When St. Jude opened its doors in 1962, the medical community saw many childhood cancers as incurable.
We didn’t listen.
And today, thanks to the research of St. Jude scientists and the care of St. Jude doctors, there are thousands of families that are very glad we didn’t listen.
Our work at St. Jude has helped push the survival rates for childhood cancer from 20% to 80%. And that’s really good news.
But we want great news. And great news will be when we cure all kids.
In the next decade our goal is to increase the survival rate of childhood cancers to 90%, and we will keep pushing until we get to that incredible day when cancer doesn’t claim the life of any child.
You can help us get there. Make a gift today and you’ll be helping provide us with the needed tools to conquer childhood cancer.
St. Jude surgeons are world renowned for innovative approaches that save the lives of children with cancer and other diseases.
Mick’el was 15 months old when his grandmother noticed that he had blood in his diaper and a firm, bloated belly. After examining the toddler, doctors discovered that Mick’el had advanced bilateral Wilms tumor, a cancer of both kidneys.
“I was shocked. Scared,” says Mick’el’s father, Tommie.
When chemotherapy and radiation failed to shrink the tumors, doctors at their local hospital announced there was nothing more they could do.
“I didn’t want to sit on the front row at a funeral,” recalls Mick’el’s mom, Tameka.
The family requested a second opinion, and within days Mick’el was under the skilled care of Andrew Davidoff, MD, Surgery chair at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The renowned surgeon is an expert in bilateral Wilms tumor.
Davidoff and his colleagues perform about 1,600 operations each year to diagnose and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases. They partner with St. Jude oncologists, radiation therapists, pathologists, anesthesiologists, nurses and basic scientists to plan and deliver the best treatment for children with solid tumors. Their specific expertise includes complex surgical procedures to treat kidney, neuroendocrine, eye and bone cancers.
“In addition to the technical aspects of these procedures, understanding what is appropriate for each patient is even more important in children with cancer,” Davidoff says. “It means knowing when surgery is appropriate and when it is not. If surgery is appropriate, is the best timing before or after chemotherapy? How aggressive or conservative should we be with the surgery, and is surgery the only way to cure the cancer?”
Preserving kidney function
Bilateral Wilms tumor occurs in only 30 U.S. children each year. Nearly 20 percent of those children have their surgery performed at St. Jude.
“Because of our extensive experience surgically managing children with cancer, I feel we have a more aggressive willingness to perform complex surgical procedures rather than saying they can’t be done,” Davidoff says. “While most other surgeons would remove one or even both kidneys, our approach is to save as much normal kidney on both sides when possible. That’s where experience counts.”
Not only does this approach, called nephron-sparing surgery, maintain excellent survival rates, but it also helps children with this rare cancer avoid kidney failure, dialysis and transplantation. The No. 1 goal is always cure, but improving quality of life is a priority as well.
Davidoff surgically removed a softball-sized mass from Mick’el’s left kidney and another the size of a tennis ball from his right kidney. Today, the active 9-year-old is five years cancer-free with normal kidney function.
Davidoff has performed more than 50 such surgeries and publishes the results so the medical community can learn from the St. Jude model. Early results from cases like Mick’el’s show promise not only for cures but for avoiding complications after surgery.
Experience and expertise
Neuroblastoma is the most common solid tumor in children next to brain tumors and accounts for 7 to 10 percent of all childhood cancers in the U.S. By the time neuroblastoma is diagnosed, the cancer has usually spread to other parts of the body. Outcomes for the disease vary widely.
“In some children, the disease can be very non-aggressive,” Davidoff says. “We remove the tumor with surgery, and the children are cured. Others with advanced disease may require surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow transplantation and still the survival rate is only 30 percent.”
When venturing into this complex territory, St. Jude surgeons meticulously separate the tumor from delicate blood vessels that nourish the kidneys, liver, intestines and other structures. The surgery requires precision and skilled hands to prevent damage to vital organs.
