In March 2007, the Hamilton family was eagerly awaiting a big moment: Rick Hamilton was about to return home from an Air Force tour in Baghdad, and the family was looking forward to reuniting on a trip to Florida. His 6-year-old daughter, Caroline, had her own milestone to look forward to: graduating kindergarten. But life had other plans.
Caroline’s school nurse noticed a problem with her depth perception during a routine eye exam and her mom, Sarah, set up a doctor’s appointment to follow up. Later, Sarah and Rick noticed a jerking in Caroline’s eye. When they saw the doctor soon after, the solution wasn’t a glasses prescription—in fact, Caroline had perfect vision. The eye doctor explained the jerking was caused by a neurological problem, which led to some of the worst news a parent can hear: Caroline had a tumor lodged deep in her brain, a pediatric low-grade astrocytoma (PLGA)—inoperable and incurable.
For the past 12 years, Caroline and her family have made countless visits to the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as doctors have worked to stop the growth of the plum-sized mass and other lesions within her brain and spinal cord. She’s received dozens of blood transfusions, lost hair and parts of her vision, participated in clinical trials, and endured countless MRIs and scars. However, as Caroline tells it, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“One of the benefits of my diagnosis is the people who have come into my life because of it,” she explains. “Not just the doctors, nurses, and researchers, but the people who brought meals to my family week after week, and those who golf or walk with us to help raise money for Dana-Farber. My diagnosis has enabled me to experience the best of humanity.”
To help change the narrative of PLGA, which has seen few treatment advances since the mid-1980s, the Hamiltons formed Team Chickaroo in 2007, inspired by Caroline’s childhood nickname. Team Chickaroo raises funds for the PLGA Program at Dana-Farber, the only dedicated pediatric low-grade glioma program in the world. Their remarkable efforts include forming a team each year in the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai, organizing a Mom Prom held at Bradford Country Club, and planning the annual Chickaroo Classic through Jimmy Fund Golf presented by Mohegan Sun. In 2019, Team Chickaroo will reach the $1 million fundraising milestone.
“So many of our players and sponsors have been with us from the start and made our cause their own,” says Sarah of the family’s golf tournament. “The Chickaroo Classic is part of our lives, and something we can do to help the doctors and researchers that are helping Caroline and so many others.”
Not even distance could keep the Hamiltons from advancing the work of Dana-Farber doctors and researchers focused on PLGA. In 2010, the Chickaroo Classic went international when Rick Hamilton was deployed. He built a golf course in Baghdad alongside other soldiers using materials they had on hand and raised funds for the Jimmy Fund. Stateside, the Hamiltons supported the Air Force members’ efforts by sending shirts, hats, and even designing their own flag.
After 12 years—and counting—of golfing, walking, and dancing for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber, Caroline jokes that most of her wardrobe is “Jimmy Fund couture,” thanks to her collection of cause-related t-shirts. While Caroline and her family don’t know what’s in store for their future, one thing is certain: They will keep hitting the links and pounding the pavement until a cure is found, and Caroline knows she has what it takes to get through any twists and turns life may have in store. “Through personal strength and resilience, love and support from others, and a hopeful attitude, I can tackle any of life’s challenges.”