Friday Frontline: Leukemia Survivor Organizes Essential Blood Drives During Pandemic, A Kindergarten Teacher Teaches Her Students During Chemo Sessions Through Zoom, And More

January 8, 2021
Conor Killmurray

Advocacy Groups | <b>Debbie's Dream</b>

From one leukemia survivor organizing essential blood drives for patients with cancer as COVID-19 delays hit, to a kindergarten teacher handling a recurrence of ovarian cancer by continuing to teach her students through Zoom, here’s what’s happening in the cancer landscape this week.

Leukemia survivor Marie Fuesel organizes blood drives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the needs that patients with cancer face.

“We had our first blood drive in March. March 30. And it was hard getting people to come; that was the beginning of COVID, people were scared of the unknown, but it ended up being so successful that then they said 'Can we have more,' and we had two more," Fuesel said in an interview describing the success of her efforts during the pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, Fuesel has organized six donation events, and has protested for more blood donation services to be considered essential work in her home state of Illinois. She has noted how one person can make a huge difference in the amount of blood that is needed for just a few patients with cancer. "Your one blood donation doesn't just go to one person, it could technically go to three people," Fuesel added. "So that time that we had a blood drive and we get 70 people, times three, that's how many lives we could potentially save."

Debbie’s Dream Foundation (DDF) helps make one 61-year-old cancer survivor’s skydiving dream come true.

Through the stomach cancer advocacy group’s Dream Maker’s Miracle Fund, survivor Kenny Rikard was able to celebrate his birthday and his sixth year of being cancer free by jumping out of Cessna 182 four-seater flying at 10,000 feet in the sky. Rikard was the first recipient of the DDF pilot program, as his mother, his caregiver through his treatment for stomach cancer, excitedly watched on.

"My son found DDF when he was looking for an organization that dealt specifically with stomach cancer," said Rikard’s mother in a press release from the organization. "It brings people together from all over the world, and you can find compassion, understanding, inspiration, hope, and learn that you're not alone in this fight against stomach cancer."

13-year-old Toby Ellsworth spent Christmas in the hospital after a recent leukemia diagnosis, but came home to a late Christmas surprise.

According to Toby’s Mom, the family celebration of Christmas had been delayed as the Pennsylvania middle schooler underwent his first round of treatment. After coming home, he hadn’t been feeling well from the side effects of his treatment, but his mother coaxed him out of the house for a little bit on Sunday.

It was then he was greeted by a parade of local fire trucks, medical vehicles and police cars along with many of his school friends in cars waving to him. Santa himself showed up for an appearance on the back of a fire truck. To add to the festivities, state representative Frank Farry presented Toby with a flag that had been flown over the US Capitol building.

Distance learning for one kindergarten teacher has continued through her chemotherapy sessions – and her students are virtually right there with her.

Minnesota kindergarten teacher Kelly Klein has been undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of ovarian cancer that she was first diagnosed with five years ago. But Klein has continued to teach the socially distanced class when she can amid her chemotherapy sessions, finding teaching to be a source of strength during treatments; one that she did not want to give up when she first informed her principal of the diagnosis and impending treatments.

“They're helping me be strong,” Klein said of her 21 kindergarteners in an interview. “Because it's real easy to go down the ‘Why me?’ (path).” The students know what Klein is going through and none of the parents objected to seeing nurses in the background of Klein’s screen. “I want them to see that cancer isn't a death sentence,” Klein added. “You can still be happy and playful and silly and funny and energized.”