“It’s a challenging and tedious surgery in which we have a lot of experience and expertise,” Davidoff says.
St. Jude surgeons also team with oncologists to incorporate new surgical techniques and approaches into clinical trials for neuroblastoma.
Improving care for children with eye cancer
The St. Jude retinoblastoma treatment team is one of the most recognized in the country and is a textbook example of how research in St. Jude laboratories improves outcomes for patients in the clinic.
“Our basic scientists are able to develop preclinical models and identify pathways we can exploit with novel targeted therapies that we hope will reduce the toxicity of treatment, preserve vision and make patients’ lives better,” says Matthew Wilson, MD, ocular oncologist. He and Rachel Brennan, MD, a pediatric oncologist and retinoblastoma expert, are part of the team that treats children with retinoblastoma.
“The ability to examine and observe the eye and understand the size and number of tumors in the eye is just as important as treatment,” Wilson says. “With aggressive surveillance and careful examination of the eye, we’re able to judiciously apply the laser and cryotherapy to treat tumors, save the eye and preserve as much vision as possible.”
In addition to the retinoblastoma group, patients receive support from an an eye clinic and many other services both during and after therapy. Because of this teamwork, the hospital’s investigators recently achieved a 100 percent five-year survival rate for children with retinoblastoma in one or both eyes at diagnosis.
Researchers continue to create new treatment options for patients whose cancer has spread beyond the eye, as well as develop new routes for delivering drugs while avoiding radiation and minimizing long-term effects of therapy.
Saving lives and limbs
When Bhaskar Rao, MD, joined St. Jude in the 1980s, amputation was inevitable for children facing surgery for osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma, the most common bone cancers in children. St. Jude was one of the few centers that offered an alternative—saving their limbs as well as their lives.
Today, the offer still stands as St. Jude surgeons help children maintain function of their arms and legs.
“Approximately 90 to 95 percent of our patients with bone tumors will have some sort of limb salvage,” says Rao, a pioneer in limb-sparing procedures. “Our approach is chemotherapy to shrink the tumor to an operable size; then we perform the limb-sparing surgery.”
Rao and orthopedist Michael Neel, MD, remove the diseased bone and replace it with a custom-made, expandable prosthesis. Because bone cancer primarily affects adolescents, growing patients return to St. Jude for outpatient procedures to lengthen the prosthesis and to maintain the same limb length on either side. After surgery, children undergo extensive rehabilitation and support care to help them maintain normal function.
The local recurrence rate for St. Jude patients who have undergone surgery for Ewing sarcoma is below the 10 percent national average. Rao attributes the outcome to experience, supportive care and unmatched follow-up care.
“At some centers, the surgeon operates on patients and sends them back to the oncologist and then the surgeon never sees the patient again until they encounter complications,” Rao says. “Here, we provide continuity of care for patients until they are 18 years old or until 10 years after diagnosis, whichever comes later.”
Patients treated at St. Jude are eligible to receive comprehensive screenings and health assessments related to their cancer—for a lifetime. “This level of follow-up care is not available in many places,” adds Rao, who also serves as Surgery director for the St. Jude International Outreach Program. Looking ahead, surgeons are evaluating and exploring new limb-sparing techniques to improve survival and help children live normal lives after treatment.
Minimally invasive techniques
Minimally invasive surgery is an alternative approach to diagnose and treat solid tumors, depending on the size and location of the tumors. John Sandoval, MD, uses the tools of the trade to view and investigate tumors in the chest and abdomen. He makes small incisions to perform biopsies, sample lymph nodes and remove abdominal tumors and lung lesions.
“We are staying mainstream and contemporary and attempting to push the envelope in laparoscopic surgery in children with solid tumors,” Sandoval says.
There are advantages for patients who qualify for the technique: less pain, quicker recovery, a speedy return to therapy and fewer long-term functional complications.
