When they started to raise money in their son’s name for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dan and Lindsey Hammer worried they wouldn’t be able to meet the $3,000 goal they’d set.
While their 12-year-old son Caleb received his last rounds of chemotherapy to treat osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, the East Memphis family wanted to do what they could to support the research hospital working so hard to save his life. In the end, the Hammers raised 10 times their goal and one of their donations helped achieve a monumental milestone leading up to the 20th anniversary of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend: $100 million raised over two decades of the race to bolster the lifesaving work and groundbreaking research at St. Jude.
The Hammers were surprised by the announcement by Richard C. Shadyac Jr., President and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude. “Lindsey and Dan, your fundraising, on behalf of your son Caleb, is now part of history. You have a lot to celebrate,” he said. “We want to thank you and all St. Jude Heroes who dedicate their time, effort and selfless dedication to help so many St. Jude kids.”
The Hammers wept hearing the news. The worry and the hope that have marked their last eight months came flooding to them at once.
How raw and fresh April 9th still is to them, when Caleb said he was having trouble being a goalie for his soccer team because his arm hurt so badly. Surely, just growing pains, they’d thought. But then days later, a slight fall had made him scream out in pain. Worried it was broken, Dan and Lindsey took him to a local orthopedist who delivered far worse news: Caleb had bone cancer and needed to go to St. Jude immediately.
“You never think you’re going to be that parent that hears those words,” Dan said, thinking back. “When you first hear it, you think the worst. I don’t want to lose my child.”
Within two weeks, the doctors at St. Jude placed Caleb on a protocol of surgery and chemotherapy. Both would be necessary to wipe out all the cancer, they told Dan and Lindsey. Think of it like a lightbulb shattering on a wooden floor, they explained. You can vacuum, then sweep, but still can’t be certain to get all the shards. Cancer is like that. Shards spread far and wide, and all the scans and treatment Caleb would endure would help ensure the cancer is found and eliminated.
Caleb has a titanium rod where his left humerus had been and has two weekends of chemotherapy left before his final scan on December 17, when Dan and Lindsey hope to hear their son is cancer free.
“For us there is that light, that hope at the end of the tunnel,” Dan said. “The doctors told us the plan and we followed it. We are blessed, we know that. We met so many other families that have been in treatment for years and they still don’t have that end in sight, but they keep fighting.”
Dan and Lindsey said they will think of Caleb and those families as they walk and run the 10K this weekend. They will wear specially designed shirts with the words “Hammer Strong” emblazoned above an image of their son raising a hammer to crush cancer cells, appearing a bit like the powerful Norse God and Avenger Thor. The Hammers will be among more than 1,100 patient family members participating this weekend. The St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend is drawing more than 20,000 participants from all 50 states and 72 countries. About 17,000 will take part in person while more than 3,000 will be virtual.
“They have got fundraisers for life now,” Lindsey said. “We will be part of this every year.”