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Sara Burke was a vibrant, energetic, fun loving five-year-old. She loved arts and crafts, macaroni and cheese, music, her big wheel, her big brother Lucas, and big sister Becca.
On July 6, 2007, Sara was diagnosed with medulloblastoma. She underwent many surgeries, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, and procedures. Sara’s initial brain surgery left her with significant deficits such as left-sided weakness and double vision. Sara worked very hard in a variety of therapies to regain her strength, coordination, and independence. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) became a home away from home for Sara and her family. She and her mother lived there for seven months and her family visited every day as Sara bravely fought for her life.
On February 1, 2008 Sara left CHOP and returned home following her last round of chemotherapy. Her cancer was in remission. However, a few weeks later, Sara was showing signs of difficulty. Tragically, her three-month follow-up MRI revealed that the cancer had come back with a vengeance. Only three days later, on May 12, Sara passed away in her home, surrounded by her family and many friends.
Sara leaves behind a legacy of hope and love that has touched thousands. She battled her disease with fierce determination and an unwavering positive outlook. While at CHOP for those seven long months, she lived every moment to the fullest, even under the most adverse conditions. Although physically distant from her friends and family, Sara was able to harness the power of the love and support that was constantly given to her. This energy filled her heart, brightened her attitude, and strengthened her resolve to fight.
Throughout her seven-month stay at CHOP, Sara was frequently transferred to different rooms. Yet, she and her family created a positive environment in each room they occupied. They decorated the walls and windows with artwork and personal mementos. Games, books, music, arts and crafts supplies filled baskets along the walls. Hospital equipment was often used in new and creative ways. Races, scavenger hunts, and various activities were invented to cheerfully pass time. When Sara was in extreme isolation due to her suppressed immune system, her family and friends even threw a surprise “support party” for her right outside her window.
Sara was also able to maintain a positive attitude throughout her battle because of her knowledge of the disease and all of the procedures involved. Her family carefully explained to her, in simple but accurate terms, everything that was happening to her. Sara understood what cancer meant, how the drugs worked, what each procedure entailed and why they were needed. This knowledge empowered Sara. It removed some of the fear and even allowed her to be playful at times when some children would never dream they could be. Whenever possible, Sara administered her own medications and added light-hearted, personal touches to many of her experiences.
Sara continues to be inspiring. She has taught all who knew her to face each day with curiosity and passion. Sara’s Smiles, a foundation created by Sara’s family, carries on her memory, spirit, and legacy of hope, determination, and cheer. Thank you, Sara, for filling our hearts and lighting a path for others to follow. You have taught us that every day is to be appreciated and holds the opportunity for new adventures. We hold you in our hearts and will love you always.
Written by Jen Burke, Sara’s Mother
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