2017 Sunshine Kids SpokesKids
Each year a young cancer patient is selected to represent kids with cancer everywhere.
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Brittney Rodriguez   Titilayo Ekunsanmi
Rockhill, SC
2017 Sunshine Kids SpokesKid
 
  Titi's first encounter with the Sunshine Kids organization was in 2016 for the National trip to LA.  When Titi came back, all she could say was, "That was honestly one of the best weeks of my life. I got to meet so many other people who were just like me. It was a judgement free zone." 

At merely 13 years old, Titi was diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma of the face and neck on January 13, 2016. The diagnosis was hard on her as she was torn away from her normal life in the blink of an eye. She had to leave school and all her friends for safety reasons. Though she was very upset at why this happened to her, the straight A student and star volleyball player was destined to play for her high school team. She got through it with this very mantra, "If it weren't me, who would it be?"  When that thought came to her head, she knew she was strong enough to beat this enemy.

Titi has always been a very creative and artistic girl, but one of her chemos rendered her hands essentially useless; she couldn't even write. Imagine after all this hardship you go through, you have to sit at home for 8 months straight and can't even do what you enjoy most. "Honestly, the inability to use my hands to express myself was the hardest part. I love, love, love to draw, and now cancer had taken that away too. Hadn't it already taken enough? Was it not yet satisfied?" After 43+ weeks of a cocktail of chemotherapy and 6 weeks of radiation, Titi was pronounced cancer-free on November 22, 2016 at the age of 14. After an 11 month "prison sentence," she was finally free. Titi has always been cheerful, but on that day her smile shined brighter than even the sun itself. You see, she may have had cancer, but cancer did not have her.

It's hard connecting to people your age who haven't experienced what you have. You feel decades older when you're still only a kid. You're much more mature and just have different views on what is and isn't important. Sunshine Kids helps teenagers and other children really connect on an emotional and intellectual level that cannot be reached with your "normal" peers. I have many friends and when I moved to a new school for high school I had no problem making new ones. The only thing was that I was known as "the cancer girl" or " the girl who has/ had cancer." At Sunshine Kids I learned that there is nothing wrong with what I went through and that I am not alone. On my trip, I met some of the most amazing and strong people I have ever come into contact with. The moment I was told I was a Spokeskid I couldn't believe it! I was tremendously excited at the prospect of being able to speak about the wonderful and awe inspiring things Sunshine Kids can provide. You make lifelong friends on these trips and I encourage anyone invited to seize the opportunity to change your life forever. Sunshine Kids has given me some absolutely wonderful experiences and I don't know where the world would be without this beautiful organization."
     
     
Darius Jackson   Natalie McMaster
Frederick, MD
2017 Sunshine Kids SpokesKid
 
  My name is Natalie McMaster, I am 14 years old and I live in Frederick, Maryland. On July 10, 2015, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) a week before I was supposed to travel to my softball world series in Ocean City, MD. At first this all came to me as a shock, I had no idea what “Leukemia” was and I was upset when I started seeing comments on social media saying I had cancer. I thought they were lying and I was frustrated because I thought the doctors weren’t telling me everything, but they came in a little later and told me Leukemia was a type of blood cancer. While my team was at the tournament, I was stuck in the hospital for the next 18 days.

The next few months were very rough on my body and emotions, I was constantly in and out of the hospital and unable to start my 7th grade year. Finally, on November 6th, for the first time in about 4 months, I got to hear some exciting news -  I was cancer free! Although the long road to recovery was still ahead of me, I was lucky to be feeling well enough to start back with winter conditioning workouts. Sticking with softball and with the support of my softball family made this whole journey a bit easier.

I was given an amazing opportunity to go to Disneyworld for a week through the Sunshine Kids Foundation with other teen cancer patients and no parents! I was super excited to hear about this because during the past year I missed out on a lot of fun things my friends did and I was always so upset. At first, I really didn’t want to go because I thought it would be hard to make friends and engage with other kids, but by the first night everyone started to really connect and get to know each other. I found out that a lot of them felt the same way I did. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one nervous to go. After that night, I knew it was going to be a great week!

