Charley took her first St. Jude tour, led a fundraising team for St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn and then became a St. Jude patient within a matter of months.
“I was actively fundraising for my own treatment and didn’t know it yet,” she said.
It was March 2017, and Charley was having trouble with the mile she ran every day in her kickboxing class.
“The mile kept getting harder and harder to run instead of easier to run. I thought I might have asthma, so I went to my family doctor,” said Charley. The doctor noticed Charley’s breathing was off and ordered a chest X-ray. “And that’s when we found out I had a mass.”
The tumor wrapped around Charley’s heart and airway, putting pressure on her lungs and making her airway the size of a stirring straw.
The cause was a type of lymph system cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I’ve never been more scared and confused and mad,” said Charley. “Like, why did I have cancer? I’m not perfect but I’m not horrible.”
Fortunately, Charley’s mom heard that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was the best in the world for childhood cancer.
St. Jude has helped push the overall survival rate for childhood cancer from 20% when we first opened our doors in 1962 to more than 80% today. We won't stop until no child dies from cancer.
Charley underwent five rounds of chemotherapy at St. Jude, all while remaining enrolled in college and maintaining her GPA to keep her scholarship. She credits the Child Life specialists for helping her to manage her biggest fear — needles.
“The specialists just talked the entire time I was getting a procedure like a spinal tap, and kept my mind off the fact that a big needle was going in my back,” she said.
As of March 2018, Charley’s scans show no signs of cancer. And she’s got a plan now for that psychology degree she continues to pursue.
I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t know how I was going to do that. A Child Life specialist gets to go in all the procedures and hang out with kids all day. I’m totally OK with that.
While she’s taking on her sophomore year of college, Charley’s St. Jude experience stays top of mind. She visits St. Jude for checkups, and continues to go deeper with her philanthropy.
“It’s cool learning about the different aspects of the hospital even when I’m done with treatment,” she said.
She recently volunteered in the St. Jude Garden, preparing beds for planting and learning how the garden grows fresh foods for patients.
“I thought the garden was really great even though I never took advantage of it,” Charley laughed. “When I was inpatient, I mostly had bacon and biscuits, or macaroni. And I put ketchup on everything because it made me able to taste things when I mostly could not taste anything.”
This year, Charley has renewed her Up ‘til Dawn efforts with a fervor.
If I can get through cancer, then we can all do something to support St. Jude. We’re in college and don’t have a lot of money, but even if someone can give a dollar it helps. Each student donates to each other’s Up ‘til Dawn page and it turns into a huge network.
“It’s cool to see all of my friends put in so much effort towards something that means so much to me. They’re invested in St. Jude, since they’ve seen firsthand where the money goes.”
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