Emily’s birthday was in early May and we started off Emily’s birthday weekend with another trip to Philadelphia. First, Emily was invited to visit the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. The center trains dogs beginning when they are just eight weeks old to search for victims buried under rubble after a disaster such as a building collapse. They train dogs for other purposes as well and the center is currently doing research on training dogs to detect ovarian cancer in women – very interesting! Emily had a chance to see how they train the dogs and how the dogs can find someone buried under a pile of rubble. The center has a pile of rubble that they use and one of the trainers or volunteers will hide in the rubble. Then they let one of the dogs try to find the person and see how long it takes. It was a great experience for Emily to see and she loved hanging out with all of the dogs.
That evening we attended a reception at the Penn Abramson Cancer Center to celebrate Dr. Levine’s appointment of the Barbara and Edward Netter Associate Professorship in Gene Therapy. Dr. Levine grows the T-cells in his lab for the T-cell therapy treatment that Emily had. Emily and a few of the adult T-cell patients were there to help celebrate. They knew Emily’s birthday was the next day and surprised her with a birthday cake(s). It was a very special evening to celebrate Emily’s birthday and honor Dr. Levine who is part of the T-cell team that saved her life.
Emily, Dr. Levine, and two adult T-cell patients
The next morning – Emily’s 9th birthday! – we went to the Philadelphia Zoo and Emily got to feed the hippos. That was interesting. Hippos apparently are not very nice so we had to stand above them and feed them. Interesting facts about hippos: 1) Their skin secrets its own sunscreen and 2) Their skin also secrets it’s own antibiotic if they have an injury.
On our way home from Philadelphia we stopped at the Park Forest Middle School for the State College Mini-THON where they raised a total of $57,182.34! The kids raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund which supports pediatric cancer patients at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. It’s similar to the big Penn State Dance MaraTHON and the kids dance from 6:00 PM – midnight. Emily always has a great time and it’s inspiring to see these kids raising money for pediatric cancer. There are mini-THONs held around the state of Pennsylvania all year and in other states now. If you would like to learn more and/or hold a mini-THON in your school (they are in elementary school, middle school, and high school) send us a message and we will connect you with others who have held mini-THONs. It’s also a great high school senior project 🙂
After the mini-THON we drove home and prepared for Emily’s birthday party the next day. This year she chose the theme to be Penn State colors and of course there was a bouncy house. She wanted a Penn State cake and the Sweet Art Bakery in Clearfield designed the cake for her and incorporated purple and butterflies. It was chilly and rainy for her party but she still had a great time. I found this “great” game idea on Pinterest where you put a shower cap on and spray it with whipped cream. Then a partner stands away from you and throws cheeseballs, trying to get as many to stick in the whipped cream as possible in a certain time limit. Total Pinterest Fail! Within 30 seconds the kids were spraying whipped cream all over each other AND THEMSELVES and then THREW cheeseballs at each other. It was not the calm game that Pinterest implied it would be. There was shrieking and food flying everywhere but the kids thought it was the best game ever and I guess that’s what counts. Some of the girls had to wash their hair and we had to scrub the whipped cream and cheese powder off their jackets. So parents if you are wondering why your child came home with wet hair and their clothes were covered in sticky orange stuff…this would be why.
Our weekend didn’t end there though! We will continue in the next blog post.
Photo: Tom, Kari and Emily in the new space at the Perelmen Center for Advanced Medicine beside a wall display highlighting the team of doctors and researchers who work on the T-cell clinical trial. Emily has always really liked the photo of the cells right above the doctors!
A few weeks ago we spent the day in Philadelphia at Penn to speak at the Abramson Cancer Center Director’s Leadership Council meeting. We had a chance to talk with a few of the extraordinary people who helped to fund the T-cell research that saved Emily’s life. Some provided private funding or endowments for the research very early on when no one else believed in the research. They all mentioned that after talking with Dr. June that they just believed in him and believed his research would save lives. It was an honor to speak to this group who supported the research from the beginning. Without them, Emily would not be here. One person came to me and told me that her brother passed away from leukemia 23 years ago. The day after she started an endowment fund and has since been providing funding for cancer research. She said she has been waiting 23 years to hear a success story like Emily. It made us realize the importance of sharing Emily’s story so that we can do our small part to raise awareness, and hopefully the needed funding, for pediatric cancer research. We also got to see the new (bigger) lab space where they are modifying the T-cells. After that, we went to visit Avrey and her family. Avrey is 10-years old and recently recently received her T-cells (you can follow her Facebook page Pray for Avrey Walker). She needs a miracle too.
After that, we visited the Penn Museum because Emily heard that there were mummies there – but after seeing the mummies she said they were a little “creepy”. It was a really wonderful day!