As a senior in high school, Travis Kersten’s chief goal was to play hockey or baseball in college. But an MRI for a concussion he received during a hockey game changed his plans and set him on a path to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The MRI showed a small lump in Travis’ neck, and he received an unexpected diagnosis — Hodgkin lymphoma. Travis was treated for the cancer at a hospital in his home state of Michigan and, while there, was surprised by how young most childhood cancer patients are.
“That really affected me,” he said. “The main reason I’m so into St. Jude and so into giving back to children with these types of diseases is because of the fact that I saw firsthand a bunch of different children getting treated.”
Now 22, Travis will mark five years cancer-free this May. During his college years, he joined Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and channeled his energy into its philanthropic efforts for St. Jude. Established in 1899, TKE has nearly 250 chapters nationwide and has named St. Jude as its national philanthropy. In 2011, TKE pledged to raise $1 million for St. Jude over five years towards the naming of an MRI suite and met that goal one year early.
In 2016, TKE committed to raise $2.6 million over six years for the proton therapy synchrotron/particle accelerator. St. Jude is home to the first proton therapy center in the world dedicated solely to children and designed specifically for treating pediatric cancers. Proton therapy harnesses innovative technology to precisely destroy cancer cells while sparing the healthy tissue in a child’s growing body.
One way the TKE fraternity raises funds is through their Shave for St. Jude event, in which TKE members receive pledges for shaving their heads in front of an audience. Travis is philanthropy chairman for the Oakland University TKE chapter in Rochester Hills, Michigan, which raised more than $6,400 with their most recent shaving event. The Oakland chapter also teamed up with their campus police department in 2016 for a push-up challenge that raised approximately $1,600 for St. Jude. Supporters pledged $1 for each push-up.
As part of the Collegiate Leadership Seminar at St. Jude, Travis visited the hospital and was immediately struck by the colorful, child-friendly environment. “The entire atmosphere there was different than any kind of hospital I have ever been in. You didn’t get the sense that you were in a hospital at all,” he said.
After he graduates from college, Travis aspires to work for the St. Jude mission: Finding cures. Saving children.® “The No. 1 place I would want to work would be St. Jude. I absolutely love everything that they do.”