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Triumphs and turning points

Lives are measured in milestones. That is also true of life with the St. Jude family. ALSAC President and CEO Richard C. Shadyac Jr. reflects on the celebrations of the season.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar expansion that will further the reach of research and treatment to kids around the globe. From my office, I can see one facet of this plan take shape, as the foundation of the new $412 million comprehensive research center is put down, and it occurs to me the construction workers could be building that foundation on a bed of milestones.

At St. Jude, we count each milestone, each one more precious than the next. Birthdays, proms, graduations and holidays such as Halloween, always a special time for the kids. These moments are measures of our success.

I was recently blessed to be part of a celebration of life for two very special people. Joel and Lindsey met as children when they were both patients at St. Jude — he had bone cancer, she had blood cancer. They rekindled their friendship years later as colleagues at ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, fell in love and were married last month in the gold-domed ALSAC/Danny Thomas Pavilion here on the campus of St. Jude in Memphis, Tenn.

joel and lindsey at their wedding

Former St. Jude patients Joel and Lindsey met while undergoing treatment, and reconnected as colleagues at ALSAC. They were married in September 2018.

It was one of those special moments that emphasize our lifesaving mission. When Danny Thomas cut the ribbon and opened the doors of St. Jude in 1962, a cancer diagnosis was a death sentence in almost every case. In more than 50 years, treatments developed here have helped raise the overall childhood cancer survival rate to more than 80%, and the survival rate of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer, to 94%.

What that means is that we are increasingly focused on quality of life for our patients because life is increasingly more possible. What that meant at Joel and Lindsey’s wedding, is that they were surrounded by fellow survivors.

The spirit of life was palpable in the room that day.

lindsey and joel

I, personally, felt something special as I walked Lindsey down the aisle with her father — it was the presence of Danny and the presence of my own father, who was my mentor and a previous CEO of ALSAC.

But there was more as I reflected on the children who couldn’t be with us that day, who would never have weddings of their own or walk their children down the aisle. Their memory inspires me and all of us at St. Jude daily.

The loss of their precious lives is why we work so hard to raise funds and awareness, so that researchers and doctors have the resources needed to eradicate pediatric cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

St. Jude patients at Kindergarten graduation

St. Jude patients at kindergarten graduation

I consider myself lucky to have met so many of our patients over the years. St. Jude is a community of families, doctors and researchers, caregivers, donors, volunteers and supporters across the country. We celebrate together when one of our kids has a No More Chemo Party to end treatment. And we grieve together when one of our families loses someone so dear to them.

Last month began with a wedding and ended with the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer here in Memphis. As one of 65 such events held nationwide in September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the walk/run truly was the celebration of a community as diverse and welcoming as the city and St. Jude itself.

Next month begins our season ofThanks and Giving®, a special time that reminds us to be grateful and to give as generously as our hearts and means allow. As we head into this holiday season, so full of celebration, I hope you’ll take time to remember the kids and families of St. Jude

st. jude walk/run

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