This year we are honored to welcome four individuals to the stage as our guest speakers at “A Tribute to Our Quiet Heroes.” Gavin Shamis, Bryan Fletcher, Melinda Marchiano and Lacey Henderson (all members of the organization ccThrive) will share their stories of diagnosis and survivorship.

ccThrivers are a small group of childhood cancer survivors who entered into the top of their pursuits AFTER cancer. ccThrivers are committed to delivering their message of survivorship directly to the childhood cancer community with the intention that every childhood cancer survivor realizes their full potential, whatever it is and whatever their challenges. These four inspiriting individuals believe all survivors of childhood cancer should have the opportunity to thrive.

 

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Bryan Fletcher

  • Leukemia – 1990
  • First Ski Jump – 1991
  • Off-Treatment – 1995
  • Sochi Olympian – 2014
  • USA Nordic Combined Champion – 2014, 2015

When Bryan was just three years old, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. It was this diagnosis that started his amazing journey as a Nordic Combined athlete. While still battling cancer, Bryan was introduced to the world of ski jumping and Nordic Combined by some influential people in the sport. He was hooked from day one.

Luckily Bryan was able to divide his time between chemotherapy treatments and ski jumping. Being able to participate in the sport is exactly what kept his spirits alive. Bryan would spend two weeks in Denver, CO undergoing treatments and a week in Steamboat throwing his body off a jump and into the air! But he didn’t stop at the jumps; he decided to push himself further by taking his ambition to the cross-country trails too. Bryan was fully immersed in Nordic Combined by age six.

For Bryan, skiing was a welcome distraction from chemotherapy. The leukemia did it’s best to keep him down. From an allergic reaction to a chemotherapy medication, to suffering a stroke, there were plenty of reasons to hang up his skis. Many would have argued that Bryan should have solely focused on every little medical thing he could do to get out of treatment alive. To Bryan, focusing on getting out alive was not easy or mentally pleasing.  Skiing on the other hand was the exact opposite, and because of that, hanging up the skis would have been impossible. To this day Bryan believes that maintaining his passion for skiing is one of the biggest reasons he is still here today. That passion kept him striving harder to do exactly what the doctors said so he could get back to doing the sport he enjoyed so much.

That very passion and determination that kept him alive when he was a child has also led him to a World Cup Victory at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway. The victory was a historic moment in his career because he is one of only five Americans to win the event. Those same traits led him to five World Championships teams and helped him capture his first World Championships medal at the 2013 Championships. Finally, they led him to become an Olympian, a two-time national champion, and put 20 individual World Cup top ten finishes under his belt.  So it’s fair to say that refusing to hang up the skis is what helped him Thrive!

 

kidsbeat1-1Gavin Shamis

  • Leukemia – 2011
  • Competitive Swimmer – 2011-2013
  • Chemo Ended Early – 2013
  • USA Luge Junior National Team – 2014
  • USA Luge Youth Champion – 2016

Gavin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was eight years old. His treatment protocol was 39 months of the toughest chemotherapy.  Throughout, he tried to stay as active as possible, continuing to swim competitively and moving up to a regional swim team, despite neurological problems in his legs caused by chemo. He was training ninety minutes a day just six weeks after beginning chemo and between blood transfusions. Unable to develop power in his kick for freestyle, Gavin focused on butterfly where the power is more from the core than the legs. Despite being out of the pool for months at a time, he won more then a few races during treatment.

Gavin was determined to do his best, whether it was in swimming, keeping up with schoolwork, in spite of being out of school for almost of three years, or being cooperative with his treatment. His attitude was – whatever it takes.  The first year and a half of treatment was the usual hair loss, nausea, and cyclic vomiting. but then, it got much worse.  Gavin endured six months of extreme complications, and ultimately, with his liver failing, he was forced to end his treatment a year early.

Coming off treatment, Gavin was determined to reach the highest levels as a swimmer.  He quickly developed severe respiratory issues when swimming indoors, where most training and competition occur. Gavin was back for more doctors and medications, one of which made him clinically depressed. After three months, he was diagnosed,  with a late effect of his chemo that made it impossible for him to swim indoors, and thus competitively.  This realization was his lowest moment, after everything he had already been through cancer robbed him of what he held on to during his years of treatment.

