Every child deserves to be healthy. They don’t smoke, they don’t drink, and they certainly do not welcome cancer into their lives… It just happens.
Hearing the words, “You have cancer” is horrifying. But hearing “Your child has cancer” is even worse. The parents of cancer patients carry heavy hearts.
Today I had the honor of meeting Aria, a 7-year-old cancer survivor, and her mother.
Aria woke up with a twisted tongue when she was just 5-years-old. Her parents, both physical therapists, knew that something must have been extremely wrong. They rushed her to the closest hospital. After doing an X-ray, her doctors found a tumor in her brain. Her parents had the option of either taking her to a local Syracuse hospital or to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. They chose St. Jude and never regretted the decision to do so – not for a hot second.
Aria’s first trip to St. Jude was heartbreaking for her parents. When they boarded the plane, her mother saw a boy Aria’s age with scars covering his bald head. She instantly broke down in tears, “I kept thinking, ‘That’s going to be Aria.'”
After the plane landed in Memphis, they travelled the St. Jude in the hospital’s complimentary shuttle. The young, bald boy and his mother ended up sitting next to Aria and her family in the bus. The boy’s mother started to cry and told Aria’s mother, “When I saw you crying on the plane, I hoped… I really prayed that you weren’t going to get on the shuttle… I really did.” They both found comfort in each other, shared their stories and became great friends. (Unfortunately, the young boy passed away three months later.)
As soon as she reached the hospital, Aria had a few tests done and went to bed. That night, life-changing decisions were made. “The doctors never want to put a child’s life at risk. It’s always about what’s best for the child at St. Jude. And if anything could harm them, it just isn’t done,” her mom said. The medical professionals at St. Jude had never seen a case like Aria’s. They wouldn’t touch the tumor until it grew larger. They sent Aria’s family home and told them to return in 3 months.
On her second visit to St. Jude, Aria was told that she only had a few months to live. They found that the tumor was surrounded by liquid and had been growing in her neural stem. This is rare.
Luckily, her doctors removed her tumor with fewer difficulties than expected. But, the nerves on the right side of Aria’s body were damaged. She also had to change the hand she wrote with and she fell behind in her education after missing 90 days of school. But, who can complain when she’s alive, right? Now, her parents do physical therapy sessions with her and with each passing day, they see improvement.
Her case was special, and she too is a very special girl. She’s a survivor, a fighter and an inspiring young woman. After two surgeries and endless support from St. Jude, Aria was able to be visit my sorority Delta Delta Delta today. The Philanthropy Chair Chloe Font threw Aria a perfect princess-themed tea party. When I asked her what she loved most about coming to TriDelt, she smirked and mumbled, “The cookies!” SHE’S ADORABLE.
None of this would have been possible without St. Jude and the help of Delta Delta Delta’s fundraising over the past couple of years. In November 1999, TriDelta made St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital it’s national philanthropy. In 2005, TriDelta raised $1 million to build the hospital’s Teen Room, a room filled with board games, video games and other fun things (Fun fact: No one over the age of 18 is allowed in the room). In 2006, St. Jude asked TriDelta to raise $10 million in 10 years. We blew their expectations out the water by meeting the $10 million fundraising goal in 2010. IT ONLY TOOK FOUR YEARS. In 2010, we were asked to raise another $15 million in 5 years. Guess what?! It only took TriDelta 3 years and a half to meet that goal.
St. Jude gives Aria’s family and many others ENDLESS support. They pay for everything so families are able to focus on the most important thing: providing love and support for their child without having financial stress. It costs $1.9 million per day to run St. Jude and no family ever sees a bill. Aria’s parents have tried to pay St. Jude back and the hospital will not accept their money by any means. St. Jude pays for their housing, food and air fare. They even pay for extra baggage fees in the airport.
St. Jude is a place where everyone fits in. Aria was given a home – a place where she has friends who are going through a similar experience to her. Being a part of this is indescribable.