Leukemia patient joins the “team” at Fenway, encourages others to strike out cancer

Samara, a spunky, energetic kid whom her mom Susan calls the “strongest member of our family,” started experiencing fevers and constipation in May 2021 for a few days at a time each week, for several weeks. The experience drained the 4-year-old and soon the family found themselves at the emergency room looking for answers.

“We prayed together in the parking lot,” Susan recalls. “There aren’t words to describe how it felt when I learned she had cancer. I worried she had been suffering and I had missed it; I felt I had failed her as a mother. Samara was too young to understand, but Xavier, her 10-year-old brother, wanted to know if his baby sister was going to die, and that crushed what was left of my heart.”

Samara was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and soon ended up at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund Clinic. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Susan expected a chaotic scene, one full of panic, sadness, and pity for her family and the others like them, but she found the exact opposite.

“I felt so welcome and was impressed by how organized, prepared, and kind the staff were,” she says. “I was feeling optimistic and determined, and it turns out we were all on the same page: Cancer was going to end there!”

Throughout her treatment, which concludes this summer, Samara always found reasons to smile. She loved wearing her Batman costume and going trick-or-treating at the Jimmy Fund Clinic for Halloween, zooming with Santa Claus, getting her nails painted, and doing countless art projects. The family also had the opportunity to participate in Jimmy Fund Day at Fenway in 2022, when Samara took the field, ran around the bases at Fenway Park, and hung out in the dugout with her brother.

“At first she thought we were seeing a baseball game, and when she learned the ‘team’ wanted to give her a turn at bat, she was thrilled,” Susan says. “It was her first time at the park, despite driving past it every day for school, and now she says, ‘Look! That’s where I play baseball!’”

Experiencing a day at the park outside of treatment—and returning later in 2022 for the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance—gave Samara, Xavier, and Susan a chance to make lifelong memories among patients in similar situations.

“To us, striking out cancer means kids like Samara and patients of all ages can live their full lives without fear and restriction,” Susan says. “At Dana-Farber, there are countless people helping patients like Samara win their battles and together, we are getting closer to beating cancer. We are so thankful to donors for using their resources to give families like ours less to worry about during treatment, and for helping researchers work to end a disease that has negatively affected so many.”

Support patients like Samara by donating today to the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance. Tune in on August 29-30, 2023 to hear from patients, families, caregivers, researchers, and local celebrities as we celebrate 75 years of the Jimmy Fund and the impact of this community. When you make your donation by August 16, 2023, your gift will be matched, up to $25,000, by a generous friend of the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund!

You can also join The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.