Chipping away at a cure

 
 

ALSAC President and CEO Richard C. Shadyac Jr. reflects on the 2019 World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, global survival rates for childhood cancer and more in this month's column.

 
ALSAC CEO and President Richard C. Shadyac

ALSAC CEO and President Richard C.  Shadyac at the 2019 World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational

 
 

Just last month, 45 of the top 50-ranked professional golfers in the world teed it up in Memphis, Tenn., home of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It was the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, the first such event for a tournament with nearly 50 years and more than $43 million under its belt.

Honorary pin flag caddie St. Jude patient Quincy, center, with golfer Matt Wallace, left, and his caddie on the 18th green at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Sunday, July 28, 2019.

St. Jude patient Quincy, center, with golfer Matt Wallace, left, and his caddie on the 18th green at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational

The timing for St. Jude to share the world stage with the PGA Tour couldn’t have come at a more critical time as St. Jude researchers, along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, recently concluded a study providing more accurate estimates of just how devastatingly childhood cancer impacts the world.

Traditional statistics focused on the number of cases and deaths, with both figures ranging in the hundreds of thousands annually. Using a different metric, St. Jude researchers estimate that in 2017 alone, children worldwide lost more than 11 million years to disability or death from cancer. It’s a startling discovery that allows researchers to compare cancer to other devastating pediatric diseases like HIV and tuberculosis.

 
 
a patient at Guatemala
 
a patient being treated at a clinic in Myanmar
 
press conference to announce St. Jude Global initiative
 
Sima Jeha at a clinic in Jordan
 
 

Shining into this dark void is St. Jude, partnered with the World Health Organization, networking healthcare organizations, nonprofits and governments throughout the world with the goal of raising survival rates of six of the most common types of childhood cancer from 20% to 60% by 2030.

Already, we’re seeing success stories from places as far away as Lebanon, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Philippines. But there is still so much to do, especially in underdeveloped countries where 92% of all new childhood cancer cases occur and survival rates are typically below 20%.

This is why it was so important for the world to experience St. Jude through the World Golf Championships and meet patients such as Reid, who, at only 7, came to St. Jude to be treated for rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue. In this case, it was behind Reid’s eye and treatment included proton therapy, chemotherapy and surgery with a risk of losing the eye.

St. Jude patient Reid

St. Jude patient Reid

Reid is so strong and came through treatment like a champ, and his story — along with stories of his fellow patients — inspired professional athletes from around the world and millions of viewers as far away as India, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey.

“Going to that hospital, and seeing some of these kids, really changed my life,” said Brooks Koepka, a St. Jude donor and the number one ranked golfer in the world who won this year’s tournament. “I realized you can’t take life for granted. You really have to enjoy it. Appreciate the little things. Because you see these kids, they’re struggling for their lives.”

Found within their struggles are hope and possibility for kids just like them all around the world. For one long weekend, the world shared in those possibilities and moments St. Jude partners like FedEx and the PGA Tour give our kids.

Brooks Koepka with St. Jude patient Reid

Brooks Koepka with St. Jude patient Reid

Reid had a Purple Eagle FedEx plane named after him in an annual ceremony honoring the child or grandchild of a FedEx employee. Bailey designed a pair of golf shoes for tour pro Justin Thomas. Dakota sank a five-foot putt to clinch a $50,000 donation to St. Jude from FedEx. Four St. Jude patients played in the Danny Thomas Celebrity-Am and Allyson, Bridget, Calvin, Quincy and Shaurya all served as pin flag caddies on the final day of play.

Honorary pin flag caddies and St. Jude patients (from left) Calvin, Bridget, Allyson, Reid, Bailey, Quincy and Dakota stand with 2019 World Golf Championships - FedEx St. Jude Invitational champion Brooks Koepka.

Honorary pin flag caddies and St. Jude patients (from left) Calvin, Bridget, Allyson, Reid, Bailey, Quincy and Dakota stand with 2019 World Golf Championships - FedEx St. Jude Invitational champion Brooks Koepka.

Despite impressive progress in treatment over the past half-century, childhood cancer still poses a major global health problem in terms of lives cut short and lasting disabilities. Special moments such as we saw last month bring home what’s possible in the face of urgent, worldwide need.

Every time you come back here, you’re reminded of that. Especially when you walk off 18 and you’re greeted by these kids. They’ve always got a smile on their face, and it’s incredible that they do.

Brooks Koepka, 2019 World Golf Championships - FedEx St. Jude Invitational champion

You, our supporters, help make these special moments happen for our patients and with your continuing commitment, we can bring even more possibilities to the world.

 
 

Help our families focus on their sick child, not medical bills.

When you donate, your gift means families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

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