What does a mother of three small children do when she hears the words, “You have cancer?” For Sonia Dolinger, her first reaction was to hide in her closet, crying into a pillow so her children couldn’t hear. “It was the scariest moment in my life,” said Sonia. “I mourned the high school graduations and weddings I’d miss, and the chance to have grey hair and one day be called grandma.” She was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Soon, Sonia realized that if she was going to beat this disease, she needed to stop her wallowing and be her own best advocate. She embarked on an educational journey of self-discovery and cancer research and began reading through patient stories on The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) online forums.
“I read of new treatments that were being tested in clinical trials, and I followed these patients’ remarkable journeys,” said Sonia. “I learned about clinical trials for CLL, and I gained something paramount to any survival story, hope!”
So when Sonia heard of a clinical trial looking for patients needing new treatment options, she enrolled without hesitation.
Today, Sonia is in remission. She currently works with LLS as a fundraising campaign manager and continues to give back.
This fall, 1 million friends, families and co-workers nationwide will gather together to celebrate, honor and remember those touched by cancer at LLS’s Light The Night Walks. Survivors, like Sonia, celebrate within the survivor circle while the white beam of hope reaches up to the sky, illuminating the darkness. Supporters participate in honor of survivors and the strides LLS is making to find cures. Those we have lost are commemorated at the Remembrance Pavilion. The light and warmth generated delivers hope in time of despair, community in place of loneliness and lifesaving research & support for cancer patients and their families.
“Thanks to the support from the LLS, many of these drugs have gone from a twinkle in a scientist’s eye to saving lives!” said Sonia. “As an employee of LLS I’m thrilled to see and hear from patients frequently, many of whom have renewed hope in their fight against cancer.”
As LLS’s National Presenting Sponsor of Survivorship and Hope, Pharmacyclics and Janssen are committed to working with LLS through its Light The Night fundraising campaign to shine a spotlight on what it means to be a cancer survivor.
Eight-year-old Kaitlyn Johnson has had to deal with cancer for the majority of her young life. In fact, she was only 18 months old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common cancer among children and young adults. Her young life was quickly consumed with cancer treatments, doctors’ visits, and hospital stays. Throughout this time, Kaitlyn was brave, positive and continued to pursue her passion for dancing – no matter the location.
When she was first diagnosed, her parents, Mandy and James, made a decision that they would make this situation as positive as it could be. The family dressed up together before going to the hospital, made friends with all the people who they trusted with her care, and found small ways to make each moment positive.
Kaitlyn’s perspective is incredibly unique. A hospital visit is not feared, but it is a place where she can say hello to all her friends – from her friends who are patients, other families, nurses, doctors, security guards, to her therapy dog.
“As a parent, if your child is scared you want to be who they reach to. You’re conditioned to think that you’re the brave one,” said James. “But, when your kid touches your hand in that moment of fear and comforts you, you realize that they are the reason you’re strong.”
After three years of chemotherapy, the treatment was not working. Mandy and James had long discussions with Kaitlyn’s doctor who suggested that they enroll Kaitlyn in a clinical trial for a new immunotherapy. The revolutionary treatment, called CAR T-cell immunotherapy, had showed promise for other young children like Kaitlyn. The process was extremely unique and innovative – the doctors would remove Kaitlyn’s T-cells, the soldiers of her immune system, and reengineer them so that they could fight her cancer.
Today, Kaitlyn is now cancer free.
One Child Too Many
Unfortunately, not all stories of childhood blood cancer patients have a happy ending like Kaitlyn’s. A staggering forty percent of all pediatric cancers are blood cancers, and although survival rates have improved dramatically in recent decades, every young life lost to blood cancer is one too many. Since childhood cancers are biologically distinct from adult cancers, the way children respond to treatment is unique and dedicated pediatric research is needed to understand the molecular underpinnings of these diseases, identify appropriate dosages and evaluate the long-term impact of treatment.
Since LLS was founded in 1949, the median five-year-survival rate for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of cancer to impact children, has improved from 5 percent to approximately 90 percent. But there is still much more to do.