Just five months after Gavin’s last chemo treatment, while still suffering from neurological issues, he participated in a USA Luge screening event near his home in Vermont.  Just having heard of the event a few days before, he loved his first taste of sliding, on wheeled sleds down a nearby hill. Then came the physical testing, and he was embarrassed as he could not keep up with the other kids. He was eleven years old, but he ran like he was six. He left dejected.

The USA Luge coaches saw something different, in this coachable and determined kid, and Gavin was thrilled to soon receive an invitation to a screening camp at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Gavin grabbed every opportunity he could find to slide, traveling to Lake Placid whenever there was track time available.  Just six months later, he was named to the USA Luge Junior National Development Team. In his first year on the National team, Gavin won silver at the 2015 Empire State Games,  placed 5th at Nationals in Youth B (under 15) and won gold at the 2015 Les Mayers Memorial Classic.

In February 2016, just 32 months after his last chemo, Gavin won the USA Luge Youth B National Championship.

After luge, Gavin hopes to attend medical school and become a pediatric hematologist/oncologist. Now in eighth grade,  Gavin is a top student and training for the 2022 Olympics.

 

18613_10205296628749985_7240727062349014223_nLacey Henderson

  • Synovial Sarcoma – 1997
  • Leg Amputated – 1998
  • NCAA Division 1 Competitive Cheerleader
  • Paralympic Long Jump American Record

Lacey Henderson was just nine years old when her leg was amputated above the knee in a lifesaving measure after the diagnosis of a rare soft tissue tumor in her knee. It was a tough time for a young girl, but Lacey’s focus wasn’t on the negative. Instead, raised with the mindset that if you want something in life you’ll find a way to make it happen – no matter the odds against you – an energetic and active Lacey didn’t hesitate to take on the toughest of challenges. As an amputee, Lacey continued in “able bodied” sports in school and fell in love with the sport of competitive cheerleading in high school. She graduated as a senior captain, All-State in Colorado with Academic Honors, and National Varsity Cheerleader and received a Division 1 athletic scholarship at the University of Denver.

It was just three years ago that the 24-year old began competing in track and field for the first time since her amputation, and she is quickly making her mark. Opening with a World Record as the first amputee pole vaulter, she qualified for the London 2012 Paralympic Games in her first 100m race and is the American Record holder in the Long Jump. Lacey has been ranked in the world top 10 since 2013 and was a 2013 USA World Championship Team member, finishing 4th in the Long Jump and 5th in the 100m final. She has been selected to the 2015 USA World Championship team in the 100m and Long Jump.

With a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, a minor in French and International Studies, Lacey also has plans for a Master’s Degree that she hopes will one day land her a job with the US State Department overseas. Her athletic goals include medaling in her track and field events at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games and to garner the participant support needed to someday bring pole vaulting to the summer games as a sanctioned event. But, her ultimate goal? To not waste any opportunities that come her way to be an example of what’s possible, even in the toughest of situations.

 

 

XAbG9z0TMelinda Marchiano

  • Lymphoma – 2007
  • Off-treatment – 2008
  • Severe Digestive Late Effects
  • Award Winning Author – 2011
  • Accomplished Dancer-Director-Choreographer

Melinda Marchiano was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma when she was thirteen years old. After six months of chemotherapy and radiation, she suffered many debilitating physical and emotional effects, including a life-threatening eating disorder. She continued to pursue dance despite her setbacks—it is a lifelong passion that began at age three. And while recovery was a long, difficult process, Melinda went on to be a member of the Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo Jazz Dancers and danced many leading roles. Also during recovery, she wrote a memoir about her experience entitled Grace: A Child’s Intimate Journey Through Cancer and Recovery, which won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best First Book in 2011. Now a Senior and Creative Writing major at Pepperdine University, Melinda serves as Director and choreographer for the school’s dance company. She also trains frequently in Los Angeles to pursue a career in dance, choreographing and teaching.

Despite the devastation of cancer, she views the experience as something that has blessed her with the mental, emotional, and spiritual strength needed to pursue an art form that requires the discipline of elite athleticism. Further, it has given her a unique perspective that she can draw upon to enhance the creative expression in both of her passions. As an Ambassador for ccThrive, she wants to inspire kids to believe that the things that seem to debilitate to us, in fact, provide strength and unique perspective that can help drive our pursuits. Melinda Marchiano is redefining what it means to survive childhood cancer.