Every September, as high school football teams around the country take the field, there is an air of excitement and a rush of energy connecting players to spectators. At Anoka High School outside Minneapolis, there is also a sense of purpose.
That’s where Dylan Witschen — #7 — played until he was diagnosed with a supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumor, a rare and aggressive brain cancer. Though he passed away 12 years ago, his team continues to honor the number and the selfless spirit of the young man who wore it.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time when we reflect on leaps made in research and treatment, but also on memories of patients like Dylan.
When St. Jude opened in 1962, four out of five children with cancer passed away. Since then, thanks in part to the research you help fund, that statistic has flipped and four out of five survive in this country. For this, we are immensely grateful for the generosity of our supporters the world over.
But as my friend Paula Head told me after her beautiful daughter Carson passed away from osteosarcoma, “When you’re the parent of the one, that one matters.”
September is for celebrating lives saved and uplifting those who need our support. But September is also for the one. For kids like Carson and Dylan, who we will never forget and in whose memories we vow to never stop in our fight against childhood cancer.
That’s what Dylan wanted. He wanted his legacy to be a continuance of research, treatment and care for kids everywhere.
After a difficult year of radiation therapy and chemotherapy at St. Jude, Dylan was cancer-free and back home. Back in the gym, on the field and with his team. But later that fall he was diagnosed again. This time it was glioblastoma, a different, more devastating, brain cancer. One of the difficult-to-treat cancers targeted in the new, $12.9 billion St. Jude strategic plan to increase overall childhood cancer survival rates beyond 80 percent.
Given six months to live, this brave and compassionate young man sat his family down — his mom and dad, and his older sister — and told them he didn’t want any other family to go through what they’d just gone through. Dylan asked his parents to continue raising money for St. Jude after he was gone.
And they have. This month, the St. Jude Walk/Run team Dylan Witschen #7 will once again lace up to raise funds and awareness.
What’s amazing, and truly gets to the heart of this mission, his mom tells us, is that half the people who raise money on Dylan’s behalf knew and loved him. But the other half never knew him at all.
They know his story. Or they know of someone else’s cancer journey, or they’ve had their own. Maybe they don’t know anyone touched by cancer, but they have healthy kids and want to give back for their good fortune.
Whatever it is — this is why they walk.
This is why September is a month of purpose. A month of unifying behind the singular purpose that no child should die in the dawn of life.
This is why we walk. This is why we ask you to give, even if it’s just a dollar-a-day — $30 can make a huge difference to kids and families in need. And I hope you’ll join us by finding a St. Jude Walk/Run event in your community, or by joining us virtually wherever you might be. Among that community, I promise you’ll breathe an air of energy and excitement. You’ll sense the purpose that connects us.
Walk for Dylan. Walk for Carson. Walk for kids in treatment today and those who will be diagnosed tomorrow. Thank you.