From Utah with love: when the Tabernacle Choir sang to me

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah When 10-year-old Chase Burch Marmolejo was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor and sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — more than a thousand miles from her home in California — she longed for the comfort, peace and familiarity of home. It came from an unexpected place, from Salt Lake City, the home of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

United States of St. Jude - Utah - Chase Burch

This is a story of faith overcoming fear, one with a decidedly happy ending. A decade after an impromptu concert by the choir during treatment at St. Jude, Chase was married in the Salt Lake Temple and, the next day, finally got the opportunity to thank choir members for their healing gesture.

This is Chase’s story in her own words.

Spider-Man was in the room across the hall from me. He was only a little boy, but he had so fully taken on the persona of his red-and-blue pajamas that I still see him as a masked superhero. His villain was cancer.

Mine was, too.

At 10 years old, I was rushed in an ambulance to our local children’s hospital with a mass on my brain. It would turn out to be medulloblastoma, an aggressive, cancerous brain tumor that required emergency surgery.

It was in recovery that my family and I bonded with the webbed hero across the hall. Recovery was difficult as I re-learned basic things like how to walk, and he was my inspiration. Those who knew me best even started calling me Supergirl. The nickname helped me overcome the challenges, and helped me and my family get through a horrendous experience.

The doctors at our local hospital didn’t hold back when delivering the diagnosis. They told my parents I would need to go through 16 grueling months of radiation and chemotherapy. They gave us a list of atrocious side effects that I would — not could — have.

But once those doctors left the room, my mom turned to my dad and said, “This is not our only option. You go find the very best place for our little girl.”

My dad is a professor of statistics. He lives and breathes research and data. He read everything he could find on medulloblastoma and came back with one answer: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The treatment there, he reported, was half the time with better results.

But it wasn’t easy.

Chemotherapy kept me bedridden, and my immune system dropped to zero. I wore a mask everywhere years before it became the norm. We lived at Target House in Memphis. We made the best of a very bad situation because that’s what Supergirl would do.

That’s when we got the call. Our beloved little Spider-Man had traded in his super suit for a halo. We held each other and cried. We then said a family prayer asking our Heavenly Father for more strength during this bleak time in our lives.

And then we got another call. This time it was from family friends traveling with the Tabernacle Choir on tour. They wanted to get some members of the choir together to come sing to me.

We explained the situation — my immune system, my mask, the inherent danger when fighting such a severe cancer. But I needed that connection to home. Happiness, too, can be healing. So it was decided my family and I would visit their hotel, but with only a few choir members at a safe distance in a quiet corner of the lobby.

At the hotel, we were greeted by our friends and walked through the double doors with a television crew in tow.

And there in front of us was the entire Tabernacle Choir.

It looked like five stories of angels to my 10-year-old eyes. We were led to private seats across the lobby, and they began singing. I was overcome with emotion, especially when they sang “A Child’s Prayer” — the song my dad had taught me. It was the song I was singing as I woke up from surgery.

There was not a dry eye in that lobby. 

After my diagnosis and initial surgery, I was told I may never walk or run again. I was told the treatments would most likely leave me with major learning disabilities.

Instead, I recently graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in Communications. Not only did I graduate Magna Cum Laude, but I did so in only three-and-a-half years.

USSJ Utah - Chase Burch Marmolejo

I’m happily married now to my best friend who I have known since second grade. We were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 2017, and I had the opportunity then to thank the choir for singing to me that day back in Memphis.

And I can proudly say I’m 14 years cancer-free!                              

Looking back at that little Supergirl, and all she overcame, it’s astonishing to me I never remember feeling sorry for myself. I just took it day-by-day, knowing that I would be better someday soon. Even though I never want others to go through what I did, I would not change what happened to me because I wouldn’t be who, or where, I am today without it.

St. Jude gave my family hope, and healed me, and taught me I can conquer any colossal adversary that comes my way. Both the Tabernacle Choir and our little superhero and his family also taught me that when we look around and see how we can help others, we forget the problems we are going through ourselves.

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