Cancer survivor gives hope to Dana-Farber patients through Jimmy Fund Golf

Dana-Farber patient Kasey was 24-years-old when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Dana-Farber patient Kasey was 24-years-old when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

The experience of turning 25 is different for everyone. Some lament the start of their “quarter-life crisis” while others are simply excited that they can legally rent a car. What no one expects is to spend their big day waging the first battle in a fight for their life. But that’s exactly what happened to Kasey Pilling. This is the story of her experience at Dana-Farber and how she brings hope to cancer patients through Jimmy Fund Golf.

In summer 2011, my son had just turned one and my husband was deployed in Afghanistan. Needless to say, I had a lot on my plate. I was experiencing what I thought were stress migraines but an MRI revealed something unexpected: I had a brain tumor.

On October 3, my 25th birthday, I had surgery to remove the tumor from my left frontal lobe. The biopsy confirmed it was a stage III anaplastic astrocytoma. Scared and confused, I made an appointment with Dr. Lakshmi Nayak at Dana-Farber’s Center for Neuro-Oncology two days later.

Walking into Dana-Farber, I never would have guessed it was a cancer institute. It was bright, hopeful, and bursting with positivity. I was shocked when my very young and smiley neuro-oncologist walked into the room, sat down with my mom and me, and talked to us as colleagues in fighting this cancer, rather than as a doctor to her patient.

I soon realized this was not uncommon at Dana-Farber. Every doctor, nurse, radiation tech, and staff member treated me like I was the only person they were caring for. I went through 30 rounds of targeted radiation while taking a low dose of chemo. Thankfully, I got a four-week break just in time for the holidays before I started a new 5-day cycle of high-dose Temodar.

June 2012 should have been the halfway point of my chemotherapy, but blood work showed my bone marrow couldn’t take any more treatment without causing permanent damage. My monthly MRIs showed no tumor activity, but without being in treatment it felt like I was just waiting for the inevitable: for the tumor to grow back. All I was left with was hope.

A few months later, I went back for another MRI. Thankfully, there was no activity then and there hasn’t been since. While I am not currently in treatment, I still visit Dana-Farber every three to four months for blood work, an MRI, and to meet with Dr. Nayak to make sure the cancer is still inactive.

I will never go back to living life like I did before. Living with cancer has taught me so much about myself and about life. The support I received—and continue to receive—at Dana-Farber, along with the strength I found while fighting for my life, fueled the passion for helping others that I’ve always had. I wanted not only to give back to the hospital that gave me hope, but also offer that same hope to others diagnosed with cancer.

That’s why I decided to start the 18 Holes of Hope tournament for Jimmy Fund Golf. I chose golf because I knew it could help me make a greater impact for the Jimmy Fund. Although a golf tournament is a lot of work, the outcome is definitely worth it. Jimmy Fund Golf set me up with a golf staff member who gave me guidance through every step of the planning process. I can tell from those I’ve met that all Jimmy Fund Golf staff members genuinely care about their tournament organizers. They are so grateful for the work you put into your event, and they want you to succeed just as much as you want to succeed.

My mission to help others is already paying off. Last year, I hosted two other brain cancer patients at the tournament. One of them was newly diagnosed, so it was incredible to see the smile on his face and hear him say how great a time he was having. Even if it was only for one day, I gave him the chance to not think about the cancer, or treatment, or anything other than having fun and never letting fear conquer hope.

Despite this whole ordeal, I see a silver lining to my cancer diagnosis. I no longer take life for granted. I met some of the most amazing people at Dana-Farber and through other cancer groups. I realized my passion in life and know without a doubt what I am meant to do. Having first-hand experience allowed me to be passionate about the Jimmy Fund, because I know how valuable every dollar raised is, and, as a now 29-year-old cancer survivor, I can be an example of hope for others.

The third annual 18 Holes of Hope tournament will be held on June 11, 2016. In its first two years, the event has raised more than $12,000 for Jimmy Fund Golf to benefit Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Support Dana-Farber’s lifesaving mission when you start a tournament with Jimmy Fund Golf

Dan D’Onofrio
Account Manager/Writer, Development Communications