In 93 percent of procedures performed between 1994 and 2004, patients were able to receive an accurate diagnosis relying solely on the minimally invasive techniques performed at St. Jude. A follow-up study will be published this year to identify improvements and trends from the past decade. Sandoval anticipates the success rate to rise to nearly 100 percent.
Minimally invasive surgery is relatively new to pediatric oncology when compared to traditional surgery. Sandoval and his colleagues are helping to establish consensus guidelines for the appropriate use of these techniques in children with cancer. This provides the ideal opportunity for St. Jude to help shape the future of minimally invasive surgery in pediatric oncology.
Because of you...St. Jude will soon have a new operating room and surgery complex that will double the size of the current space. The new facility is designed to provide optimal care to patients and families who look to St. Jude for treatment and to further the hospital’s commitment to education and training.
The facility will include:
“Our family owes everything to St. Jude. There is no doubt that if it weren’t for St. Jude, we would have buried our kids by now. No doubt.”
By Clay MeredithIn 1996, my wife, Suzan, and I received a phone call that took our breath away.
“We’ve reviewed your children’s medical records,” the doctor told us, “and there’s really nothing more that we can do. Just enjoy the time you have left with your kids.”
How could this be happening? We were an average family, living paycheck to paycheck in middle-class America. But our infant son, Mitchell, had life-threatening breathing problems; our 6-year-old daughter, Alee, had partial paralysis as a result of a stroke.
There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to bury these two kids, and in short order. I don’t think “panic” can even hold a candle to where we were in our thought process. We were living a nightmare.
I sat down at the desk of a family member who is a funeral director.
“I don’t have the money right now,” I told him, “But if you will allow me to bury these kids with dignity, I’ll pay you every nickel I owe you.”
Shortly after my wife had given birth to our second child, things had begun to go terribly wrong. Almost overnight, we went from being a normal family to watching both of our children almost die. We had been in and out of hospitals for many months, and the children had been given a long list of diagnoses—from asthma to lactose intolerance to a rare genetic disorder. But no one, not even the best specialists, could tell us what was making our kids so sick.
We had two sick babies and really didn’t have an answer about what was going on.
When Mitchell was 6 months old, we finally got that answer: Our children had been born with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. We were devastated. In 1996, my wife and I knew nothing about HIV—only that it was a death sentence.
Like most people who contract HIV, my wife had carried the virus for many years without knowing it. Ten years before, her fiancé had died. We now realized that he most likely had AIDS.
Alee and Mitchell were put on a regimen of medicines. Two weeks later, our daughter had a stroke. Mitchell had the worst case of HIV that our local medical community had ever encountered.
The doctors offered us no hope.
“You’re telling us to watch these kids die?” I asked them. I was determined that we would not let that happen without first exploring every avenue.
So that started my quest. I got on the phone and started calling HIV clinics from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. I don’t know the exact number of phone calls I made, but it was in the hundreds. Time after time, people suggested that we take our children to an institution in Tennessee, called St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“That’s where I would go if I were in your shoes,” said a doctor from Houston, Texas. “That’s where I’d take my kids.”
“We put our two little broken babies in the back seat of our ratty old Escort, and with a prayer and a few dollars in our pocket, we headed to Memphis. That was the beginning of new life, new hope.”
As soon as we got the referral to St. Jude, we put our two little broken babies in the back seat of our ratty old Escort, and with a prayer and a few dollars in our pocket, we headed to Memphis.
That was the beginning of new life, new hope.
From the moment we pulled into the gate, the staff at St. Jude started taking care of us. They answered our questions. They knew instantly what the course of action should be for our children. Dr. Patricia Flynn and her staff got the kids started on their treatments, and then we loaded up our babies and headed back home.
I didn’t know it then, but the miracle was in place and was starting to happen. All of the treatment we had received before coming to St. Jude had been a failure, so we didn’t really know what to expect. But within a week or two, our kids’ eyes were bright, their appetite had picked up, and things had begun to change.
