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Inspired to give back after becoming a childhood cancer survivor: Whitney’s story

March 05, 2014

After meeting Whitney, you would never realize the hardships she endured by spending most of her childhood in the hospital, battling several childhood illnesses. Instead, you would see a sweet, quietly confident 16-year-old girl who is passionate about art and medicine, as well as fundraising, pursuing excellence in everything that she does. While most girls her age are interested in the latest fashion trends, boys, and the usual high school drama, Whitney is different. Although she thinks about these things, she is on a greater mission. A mission to educate people on childhood cancer and to one day, find a cure for this ugly disease.

The diagnosis that changed everything

At eight years old, Whitney was diagnosed with a T-cell post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD), or a T-cell Lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer. In fact, it is so rare, that only one to two percent of the population in the United States is affected by this type of cancer today. Having been previously treated at a local hospital in Gainesville for a liver transplant that she underwent at the age of three, she began treatment for cancer there, so that her previous team of physicians could care her for. However, after three months of treatment, Whitney was not responding well, and her parents asked if she could be transferred to Arnold Palmer Hospital for treatment so that she could be closer to home. Once Whitney transferred, they started to see significant signs of improvement and she was finally responding to treatment. Over the course of her treatment, Whitney was a trooper and did extremely well. However, with the intensity of treatment that childhood cancer requires, there are good days and bad days. And some days, they feel so dark you wonder if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, according to her mom. Despite all of the trials and hardships that came her way, Whitney persevered through it all, and in April 2006 she was told she was “cancer-free!”

During the many doctors’ visits and hospital stays, Arnold Palmer Hospital became her “home away from home,” and the nurses and doctors became her second family. To this day, Whitney looks forward to visiting the hospital every six weeks for check-ups to be able to catch up with those who had cared for her as a young girl. As she describes it, “the nurses and physicians, they know me and they know what’s going on in my life. I will be forever grateful for them.”

Changed perspective

Instead of being resentful towards the ugly beast (childhood cancer) that robbed her of part of her childhood, Whitney is inspired by it. She is appreciative for the journey through her childhood illnesses, because it has helped shaped the unique perspective on life that she holds today. She is also appreciative for the team at Arnold Palmer Hospital that allowed her to become a childhood cancer survivor.

As a way to help show her appreciation to Arnold Palmer Hospital, Whitney has become passionate about fundraising for pediatric cancer research. Her family became one of the driving forces behind last year’s Arnie’s March for Childhood Cancer, and is back at it again this year – only hoping to make it a bigger and better event!

What is Arnie’s March and how can I get involved?

Arnie’s March is a fundraising initiative that launched in 2013, as a way for families to rally together to raise funds for pediatric cancer research at Arnold Palmer Hospital, concluding with a celebratory walk out at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club to support the hospital’s young cancer patients and their families. The event takes place during the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard and wouldn’t be possible without the drive and passion of our cancer families, including Whitney and her family.

Whitney and her family hope that through research, treatment can improve to where kids don’t have to miss out on school or being at home because they are required to stay in the hospital during their treatment. They also hope that one day there will be a cure for cancer, and that the physicians who saved Whitney’s life would be put out of the job (a goal any of the oncologists at the hospital would support!).

Whitney’s story is an example of why fundraising for pediatric cancer research is so important. It gives kids like Whitney the chance to become a survivor and lead amazing lives. But, none of it would be possible without the help of our community.

So, we need your help! You can get involved in this year’s Arnie’s March by: starting a fundraising team, joining a team, and registering to walk with our patients and families on March 18th at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge.

To learn more, visit ArniesMarch.com

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