Stories about: National Childhood Cancer Awarness Month

The many faces of childhood cancer: Sarah Levin

Sarah Levin is 11 years old, and has beaten acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) twice. This is her story.

Sarah and her mother Michelle

The first time I got diagnosed with ALL I was only three, so I don’t remember that much about it. But what my mom and dad have told me is that it was a really sad and scary time for my family. It happened a week before my 3rd birthday. I actually spent my 3rd birthday in at Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center (DF/CHCC) on 7 West, which used to be the oncology floor. It was very challenging for my mom and dad to split time between me and my sister. They both wanted to be with me, but they also wanted to be with her and help her through such a hard time.

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The many faces of childhood cancer: Fernando Morales

Fernando Morales is a student athlete. Last year he was sidelined from the life he knew after he was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma. Now done with treatment Fernando is back with his teammates, sporting a positive outlook and a new appreciation for life. This is his story. 


As a soccer player and member of the track and field team at my high school, running is a big part of my life. But one morning I started getting shooting pains in my knee. All of a sudden walking and running became very difficult. In the blink of an eye I lost a big part of my identity, which hurt almost as much as my leg. Almost.

I saw a doctor who put me on a physical therapy regimen and took X-rays of my knee. When that didn’t seem to help I underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to see what the problem was and why it wasn’t getting better. The MRI results said it all: a tumor was growing in my right pelvis.

Less than a week later my parents and I were driving to the Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center (DF/CHCC). There were so many questions floating around my head. Would I need surgery? Would I ever play sports again? Was I going to live? If you compared my sanity to a dam, the pressure in my head was building towards dangerous levels. The walls were starting to crack.

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The many faces of childhood cancer: Caitlynne McGaff

Caitlynne McGaff is an active 17-year-old. She owes a lot of her mobility to an innovative surgery she had at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital Cancer Center to treat her osteosarcoma. This is her story.

Caitlynne McGaff

When most people my age talk about a day they’ll never forget, they mention getting their license, or a great sweet sixteen party. For me, it’s a little different. I’ll never forget March 1, 2001, because it was the day I was diagnosed with cancer.

I was just 6 years old at the time, and honestly didn’t fully understand what was happening when the doctor said I had a bone tumor known as osteosarcoma growing just above my knee. But from the shocked looks on my parents’ faces I knew it was big. The rest of the day is a blur. We went from doctor to doctor, office to office, as my new medical team explained my treatment plan to me and my parents. It was a whirlwind, but over time everything became normal, almost comforting.

The Dana-Farber/ Boston Children’s became like a second home to my family and me. Wednesdays were the longest day because that’s when I had chemotherapy. But the staff at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s offers so many entertainment options to its patients you almost forget why you’re there. I may have spent hours tethered to an IV that delivered my medications, but all I remember are the endless arts and crafts projects I did, or the time spent with nurses and doctors I came to see as friends. (Not to mention hours and hours of board games.)

When my chemotherapy session was over I’d head to my room on 7 West, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s own treatment wing. The similarities between the Jimmy Fund Clinic and the hospital inpatient area are plenty; there’s a surplus of activities in the craft room, tons of movies to watch or games to play and people to hang out with that understand just how much a simple smile can mean to a child in the hospital.

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The many faces of childhood cancer

Good Morning America recently shared the story of the Durkins, a family who has overcome tremendous odds. All three Durkin children were diagnosed with a rare  blood disease called Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). After treatment at Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center, all the Durkin siblings are doing better, and their cases have helped DF/CHCC researchers learn more about the genetics of the disease.

Having three family members diagnosed with MDS is very rare, but there is a unique story behind every child diagnosed with cancer. Each story puts a new face on cancer, treatment and survivorship, and on the unique experiences each child meets with their families, communities and caregivers.

In honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, over the next four weeks we’ll introduce you to four children who, while young, have already overcome one of the biggest challenges of their lives:

  • Caitlynne, who opted for an innovative treatment that turned her ankle into a replacement knee after a rare leg cancer took part of her leg.
  • Fernando, a star soccer player who’s time away from the field during treatment gave him a new outlook on life.
  • Sarah, who has faced leukemia down not once, but twice.
  • Steven, a bone cancer survivor who went on to be his high school’s valedictorian.

These four represent just a few of the many faces of childhood cancer across the United States and the world. We hope you’ll join us this month in honoring all of the children who come to Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center, as well as their caregivers—doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, researchers, administrators and more—who work tirelessly until every child is well.

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