What I Learned About Life from the Children of St. Jude

You’ve probably seen the pictures or received a postcard showing the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, but nothing can prepare you if you are ever lucky enough to meet them face to face, as I have. The first time I visited them, I expected to be overwhelmed by sadness, but instead I was overcome with hope. Yes, hope. Miracles do happen, everyday even, in this Memphis hospital. Different races, religions, nationalities, and languages come together, which is a feat in and of itself. Parents have one shared goal: to focus on doing everything they can to help their children kick cancer in the butt, instead of dealing with insurmountable bills, or worrying over where to live. And inside these walls, kids who have faced seemingly insurmountable odds have found themselves cured.

As a mom, meeting the children of St. Jude tears me apart, especially because you have to deal with the reality that not everybody wins their battle. Two of the kids I met four years ago have since lost their fight. My encounters with Alejandro and Brenda were too brief, just like their lives, but the doctors of St. Jude always tell you that when they lose a patient, they learn from that loss so that other kids with the same diagnosis will have a different outcome.

Camila-and-Jeannette-at-St-JudeThis time I met Camila, Izara, and Cassie. At just 10 years old, Camila (above) is wise beyond her years. She’s especially thankful for the nurses that have assisted her with her chemotherapy, but all she wants right now is a small, fluffy dog. Just like my daughter, and just like millions of other little girls and boys around the world. Her mom, Roxanne, decided it was time to move from their native Puerto Rico to Memphis for all the follow-up visits that are coming up after fighting bone cancer.

Because these kids go through so much on any given day, parents like Roxanne take things day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. They find tiny things to celebrate because each moment marks a milestone that has been achieved. For the families at St. Jude, life goes on, perhaps at a different pace, but you learn to celebrate every second of it.


The children themselves embody friendship at its purest. Although Izara (above) is much younger than Camila and has also had round after round of chemo, she has an energy that knows no bounds. At 7 years of age, she still wants to jump, skip, and play. But she knows her friend’s situation is different, so she takes care of her. After Camila and I made a craft together, Izara came to ask her to go play at a different table. But she didn’t wait for me to give her Camila’s hot-pink crutches; she instinctively grabbed them and helped her friend get up and walk. It is in her nature to help before being asked to do so. It doesn’t matter that she is also fighting to get her health back, she watches out for her friend.


But the most impressive lesson these children teach everybody around them is to fight on. That is exactly what Cassie, who is 13 years old and has glioblastoma (a very aggressive brain tumor) is doing. Losing her hair was especially difficult for her, but it helps her to be in a place where she feels genuinely supported. If you ask her, she will tell you that everyone at St. Jude seems to genuinely care about how you are. Every day the doctors ask them how their day is going. And while some days are harder than others, she’s doing everything she can to fight her illness. Thankfully, the tumor seems to be shrinking. Her mom, two brothers, and her grandparents do everything they can to support her, but her courage is more than the sum of all the loved ones helping her.

“Never lose hope,” says Cassie.

I am heeding her words and praying for her, the children, and the families of St. Jude. Miracles can happen, even if they aren’t exactly the ones we wish for but rather come in the form of more days with those we love.

To learn more about St. Jude Children’s Research hospital, click here.

All images courtesy of Jeannette Kaplun

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