't want to eat. Then he started to run a fever, and he missed a week of school.
His worried parents took him to the doctor. Tests and blood work were ordered. When the results came back, revealing that Keshaun suffered from acute myeloid leukemia, his family was shocked. Arrangements were quickly made to send Keshaun to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"We were familiar with St. Jude," said his mother. "We'd even donated in the past." But they never expected their son would ever be a patient here.
At St. Jude, Keshaun underwent six rounds of chemotherapy. He handled his treatment much like he plays a game, with grace and determination. His winning smile never waned, and he remained a happy, upbeat kid.
"We love St. Jude. It's an indescribable place, beyond words," said Keshaun's mother. "We're so grateful to God for sending us here. This is a place of angels. The people here are wonderful, so full of compassion for the kids."
Keshaun is now done with treatment. He visits St. Jude for regular checkups and his cancer continues to remain in remission.
He's back to playing ball and he sings, too. It's not unusual for him to break into song, his voice light, joyful and sincere.