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For Danny’s Dream Team, cancellation of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend did not cancel their celebration. The childhood cancer survivors who make up the team gathered on race day “to be together as a team and enjoy the opportunity to celebrate our hard work, especially our fundraising,” says team founder Gabby Salinas.
And to celebrate their survivorship. All 16 members are former patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“This is what survivorship looks like — or can look like,” says Gabby, 25, a survivor of Ewing sarcoma and thyroid cancer who started the team, which is named for St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, in 2010. “Part of starting Danny’s Dream Team was about creating awareness for survivorship. It’s not just about fundraising; it is about survivorship.”
Surviving and thriving
Participating in activities that promote health is important for childhood cancer survivors. Recent findings from the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study (St. Jude LIFE), which began in 2007, found that childhood cancer survivors are more likely than their peers to have health and fitness problems.
Survivors should use these findings as motivation to “take control of their own health and to work with their health care providers to find ways to improve their fitness,” says Kirsten Ness, PT, PhD, of St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control.
Life-long medical follow-up is very important for survivors of childhood cancer, who number nearly 400,000 in the U.S. today.
Survivors are the most important members of their own healthcare teams, says Debbie Crom, a family nurse practitioner at the St. Jude After Completion of Therapy (ACT) clinic, which follows patients after treatment ends.
“Part of our job is encouraging survivors to help themselves. Our job is to make sure survivors understand how proper diet and exercise can enhance their lives,” she says.
Building the team
Survivors often face greater challenges in making exercise a regular part of their lives. When Gabby arrived at St. Jude as a child, she had a tumor on her spine and couldn’t walk.
Through hard work and determination she regained her mobility, and in 2010, she decided to walk the half marathon. Gabby looked to her fellow survivors for inspiration, and Danny’s Dream Team was born.
All of the members of the Dream Team raise funds for the hospital as St. Jude Heroes, and Gabby credits the St. Jude Heroes program as an impetus to keep moving. “The Heroes program does such a good job of providing resources. It’s easy to stay motivated.”
Another member of Danny's Dream Team is childhood cancer survivor Lindsey Wilkerson, 32, who was treated at St. Jude for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A busy working mother of two, Lindsey is more likely to exercise by going on a family bike ride or taking the stairs at work than going to the gym every day.
But being part of Danny’s Dream Team provides extra motivation to stay on the move. “Combining exercise with other things that are important to me makes it easier to manage,” says Lindsey.
Gabby says the team, which raised more than $14,000 for the hospital as part of the 2013 marathon, will be keeping up their training to be ready to run and walk at next year’s St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. “We are excited about next year, which will be our fifth year to participate in the race,” she says.