Patient Ambassadors of the Parkway Run & Walk have a big job to do. It’s up to them to represent the thousands of children diagnosed with pediatric cancers each year. As they share their stories, they help the world understand what childhood cancer takes away and why it’s worth supporting institutions like Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Soon after he turned 4 in August 2022, Aaron was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His intense treatment included surgery, high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. While staying at CHOP, “Aaron made so many friends with his nurses,” says his mother, Shana. Now that he’s finished treatment, he will have follow-up scans to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back. Aaron would like to be a nurse when he grows up — and a school bus driver, firefighter, policeman and teacher.
Aaron’s superpower: Making big plans!
Seven-year-old Alina’s mother, Payal, describers her as “sweet, smart, determined and a very logical thinker.” Alina’s journey with leukemia started when she broke her arm and then developed a fever. At the local ER, it was found that all her blood counts were low, and she was transferred to CHOP. “When Alina was first hospitalized,” says Payal, “she met a child life specialist who really helped Alina understand what was happening inside her body. We really appreciated that.”
Alina’s superpower: Her laughter is contagious!
In June 2022, Bella woke up with a funny feeling in her shoulder. By July she was undergoing chemotherapy for bone cancer. Over the course of eight months, she joked her way through treatment, including tumor removal surgery, which replaced her shoulder joint and 4 inches of upper-arm bone with metal versions. Now 17, she’s slowly working her way back to competing with her cross-country team, and she shows off her scars proudly.
Bella’s superpower: “The ability to make people laugh. It’s my favorite thing in the world.”
When Branson, 4, developed a rash of small red dots all over his torso, his family thought it wasn’t too worrisome. But the dots were actually a leukemia symptom known as “petechiae.” Thanks to aggressive treatments, he’s been in remission and on maintenance therapy since January 2022. This past spring, he announced an exciting discovery: “I have hair again!” He loves French fries, hot dogs, the Starbucks Pink Drink, and any and all vehicles.
Branson’s choice for a superpower: “Super speed!”
After being diagnosed at age 2 with a rare subtype of leukemia, Genevieve cruised through treatment but relapsed 15 months later. “We know relapsed leukemia is hard,” says her mother, Liesel, “so we came to CHOP to seek care.” Genevieve participated in clinical trials and had a bone marrow transplant, with her big sister Charlotte as her donor. Now 8, she loves her golden retriever, Honey, and wants to be a veterinarian.
Genevieve’s choice for a superpower: “I want to fly so I can travel the world.”
James went to the ER due to dehydration caused by a stomach virus. Bloodwork showed abnormally high numbers of immature white blood cells, which is a strong indication of leukemia. “When they said that leukemia was a possibility, we could not believe it,” says his mother, Dawn. “James never got sick.” He was sent to CHOP, where the diagnosis was confirmed. “So the first time my son is really sick, the diagnosis is cancer. Crazy!” Now 15, James wants to be a video game designer.
James’s superpower: Staying positive, even when times are rough.
Seven-year-old Jeziah’s mother, Arelis, describes him as a “very, very loving” boy who always wants to help people. He’s also brave and resilient: While being treated for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, he would undergo a spinal tap and then head right to soccer practice. In remission since summer 2022, he will continue the maintenance phase of treatment until summer 2024.
Jeziah’s choice for a superpower: “Super speed!”
Six-year-old Kylah was diagnosed in April 2022 with Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer that mainly affects children. She endured her cancer treatment with courage and resilience and completed her treatment in December 2022. She now enjoys going to school, spending time with loved ones, swimming and playing ice hockey — she was thrilled when she attended her first Flyers game.
Kylah’s choice for a superpower: Blazing speed, like the cartoon Blaze and the Monster Machines.
After complaining of a tummy ache in January, 3-year-old Lily was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma. She immediately started an 18-month treatment plan, including a therapy that is combined with radioactive iodine to specifically attack neuroblastoma cells. “Lily is the strongest kid we know,” says her mother, Dana. Lily loves to go to the park and zoo and wants to be ballerina.
Lily’s choice for a superpower: The ability to fly.
Maddy, 9, was diagnosed with liver cancer in October 2022. She began chemotherapy right away and then had surgery to remove the tumor, which left her with a scar in the shape of a rainbow. “There’s no better place than CHOP,” says her mom, Lauren. “Every single person was so supportive,” adds her dad, Jeff. She loves reading, coloring, her theater class and the Beatles.
Maddy’s superpower: “Being very quiet.”
After tests at a New Jersey urgent care couldn’t explain Olivia’s symptoms, the doctor sent them to an ER, where a CT scan detected a large mass in her brain. It was a cancer called medulloblastoma. The family drove themselves to CHOP after multiple transports were delayed. Overall, Olivia, now 4, underwent four brain surgeries plus six rounds of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. Throughout her months-long hospital stay, her family created scavenger hunts, held tea parties, hosted a lemonade stand and celebrated her stuffed animals’ birthdays. They aim to “Live Like LIV.”
Olivia’s superpower: Finding joy in each day.
Rylee, 13, has Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare disorder that greatly increases the risk of developing several types of cancer. In 2019, during her annual scans, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, requiring surgery and 33 rounds of proton radiation. Over the next three years, the tumor returned twice. In October 2022, it was also found she has bone cancer. “She is an inspiring young lady, strong in her faith, a devoted friend to everyone, and the heart of our family,” says her mother, Crystal.
Rylee’s superpower: The ability to remain relentlessly positive.