Today, with childhood cancer survival rates above 80 percent in this country, career dreams roll off the tongues of our young patients:
Doctor. Nurse. Teacher. Fireman. Professional basketball player. Musician.
Calvin dreams big. “I want to be a director and make movies. Or I want to be a designer and make blankets or a bed or a house, so I could give them to homeless people to live in later on.”
In school, he enjoys studying about dinosaurs and fossils in science class.
As we begin the coming school year, it will look different for many students across the country and the world due to necessary safety precautions brought by COVID-19. Many kids will be attending school virtually for the first time. Families are finding that, with distance, come new challenges and uncertainties.
A return to school, though it may look and feel different from what they know, gives St. Jude kids the chance to step outside of their new, clinical world and into one of language, history, science and math.
They come to St. Jude at all ages – from newborns to those just beginning college – and in various stages of learning. Patients and their parents are frightened, not just for their diagnosis, but of falling behind their peers cognitively and socially.
What they find is the St. Jude School Program by Chili’s. The school is also supported by our friends at AbbVie and their historic gift of two years ago, which helps us maintain this beautiful, K-12 resource where teachers work with patients’ home schools to help keep them on track and ready to go back to their lives when treatment is finished.
But there’s something more it offers: Normalcy.
Being uprooted from home life, from friends and family, to Memphis for treatment that may last years can be traumatic. What do they do? They learn, they grow, they heal. The routine of school helps anchor them.
Courtney is a St. Jude sickle cell patient who was diagnosed in utero. The disease comes with a myriad of cognitive side effects, yet St. Jude was where, her mom said, she “bloomed.” It’s also where she learned to read in a difficult summer between first and second grades. This fall, Courtney is beginning her sophomore year at Cornell University.
Javon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 2, and didn’t attend a traditional school until the sixth grade. He was educated at the St. Jude School, now plays in his college’s marching band and was recently honored on that school's Dean's List.
Since St. Jude opened its doors in 1962, overall childhood cancer survival rates in this country have risen from 20 percent to more than 80 percent – four out of five kids survive. With that remarkable success, we must consider life beyond the walls and halls of St. Jude because, with your help, these incredibly resilient kids are getting long and productive lives, opportunities to live out those dreams and the chance to change the world for the better.
It’s hard to imagine a better lesson in kindness and compassion. Or resilience.
Richard C. Shadyac Jr. is President and CEO of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.