The improvement in the overall cancer survival rate from around 20% in 1962 when the hospital opened to over 80% today, is in big part due to the research and care at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
But for the parents of the one in five who don’t make it, the goal is not complete.
Becky recalls the laughter and jokes her son would tell until the day life changed forever.
It was a call from Sam’s teacher.
“She said he is just kind of clumsy. I’m afraid to let him go to the bathroom by himself because he might fall on the tile. And he was holding his scissors wrong,” Becky recalled.
What was thought would be a routine trip to the doctors turned into an immediate trip to the hospital for an MRI.
“They pulled us aside in a room and gave us a diagnosis for Sam. And said he had DIPG, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, which was a brain tumor and it was inoperable, incurable and he had about 6-9 months to live,” Becky said.
It's a diagnosis that no parent ever expects.
Becky recalled, “It’s horrible. It was stunning and horrible. Surreal. I thought I am not in this room, they are not talking to me. How did we get here, just earlier it was a normal day?”
The family headed immediately to St. Jude, where more clinical trials for cancer are developed than at any other children’s hospital in the United States. All treatment protocols, trials and research are freely shared.
Faced with a diagnosis that offered little hope, time with Sam was precious.
“He didn’t come home sick. If you’d didn’t know about the raging tumor in his head you wouldn’t think anything was wrong with him," Becky said. "He played soccer and we traveled all summer long. We went on family vacations to the beach, I took him to see family in Georgia we went to Disneyworld.”
At 5 years old, Sam died after a 14-month battle with an inoperable and incurable brain tumor. The treatment and care at St. Jude was there every step of the way with care, compassion and world-class treatment.
St. Jude continues to work to research and cure some of the most aggressive forms of cancer. Never does a family receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food.
Every year since then, the family and friends gather to run the Memphis Marathon weekend with “Team SuperSam” to carry on his memory.
And this past summer, Sam would have graduated high school.
The family threw Sam a graduation party with all donations going to St. Jude. The memory of Sam continues with the belief that one day the cure for all childhood cancers will come from St. Jude.