Although survival rates have improved dramatically for children with ALL, children with other types of blood cancers, such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), still face a difficult prognosis. Further, the lifelong impact of childhood cancer treatment can include severe physical and cognitive impairments, secondary cancers, and a range of ailments that the medical community is only beginning to understand.
That’s why LLS has committed to more than doubling our investment in pediatric research over the next five years. We are committed to investing $20 million in pediatric cancer research over this time in programs spanning the spectrum from basic science to translational research and clinical trials. We have convened a team of leading pediatric physicians and scientists to investigate the feasibility of launching a multi-site precision medicine clinical trial in pediatric leukemia. We’ve also set an ambitious goal of sequencing the genetic profiles of every child with leukemia in order to facilitate faster and more precise research into the unique molecular drivers and pathways of pediatric cancers. Our ultimate goal is to bring cures to children faster and deliver the promise of precision medicine to children with leukemia.
At the same time, we plan to expand the education and support we already provide to children with cancer and their families, including clinical trial enrollment, financial assistance, and local support groups. Through our advocacy efforts, we will continue to advocate for cures and ensure these children are able to access lifesaving treatment.
For education programs on childhood cancer, click here.
For 16 years, Burlington Stores has partnered with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), funding research and lifesaving treatments. Together, they have saved lives and helped bring smiles to those touched by blood cancers, with more than $32 million raised to date. However, with nearly 1.3 million people in the U.S. living with or in remission from blood cancers, there is still more work to be done. That’s why for the 17th consecutive year, Burlington and LLS are joining forces in the fight against blood cancers by raising money for lifesaving research and treatments, as well as helping child survivors get ready for the milestone of returning to school after undergoing treatment.
Timed to Blood Cancer Awareness Month, the campaign kicked off on Sunday, September 9 in more than 640 Burlington stores nationwide. Now through December 1, customers are encouraged to donate $1 or more at checkout to support LLS’s goal to create a world without blood cancer by advancing research to find new treatments and cures. Last year alone, this campaign raised more than $3.3 million to support the cause.
Nearly 6,000 school-age children are diagnosed with blood cancers each year. To help ease their transition back to school after treatment, Burlington and LLS are working with the 56 LLS chapters nationwide to surprise young survivors across the country with a gift card for a new head-to-toe look for schoolat their local Burlington store, so they can feel excited and confident while showcasing their own personal style.
Styled by Burlington, below are the heroic stories of young cancer survivors, Garret, Olivia and Gabriela, who LLS and Burlington have brought smiles to. Along with other fellow survivors, their smiling faces will be featured in stores nationwide.
Shortly after Garrett’s second birthday, his parents began to worry when he started experiencing unusual symptoms such as back pain, loss of appetite and trouble walking. It wasn’t long before they brought him to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to see what was wrong. After undergoing several tests, Garrett was diagnosed with leukemia and began aggressive treatment right away.
Today, Garrett is a healthy third grader and has been in remission for two years! Despite several side effects and countless hospital visits over the years, he continues to keep a positive attitude and push through with indescribable bravery. He recently made his local little league all-star baseball team and wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up.
Olivia was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of two. She underwent numerous rounds of chemotherapy, received two bone marrow transplants and had several surgeries. Despite everything, she maintained a joyful demeanor, which inspired all those around her.
Today, Olivia is 11-years-old, cancer free and doing great in her school’s singing program. She is also a very helpful big sister to her little brother Grayson.
Gabriela was diagnosed in February 2007 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when she was just two years old. The typically energetic and playful little girl began to experience trouble walking and often fell while playing. Although she walked with difficulty, no other symptoms were noted by her parents. After testing diagnosed her with ALL, Gabriela would have to endure two years of chemotherapy, along with port surgeries, countless blood transfusions and tests. Gabriela stayed overnight in the hospital for weeks after her surgeries.
Today, Gabriela is in the eighth grade and the captain of her school basketball team. She loves going to the beach with her friends and family.
Customers shopping at any Burlington store now through December 1 can donate at checkout to benefit LLS, helping to find cures for blood cancers. For more information visit Burlington.com or LLS.org.