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All in this together


Nikalis' story inspired an elementary school to celebrate Valentine's Day with a gift of love to all St. Jude patients.


St. Jude patient Nikalis, age 6


Often, family isn’t limited to the people we live with. This is certainly true for Nikalis. In addition to his parents and siblings, he has his family at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – the care team that has for years closely monitored him during frequent checkups. And he has his school family, who have rallied to support the hospital that means so much to Nikalis, and other kids like him.

When Nikalis was just 10 months old, he was found to have a cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit in his abdomen. He underwent a successful surgery to remove it. But more than five years later, Nikalis continues to visit St. Jude every three months, because he has a genetic condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome that predisposes him to cancer.

St. Jude patient Nikalis with his mom and dad

St. Jude patient Nikalis with his mom and dad


Nikalis is in first grade. Ms. Thomas is the Special Education teacher at the elementary school he and his twin sisters attend, and although they are not in her classroom, she is familiar with them nonetheless. “We speak to his mother daily, since she walks the kids into school, and they appear to be one of the most humble and spiritual families we’ve ever met,” she said.

St. Jude patient Nikalis

His homeroom teacher, Ms. Charrier, agrees. She said, “Every day he makes sure to get his hugs from his beautiful twin sisters and is always looking out for them. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to teach this precious child!”


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Learning Nikalis’ story inspired the two teachers to invite the whole school to donate money to St. Jude by buying paper hearts for a dollar a piece in February, leading up to Valentine’s Day. To sweeten the deal, the classrooms who donated the most would earn a cookie cake party.

“We sold out of the hearts within three days!” said Ms. Thomas. “We ordered more and sold out again! So we began tracing hearts on cardstock to be sold. The class competition became ‘heated,’ and the community began donating, too.”

St. Jude patient Nikalis with his twin sisters, India and Asia

St. Jude patient Nikalis with his twin sisters, India and Asia, on Dr. Seuss Day.

It’s such a simple notion: paper hearts posted to the bulletin board, a cookie cake party, dollar bills collected for a cause. But fundraisers like this help support lifesaving work. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% when it opened to more than 80% today. And St. Jude won’t stop until no child dies from cancer.

“We know cancer touches the lives of so many innocent children each day, and we wanted to do our part to help out,” said Ms. Charrier.

St. Jude patient Nikalis with his family

Each day there were more hearts on the bulletin board. This homegrown fundraiser, “Our Hearts Are Beating Cancer,” raised $2,135 for St. Jude in just 14 days.

Nikalis’ family was touched by the show of support and excited that his story could help spark support for St. Jude, which has been, said his mom, “such a blessing” in their lives, giving them peace of mind in a scary situation.




When a child has cancer, it is a constant reminder of how precious life is. It reminds you to count your many blessings. It reminds you that every person is battling something and you should always be kind. It reminds you that, one day, it could be YOUR child who needs St. Jude, and that’s what makes donating to this cause so simple!

Ms. Thomas, special education teacher at Nikalis' elementary school


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