Meet This Year's Stop & Shop Ambassadors for Pediatric Cancer Research

By Meredith Begley,

Young girl wearing pink sits with her mother
Summary

For nearly 20 years, Memorial Sloan Kettering has partnered with Stop & Shop supermarkets to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Meet the four spunky kids representing MSK across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for this year’s campaign.

The next time you visit a Stop & Shop grocery store, you can help children with cancer. Every year, Memorial Sloan Kettering collaborates with the supermarket chain to raise awareness and funds for MSK’s Department of Pediatrics. From now through June 30, you can make a $2 donation at the register and receive $2 in coupons. Since 2001, Stop & Shop has partnered with MSK to raise more than $19 million for pediatric cancer research.

Read on to learn about the four children representing this year’s campaign as program ambassadors.

Reese

Age: 9

Hometown: Fairfield, Connecticut

Diagnosis: Ewing sarcoma

Last April, Reese was outside playing with her friend when she fell and broke her arm. When her parents brought her to the emergency room, they were stunned to learn that the bone in Reese’s arm was weakened by a tumor.

Reese and her family are from Canada. Her mom, Lynne, had never heard of MSK. But the orthopedist the family saw in Connecticut recommended they see MSK pediatric surgeon Edward Athanasian.

“He said, ‘This is the surgeon you want to see,’ ” Lynne recalls. “It was good fortune.”

Reese underwent surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, and she also met with orthopedic surgeon Daniel Prince to have an extender put into her arm. The extender helps her arm bones grow back to their normal size. All the while, Reese’s parents kept her in the loop.

“She always said, ‘Just be honest with me,’ ” Lynne explains. “She wanted to know what was going on, so we followed her lead.”

Reese finished chemotherapy in February 2018 and will keep the extender in through the fall. When she’s not at school or playing sports, she loves hanging out with her two brothers, four dogs, and four lizards.

At one follow-up appointment, Reese saw last year’s Stop & Shop ad campaign.

“She said, ‘Mommy, that’s a really good way for kids to help. I want to do that,’ ” Lynne recalls. “When we learned she was going to be in this year’s program, she was so excited.”

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Ava

Young girl holding chalk

Age: 6

Hometown: Bronxville, New York

Diagnosis: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

Ava’s mom, Lyndsey, knew something was amiss when her three-year-old daughter complained of back pain. The family met with multiple specialists, none of whom could find an explanation for little Ava’s aches, which were rapidly getting worse.

“You’re beside yourself,” Lyndsey recalls. “You know too much time is going by, and we didn’t know how to prove something was wrong.”

The family’s doctor urged them to go to the emergency room, where an MRI on Ava’s legs showed cancer cells. They planned to stay with their hospital for treatment until a doctor there gave them another idea.

“She said, ‘You have to take your daughter to MSK. Cancer is what they do. They will help her.’ ”

Just days after, Ava was getting care from MSK pediatric leukemia expert Peter Steinherz. She had to be in the hospital for five weeks and had some complications that required her to stay in intensive care, but Ava is home now and doing well. She formed close bonds with MSK’s child life specialists and even looks forward to her follow-up visits at the hospital. “She wants her birthday parties there,” Lyndsey says.

Along with the family’s Cycle for Survival and Fred’s Team fundraising efforts, the Stop & Shop campaign provides another opportunity for Ava’s family to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer research.

“I feel indebted to this hospital,” Lyndsey says.

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Jonathan

Young boy wearing sunglasses
Age: 11

Hometown: North Bergen, New Jersey

Diagnosis: Neuroblastoma

Jonathan had been limping and fighting off fevers for weeks. His father, Javier, brought him to the hospital, but doctors there said he was fine. When the limping got worse, Javier brought Jonathan to a larger area hospital, which did imaging tests and told him to take his son to a chiropractor.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” Javier says. “The chiropractor said, ‘I’m going to send you back to the hospital — they’re waiting for you.’ ”

Back at the hospital, Jonathan underwent additional blood tests. Javier knew when the doctor returned that the news wasn’t good.

Javier says, “He just hugged me and said, ‘I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.’ ”

But that answer wasn’t good enough for Javier. He had Jonathan transferred to multiple hospitals until he found a team who could treat him.

Jonathan underwent chemotherapy at another New Jersey hospital for three years. When it stopped working, Javier looked into traveling across the country for more treatment. But a conversation with a friend gave him another idea.

“Someone told me, ‘Why are you going to all these places when you have the best hospital in the country, if not the world, next door?’ ” he recalls.

Javier made an appointment at MSK, and from his first meeting with neuroblastoma doctor Brian Kushner, he felt at ease.

“I trusted him so much,” Javier explains. “There was a feeling in my heart that Dr. Kushner was the guy.”

At MSK, Jonathan received Hu3F8 (naxitamab), which finds and destroys neuroblastoma cells that linger after chemotherapy or radiation treatments. The drug was recently given a Breakthrough Therapy Designation by the US Food and Drug Administration. Jonathan’s most recent scans showed no evidence of cancer.

“All that we did, it’s paying off,” Javier says.

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Jake

Boy holding ticket
Age: 14

Hometown: Merrick, New York

Diagnosis: Desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT)

It was an exciting time for Jake and his family. After a series of grueling auditions, Jake had been selected as a participant on the reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance. So when Jake first told his parents that his legs were hurting, they weren’t overly concerned.

“We thought it was normal,” says Jake’s dad, Frank. “You overexert yourself competing against thousands of kids on the show.”

But one day, Jake woke up with a swollen stomach. The swelling was so bad that he had trouble breathing. His parents called the doctor and asked for an MRI.

At a local radiology clinic, Jake underwent a CAT scan in addition to an MRI. When the results came back with abnormal findings, Jake was sent to a nearby hospital. There, a biopsy confirmed he had an extremely rare form of sarcoma called desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT).

Doctors at the local hospital told Jake that they could begin treating him but they didn’t have the advanced therapies he would eventually need.

“We felt uncomfortable with that,” Frank recalls. “We needed to be somewhere they could take care of everything.”

A friend of Frank’s who was undergoing treatment at MSK recommended the hospital to him. Jake began intensive therapies at MSK that included chemotherapy, radiation, and four surgeries. Those treatments have been successful so far, and he has taken part in multiple clinical trials that are helping too.

The regimen is not easy, but Jake isn’t letting it interfere with his life: He still makes time for friends and dancing. By keeping up with his activities and maintaining a positive attitude, he’s helping his parents stay calm.

“He makes it easier for us because he’s strong,” Frank says.

Participating in the Stop & Shop campaign was a natural extension of Jake’s kindhearted personality, Frank adds.

“Anything he can do to help other kids, he will,” Frank says.

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