By: Erin Weller
July is more than sweltering summer days and backyard barbeques; to many, it’s a month that honors those battling sarcomas – a disease that represents 15% of childhood cancer diagnoses. While the five-year survival rate for all types of childhood cancer is 86%, the average for the three most common sarcomas ranges from 65-69%. These cure rates lag behind many other kinds of pediatric cancers.
This month, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) is shining a spotlight on four extraordinary childhood cancer heroes who have been impacted by sarcoma:
1. Lakelynn Markham
Lakelynn loves horses, Barbies and hosting lemonade stands to help ALSF fund research projects like the one that changed her life.
When Lakelynn was 3, a trip to the hospital revealed that a “boo-boo” she complained about feeling in her arm was a tumor, but doctors were at a loss for what type of sarcoma she had or what treatment plan might suit it best. The location made it inoperable and radiation treatment too dangerous, but Lakelynn was in pain and unable to use her right arm.
Her doctor referred her to a clinical trial by Dr. Steven DuBois at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – an ALSF Center of Excellence in Boston. Luckily, the rarity of Lakelynn’s sarcoma made her a perfect candidate, and the trial drug miraculously shrunk her tumor to the point of stability!
Today, 7-year-old Lakelynn still travels regularly from North Carolina to Massachusetts for her medication. Although she’s still looking for a cure, Lakelynn’s current treatment has taken away her pain and given her back her childhood.
2. Francisco Zacharais
At 2 years old, Francisco makes the best of his time in the hospital, lighting up every time a helicopter flies by outside his window.
A month after his first birthday, Francisco was diagnosed with stage II embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. Soon after, he received a port placement and chemotherapy, which was too harsh for his little body, causing fevers and rashes.
He underwent surgery to remove the tumor, but weeks later, the site swelled, reopened, and got infected from radiation treatment. Traveling for treatment during the pandemic was scary for Francisco and his family, but he had to continue.
Today, things are looking promising as Francisco perseveres through the maintenance stage of treatment. Through it all, his family never gave up hope that soon, their 2-year-old will conquer cancer without any more side effects from treatment.
3. Raymeer Williams
Now 6 years old, Raymeer earned the nickname “Baby Bacon” from a nurse at the hospital when he was just an infant.
Raymeer was 4 months old when his skin started changing, and his hair was falling out. One night, he stopped breathing, and his parents rushed to the hospital to make a life-altering discovery: Raymeer had synovial sarcoma.
This undifferentiated soft tissue sarcoma required chemo every other week, followed by proton therapy. With the help of physical therapy, he was able to learn how to walk all over again.
Today, Raymeer is cancer-free! Baby Bacon’s come a long way, and now, Raymeer is living life to the fullest by using his story to inspire other childhood cancer heroes.
4. Kaela Cruz
After Kaela needed an above-the-knee amputation, she used her prosthetic leg to kick cancer!
Just before her fourth birthday, Kaela was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and began treatment in 2007. Eventually, she had no choice but to undergo an above-the-knee amputation on her left leg, but Kaela’s bravery never faltered, and her cancer never returned.
ALSF was able to provide Kaela’s family with resources to help them make informed decisions during treatment, and they’ve been committed to helping the Foundation ever since. Thanks to generous donations, Kaela even had an osteosarcoma research grant funded in her name.
Since then, she wears her battle scars proudly, knowing that nothing can stop her. Now, Kaela is 14 years cancer-free and living out her dreams of going to college!
For some sarcomas, the survival rates haven’t changed in decades. You can help ALSF raise awareness for sarcoma heroes to ensure that all kids with cancer feel seen, heard and worth the fight! This July, we’re looking for 15 ALSF supporters to join the One Cup Club in honor of the 15% of kids with cancer who are affected by sarcomas.