Home Run for a St. Jude Cancer Survivor

On the 10th anniversary of the St. Jude LIFE long-term follow-up study, one of the hospital’s earliest patients reflects on the hospital and his legacy.

By Dwight Tosh; Photos by Seth Dixon

Dwight Tosh

As a 13-year-old boy in 1962, my life revolved around baseball and basketball. I dreamed my legacy would be to hit a game-winning home run in the World Series or a buzzer-beater in the championship game. So when I started to feel weak and run a fever, my parents and I were shocked to learn I had cancer. Suddenly, I was staring death in the face.

At our local hospital, they advised my family to prepare for the worst. Then my parents found out about a new hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Ultimately, my legacy was not to be a sports hero. My legacy was to be patient No. 17 at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

There, we found something we didn’t have before: hope. St. Jude wrapped its arms around me, and they never let go. The day I arrived, they literally carried me through the front doors. When I left, I walked out on my own.

In 2007, I was the first survivor to enroll in a long-term follow-up study called St. Jude LIFE. I had often wondered if my health issues were related to my cancer treatment. I thought this study might help me answer that question. But my involvement might also help other children. If there’s anything I could do to prevent some mom or dad from having to say goodbye to their child, I stood ready to do it.

I had often wondered if my health issues were related to my cancer treatment. I thought this study might help me answer that question. But my involvement might also help other children.

Dwight Tosh

 

Ten years later, St. Jude LIFE has brought thousands of childhood cancer survivors to campus for regular health screenings. As a result, scientists are making exciting discoveries about the long- term effects of cancer and its treatment.

I’ve lived a full and productive life. I married my high school sweetheart, and we’ve got two wonderful kids and four outstanding grandchildren. My hope and prayer would be that every child at St. Jude would someday be able to do what I’ve been able to do— to explain, more than 55 years later, how St. Jude helped them when it seemed there was no hope at all.

After a 37-year career with the Arkansas State Police, Dwight Tosh was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives, where he serves today.

Dwight Tosh walks on the treadmill as part of his fitness test.

Ten for 10

A decade after enrolling in the St. Jude LIFE long-term follow-up study, Dwight Tosh returns for a checkup. Jeremy Crowe of Epidemiology and Cancer Control administers Tosh’s fitness tests in the Human Performance lab.

Celebrating 10 years of St. Jude LIFE

What is St. Jude LIFE?

Since 2007, the St. Jude LIFE long-term follow-up study has invited St. Jude childhood cancer survivors back to campus for medical testing. The goal is to find out if they have side effects related to their cancer or its treatment.

St. Jude LIFE has become one of the nation’s most significant survivorship research efforts.

Who enrolls in St. Jude LIFE?

The study follows cancer survivors throughout their lifetimes. St. Jude cancer patients who are five years past treatment are eligible to take part.

More than 5,000 St. Jude patients have enrolled, with the numbers steadily increasing.

Why do childhood cancer survivors agree to take part?

Through the study, survivors:

  • Learn how childhood cancer treatment has affected their health
  • Find out what they can do to lead healthful lives
  • Help researchers better understand the long-term effects of cancer therapy
  • Help scientists learn more about how genetics contribute to lifetime cancer risk

The study’s findings will help researchers save more lives while reducing the side effects of treatment.

What happens during a St. Jude LIFE visit?

The typical survivor visits the hospital for two or three days.

The visit usually includes:

  • Physical exam
  • Tests of walking, flexibility, muscle strength, heart rhythm, hearing, lung capacity, balance and overall physical performance
  • Blood tests, X-rays and other medical tests, depending on the type of treatment the survivor received as a child
  • Consultation with a clinical social worker

What are we learning from the study?

About 85 scientific papers reporting on St. Jude LIFE findings have been published or are in press.

Many of the results will be used to design future cancer treatments.

St. Jude LIFE has shown that most childhood cancer survivors have at least one chronic health condition.

The overall frequency of these complications has decreased as cancer therapies have become more individualized.

 

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