Those changes began to instill hope, because we started seeing our children returning to us. A month later, a St. Jude checkup revealed that the treatment was working very well. At the following checkup, the news was even better.
As time went by, we felt blessed and wanted to give back by sponsoring a child who was HIV positive. One day, Suzan found the website of an orphanage for HIV-positive children. On that site was a video of a 3-year-old Ethiopian boy singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Watching that video, we both began bawling like babies. Instead of sponsoring the little boy, we initiated the adoption process.
Thirteen months later, we brought Yonas home.
Through the years, the St. Jude medical team has kept our family on the right track medically. And our social worker, Chris Sinnock, has helped guide Alee and Mitchell through issues of disclosure they faced as they entered their teen years.
Thanks to St. Jude, all three of our children are thriving. Alee recently graduated from college and will soon be teaching English and working on her master’s degree. Mitchell is a high school senior who plans to become a pharmacist. Yonas is now in the sixth grade. Who knows what he will do?
Our family owes everything to St. Jude. There is no doubt that if it weren’t for St. Jude, we would have buried our kids by now. No doubt.
If I could meet the people who donate to the hospital, I would say, “Thank you.” And if those donors would form a line, I would hug each and every one of them. People who support St. Jude give hope to families who have no hope; they give a chance to children who have no chance. And due to that overwhelming generosity, parents like us get our kids back.
Abridged from St. Jude Promise magazine, 2014
Survival rates for childhood cancer of 80 percent are great, but with support from you and others like you, we’re working to drive it to 90% by 2020.
How do your donations help?
How is St. Jude making a difference for sick children?
How are donations used?
To fundraise at your work, you may visit www.StJudeAtWork.org
5 years old
Ethan was found to suffer from pineoblastoma in June 2012.
ETHAN’S ST. JUDE STORY:
These days, when Ethan’s mom cues up her Zumba workout in the living room, she soon fi nds that she’s not dancing alone. Ethan, her 5-year-old son, has appeared right next to her in front of the TV screen. He loves learning and repeating the dance steps, he loves the music and he loves his mom. As his mom looks down at Ethan happily stamping and sliding his little feet, she is grateful for many things. But her heart swells with gratitude for two blessings in particular: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and mother’s intuition.
When Ethan was 3 years old, he began vomiting, became lethargic and lost interest in food and play. Doctors chalked it up to allergies or possibly a virus. But when his symptoms failed to subside, his mother, a nurse, took him to the emergency room. There, doctors theorized that Ethan was having migraines.
“When we left the ER, I was in tears,” Ethan’s mom remembers. “I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right. I knew it was something else, that it was serious.”
At her insistence, Ethan’s pediatrician sent him to the local children’s hospital. That’s where a CT scan revealed that Ethan suffered from a rare and dangerous brain tumor known as pineoblastoma.
Ethan was slated for brain surgery. But prior to that date, “people just kept telling us about St. Jude, and St. Jude kept coming up,” recalls his mom.
She didn’t yet know that St. Jude has the largest pediatric brain tumor research program in the country and the world’s best survival rates. She just knew St. Jude was where Ethan needed to be.
At St. Jude, Ethan first underwent chemotherapy to shrink the cancerous tumor in his brain, then surgery to remove the tumor, followed by radiation therapy and more chemotherapy.
Ethan is now cancer-free and returns to St. Jude every three months for checkups.
The lifesaving interventions were hard on Ethan’s body. He was often fatigued and didn’t want to eat. Receiving physical, speech, and occupational therapies at St. Jude helped Ethan recover.
Now, Ethan shows off his line-dancing moves at every opportunity. He also loves to play his toy instruments and practice writing his ABCs, and he is excited about pre-kindergarten this year. And his mom loves it when he joins in on her Zumba routine, when she can bask in just how far he’s come.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.