Fifteen-year-old Dustyn Ates has always had an artistic flair, but when he traveled to St. Jude for leukemia treatment, he devised a novel way to while away the hours between appointments. Dustyn began creating duct-tape wallets, purses and other items. He meticulously measures and cuts each strip of tape before applying it to his project du jour. “I’ve probably made more than 100 wallets,” Dustyn admits. “When we learned about Dustyn’s interest, we started keeping duct tape supplies on hand,” says Jaime Moran, his Child Life specialist. “We want him to keep up with his passion and to be able to share it with others.”
For the past year, Child Life Specialist Jessika Boles has been receiving guitar instruction from the only St. Jude patient who knows the entire musical score to The Legend of Zelda™ video games. “Because I come here often and my days are sometimes long, I spend a lot of time with Jessika,” says pianist and bass player Max Burdette, who is undergoing treatment for fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer. “We talk or draw or make things, or we go to the auditorium and I play piano.” The 16-year-old also creates and shares humorous lapel pins that celebrate his oncologist, Wayne Furman, MD.
“She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire,” croons Carrie-Lynn Grazette, in a private performance of a hit song by artist Alicia Keys. “She’s living in a world, and it’s on fire/Filled with catastrophe…” Since arriving at St. Jude in 2012, this teen from Barbados has endured her own challenges, undergoing two bone marrow transplants for acute myeloid leukemia. With the support of Brandon Triplett, MD, and the rest of her clinical team, Carrie-Lynn has been cancer free for nearly a year. The 2011 winner of a national calypso-singing contest, she plans to attend medical school and pursue a career of helping others.
With a voice as smooth as butter, Hailey Kennedy provides an a capella concert for some of her biggest fans. Hailey credits St. Jude staff and volunteers with helping her to keep pace with her classmates at the performing arts school she attends in Florida. “The people at St. Jude helped me cope by being amazingly generous and kind,” says Hailey, who is receiving treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. “I’ve developed great relationships with all my nurses and doctors.” The talented 13-year-old has also expanded her aspirations: “After going through treatment at St. Jude,” she says, “I now have an interest in becoming a doctor.”
Lights, camera…action. For the past three years, Markell Gregoire has been writing, directing and starring in a documentary while undergoing treatment for bone cancer. The 14-year-old with the trademark sunglasses and dazzling smile received assistance on the project from numerous employees, including Michelle DiBoyan-Zitta, a videographer/editor in St. Jude Biomedical Communications. Titled “My Struggle,” the hour-long biopic offers a glimpse into Markell’s cancer journey. He has shared the finished product with his clinical team and family members. “It has happy moments, serious moments, funny moments and everything in between,” the young filmmaker says.
Editor's note: Markell lost his battle with cancer February 13, 2016.
Budding filmmaker, fiction writer, screenwriter and artist Andrew Hurd has not allowed a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia to impede his academic progress or dampen his artistic abilities. In fact, his progress has accelerated. With the assistance of St. Jude school teacher Justin Gardner, the 17-year-old completed his final two years of high school in one year. “I had a lot of extra time, so I basically just power-housed through it,” Andrew says. The imaginative young writer often bounces ideas off his social worker, Ken Mitten (pictured with Andrew). When they aren’t laughing, talking or joking, the two collaborators evaluate one another’s writing.
Abridged from Promise, Autumn 2013