Fairytale Ending


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Cancer. The word has long been a harbinger of loss, sorrow and pain. It is the unregulated growth of abnormal cells, and takes the lives of 7.6 million people around the world every year as recorded by the CDC. Decades of research and extensive funding have gone into fighting the disease, and though steady progress has been made, a cure is beyond our reach. When you take into account just how many unique types of cancer exist, a 'cure' by its very definition seems impossible.

And yet, we have the story of Emily Whitehead.

Today, she lives as happy a life as any 7-year-old girl could hope to live, taking regular walks with her dog and painting pictures that she shares with her parents. Like most children her age, her days are carefree and sunny, portraits of a youth well spent. She appears perfectly normal.

This would be true, were it not for her leukemia diagnosis in May of 2010. Stricken with the destructive illness, she underwent multiple bouts of chemotherapy - though they helped to delay the cancer's advances, the remission was doomed to end before bone marrow transplants could be made available. Faced with the death of their daughter, Tom and Kari Whitehead chose to pursue a radical treatment that would use a disabled configuration of the HIV virus to alter her immune system.

In theory, her T-cells (those responsible for fighting disease) would attack her cancer cells. In reality, it worked, and her leukemia is in remission to this day. (Note that all of the above information was taken from the live link). Emily recently celebrated her eighth birthday party along side several Penn State students. The university responsible for her treatment was our own, and the parents of Emily are heavily involved with Thon.

Emily's story is a fascinating one. It demonstrates the power of unconventional thinking, exemplified in her case; in less clinical language, if trials continue to yield success, more cancer-afflicted children might be able to celebrate their 8th birthdays.

And possibly, in the far off, promising future, attend Penn State.

EmilyWhitehead.jpeg













CDT Photo taken by Heather Hottle

3 Comments

This story is so inspiring and adorable! Penn State is the place to be if you have a passion for helping find a cure and raising money for cancer... THON! For the freshmen that do not know about THON check it out ASAP, it's absolutely life-changing: http://thon.org
My friend's brother was diagnosed with leukemia as well, at age 7. Unfortunately he did not make it to his eighth birthday, and it kills me every day to know that so many children and adults suffer and die from it. It is great to hear that Emily did survive it and is in remission! I wish Emily the best of luck and am so happy to see she's able to celebrate with the people that she loves!

I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful post, Dylan. Like we talked about in class, science is important because it helps save lives, like Emily's. I love THON and am so proud to go to a school that is so passionate about something so important. I am linking an article about scientists finding a genetic cause of childhood leukemia. Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) can be caused by a mutilated gene, PAX5, which controls other genes and is important with maintaining B cells. ALL is a B Cancer. Hopefully this new information will help find a cure soon! Read the article in Science Daily, here http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130908135519.htm

Dylan,
This post is great! I must say that Emily Whitehead only being an 8 year old girl is one of my heroes! She has lived quite the life suffering through cancer. I think that this study is absolutely amazing. This is the kind of science that I find interesting. When I found out that they used HIV to cure her cancer, I was kind of confused. I didn't understand how that could happen without giving Emily HIV. Incredible. I hope you're as passionate about THON as I am! Here's a link to Emily's Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/emilybrookewhitehead

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