Friday Frontline: A Two-Time Cancer Survivor Becomes the Oldest Living American, A Nurse Serves as a Surrogate for a Cancer Survivor, And More

From a 114-year-old cancer survivor breaking records to an operating room nurse giving birth to a cancer survivor’s baby, here’s what’s happening in the cancer landscape this week.

A two-time cancer survivor became the oldest living American.

Thelma Sutcliffe turned 114 years old in October. She now holds the record as the oldest living American, as the previous record holder died recently at age 116.

Sutcliffe has survived breast cancer twice during her lifetime. She was born in Lancaster County, South Carolina in 1905 when Teddy Roosevelt was president, and now resides in Omaha, Nebraska.

According to ABC 15, Sutcliffe received cards, balloons, flowers and other gifts in celebration of her record.

An operating room nurse became a surrogate for a cancer survivor who lost her fertility due to treatment.

After Erica Gray was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer at age 27, she underwent aggressive treatments, including a radical hysterectomy, that left her unable to carry children.

Gray’s oncologist, Dr. Thomas Heffernan of HCA Healthcare, knew an operating room nurse who mentioned that she was considering becoming a surrogate. The nurse, Kasia Birdwell, had two easy previous pregnancies. Heffernan thought of Gray and connected the two women.

"We just hit it off," Birdwell told CBS News. "We sat there for three hours ... we were hugging and they're like 'we're gonna call the agency tomorrow.'"

Nearly seven years after her diagnosis, Gray was able to take her new son, Richard, home with her family in March.

Over 300 classmates surprised a 6-year-old cancer survivor with a celebration of his last day of treatment as he returned to school after 900 days.

Six-year-old Nathan Herber returned to his school in Rochester, Minnesota after missing 900 days for aggressive treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Herber was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at age four.

After nearly two and a half years of treatment, a difficult time in which Herber had to complete his schoolwork online and was at one point on life support, he was surprised by over 300 classmates lined up in the school parking lot on March 25 to wave him “hello” on his final day of treatment.

"I'm gonna be happy, because I might be able to see my friends from all the (classes) that I had last time," Herber told ABC 7.

A chef with lung cancer and his wife turned his daily pill-taking time into a fundraiser.

Jim Burke, a Philadelphia chef, was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2020. Each day, he takes a pill called Tagrisso (osimertinib) to treat his cancer. His wife, Kristina, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, began calling the daily ritual “Tag Time Happy Hour,” with ‘tag’ being short for Tagrisso.

Each day between 5 and 6pm, the Burkes and their two children would celebrate. Friends began joining in on the event through phone calls, texts, videos and gifts of wine to lift their spirits.

“The pandemic had been so crushing, and people were looking for anything to help others and share joy,” Burke told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The couple turned the happy hour event into a full-fledged fundraiser for the LUNGevity Foundation, a private funder of lung cancer-focused research. They began hosting benefit happy hour events in April where people from various states and businesses and restaurants across Philadelphia began donating food and proceeds for the fundraiser.

As other organizations caught word of the news, the fundraiser has continued, with several upcoming events in May. The united goal is to improve outcomes for patients with EGFR-positive lung cancer, a type which affects nonsmokers like Burke.

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