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When our St. Jude Heroes run a 26.2 mile course during the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend to support our kids, they accomplish no small feat. But one patient took on an even greater challenge: becoming the first St. Jude patient to cover the distance of a marathon while receiving inpatient care.
Hooked up to fluids and an IV pole, with a mask covering her face to keep germs at bay, 20-year-old Hillary turned the 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.
By rounding that final corner, Hillary completed her journey—walking a marathon within the walls of St. Jude. With confetti flying around her, Hillary hugged her mother, then members of her care team.
Hillary has always been active, and there wasn’t any way she was going to let two separate battles with cancer slow her down.
Finding her calling
When Hillary was just a toddler, she fell in love with dance. She was wooed by the sweet sound of jingle taps and watched with rapt attention the heels that pounded the stage. 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,” says Hillary.
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.
A second St. Jude journey
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 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, improve 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.
You can honor Hillary’s marathon walk by participating in our Memphis Grizzlies House 5K, Kids Marathon, or Family Fun Run. Run as a St. Jude Hero, and you can help ensure no family ever receives a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.