Letter from a St. Jude parent and Math-A-Thon coordinator

Dear Math-A-Thon Coordinators,

Just like many of you, I am a public school teacher. Every spring, my school would participate in Math-A-Thon, and every year I would feel overwhelmed with all the demands of school. It seemed Math-A-Thon was just “one more thing” to do. I would hand out the information and booklets to my class, say all the right things about St. Jude and collect the money they brought in. I never really encouraged them to get pledges or stressed the importance of what they were doing as much as I should have.

That all changed when my teenage daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Now it was MY child fighting for her life, needing the help of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Suddenly, it was all too real. Our family was devastated.

Emily was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her left leg. It is the most common type of bone cancer in children and adolescents. If the cancer doesn’t spread, there is about a 75 percent chance of survival, compared to about 20 percent in the early 1960s.

Emily began a one-year battle with cancer, which included 12 rounds of high-dose chemotherapy and a seven-hour surgery to save her leg. The surgeons removed portions of her femur, tibia, muscles, tendons, ligaments and all of her knee. Doctors anchored a super-strong “bone” made of cobalt and titanium to her existing healthy bone. Emily endured excruciating pain, but eventually learned to walk again with the help of St. Jude physical therapists. Over the course of her treatment, she was hospitalized several times and received many, many units of blood and platelets.

Emily’s treatment cost just under a million dollars, but we never received a bill. My husband and I actually broke down in tears when we were told our daughter would be treated with no cost to us. St. Jude is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatments that are not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. Because of fund-raisers like Math-A-Thon, she received the best care possible, regardless of our inability to pay.

Emily is alive and happy, and her hair is finally growing back. She has resumed her life with only a few alterations, but those things are minor compared to the alternative. The only souvenirs from her battle with cancer are a persistent limp, a scar on her leg and really curly hair. But best of all, I didn’t have to bury my child.

Please consider giving your encouragement, your enthusiasm and your time to support your students as they begin Math-A-Thon this year. You never know when cancer might touch your child, or one of your students. I should know.


Catherine Greenslade
3rd grade teacher
Lakeland Elementary School
Lakeland, Tenn.