One-by-one they took the stage as their names were called. There was McKaylee, treated for anaplastic astrocytoma, who was honored on her fifth birthday in 2012. Hayes, recently back from wilderness camp in Hawaii, was treated twice for Wilms tumor. And Allie, the oldest, is newly engaged and just bought her first home.
As we have each year for the past ten, FedEx Purple Eagle patients were honored last week as a kick-off to the FedEx St. Jude Championship. The unveiling ceremony names a FedEx plane for a patient whose relative works for our global partner.
This year was 5-year-old Riley, treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and whose grandmother, a longtime FedEx employee, said, “He has so much energy and is always finding new things to explore and learn.”
It was moving, seeing these kids — young women and men now, many of them — who I’ve watched grow over the years. They’re all thriving and enjoying sports and school and friendships.
Ten patients who represent everything the St. Jude mission stands for — possibility and family.
Hayes’ mom said, “It’s wonderful that all ten children are alive, when you think about it. It’s not something I take for granted.”
She likened the annual ceremony to a family reunion. And that’s just what it is. Despite the media and buzz surrounding the event, it became a time for patients and parents to reconnect.
Tyler has run a half marathon and is in training to run a full. His cousin, Alyssa, is the namesake of a St. Jude fundraising team — Team Alyssa Rocks and Dude Dance — that has raised a half-million dollars. Calvin, who was honored in 2017, couldn’t be with us, but we know he was at home dancing and putting smiles on faces just as he always had in the St. Jude hallways.
The Purple Eagle ceremony, and the FedEx St. Jude Championship itself, offer special moments like these. Moments at the very heart of our mission. Because while St. Jude is known the world over for cutting-edge research and care, it’s also a global family that cares for and celebrates each other.
Moments like these, though, are also stark reminders of why we must never stop. Why we can’t let up even for a moment on raising funds and awareness to fuel this mission.
Because of the kids — members of our family — who weren’t with us for this year’s tournament. Those who never had a No More Chemo party. For those moms and dads who are tearfully typing diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma into a search bar right now. For parents who can’t grasp why their infant’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia doesn’t have the same high survival rate as an older child.
They are why we can’t and won’t stop.
Events like the golf tournament and partners like FedEx and PGA TOUR, and all of the volunteers and supporters who came out to the course last week — and the millions around the world who tuned in — are behind the St. Jude $12.9 billion strategic plan to give hope to those families.
A plan that focuses on difficult-to-treat diseases like DIPG, a fatal tumor that affects the brainstem, and infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia with its much lower survival rate.
For 60 years, we’ve given parents long lives with their children and others the gift of more time. But there is still so much more to do to ensure all kids, everywhere in the world, have the same chance at life as Mya, who just started high school with plans for a social media series educating the public about sickle cell disease. And Reid, treated for rhabdomyosarcoma and dreaming of being an engineer. Last year’s honoree was Kenzie who wants to give back as a nurse practitioner at St. Jude.
As we wrapped another week of championship golf for a great cause, it was a morning reuniting with family that filled my heart.
It is those memories and the promise of the next 10 years-and-beyond of Purple Eagle honorees that fuel this mission to find cures and save lives of kids today and the patients of tomorrow.