This opportunity made me realize that even though I was diagnosed with a heart crushing disease, there will always be good things that come out of it.  As I continue this journey, I have had so many generous and loving supporters by my side. There was never a day I ever felt alone while fighting this terrible disease. I hope everyone going through something like this will have the courage and strength to stay positive.
     
     
Natalie McCastland   Maddie Tomasko
Rockford, MI
2017 Sunshine Kids SpokesKid
 
  My name is Maddie Tomasko, I’m 17 years old and I live in Rockford, Michigan. I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in April 2011. I started chemotherapy right away. After a few weeks of treatment, my doctor told us that it wasn’t working and that I had to undergo a Bone Marrow Transplant; an infusion of new bone marrow after they wiped out my own in order to make me healthy. In June that year I received a transplant and it worked! I recovered quickly and was able to return to school in January that following year, for my 6th grade year.

Three years later, in February 2014, I relapsed; my cancer had returned. This time I didn’t undergo chemotherapy as long and I received a second Bone Marrow Transplant that May. This one had several complications, causing my recovery process to be slower. I wasn’t able to return to school until a year later, in May 2015.

I have continued to undergo treatment approximately every three months to help with my immune system, but other than that, I have been happy and healthy. In my free time, I read, write, take pictures, watch movies, hang out with my friends, draw and spend time outside. I am in remission and I hope it stays that way.

In early January 2016 I was invited to attend the Sunshine Kid’s Mardi Gras Fun-Time Fantasy trip. At first I was nervous, because going away from my family for a week and leaving my comfort zone frightened me. But then, I got to New Orleans! I immediately fell in love with the city and the people I met. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We got to meet Andy Grammer, saw his concert, held a baby alligator, ate at a variety of wonderful restaurants, toured a warehouse of Mardi Gras floats, went on a carriage ride through the French Quarter, had a Mardi Gras Ball held in our honor, visited the “NCIS New Orleans” set, shopped for beads and we were even able to ride on our very own float in a Mardi Gras parade!! This trip was so very special to me because I was with people who had cancer, and I didn’t feel as if a label followed me around. I was with people who could be empathetic, and I had the time of my life! The trip itself was breathtaking and I will never forget it. Thank you Sunshine Kids for letting me forget I had cancer, and letting me truly be myself.
     
     
  Alexis Martinez
Carson, CA
2017 Sunshine Kids SpokesKid
 
  My name is Alexis Martinez. On July 27, 2015 I was taken to Children's Hospital of Los Angeles because of a lump I had found in my neck. At first I thought it was just that I had slept wrong or that it was a tensed-up muscle, but when I got there they kept me in the emergency room for what felt like hours. The last thing I had on my mind was that it could be cancer. That's something you only hear in movies and read in books. It is certainly not something you expect to happen to you.

When the doctor came in the room, she had asked my mom if she could speak to her privately. My mom left the room and I didn't really stress too much but then a volunteer came in and asked my sister if she wanted to go do arts and crafts, and she left too. I was alone in the room. That's when I started to worry. I thought to myself, if anything was wrong it couldn't be that bad; five days prior to that I was out camping, hiking, just being myself...healthy. Nothing is wrong!

I looked at the ceiling for what felt like forever and then my mom came in, followed by the doctor. My mom just smiled at me, her eyes red and puffy, and sat down right next to me. My doctor was on the other side of me. She said, “we ran tests and your blood was somewhat off. We aren't totally sure what it is. We are hoping it is rare blood disorder, but it could also be cancer.” At that moment, I didn't know what to think, I just cried and cried. They said that they would keep me there overnight to run more tests. Sure enough, it was cancer, Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I did my first round of chemotherapy there at the hospital and I was released on August 1, 2015.

I went home still not believing. The fight was hard even though it was only for a short amount of time compared to what other kids go through. I was one of the lucky ones. On November 1, 2016 I celebrated 1 year of remission. Sunshine Kids was a big part of getting me through this difficult time. They made me forget what I went through. I was invited to go on their annual Washington, D.C. Adventure and to this day, I am so thankful that they chose me to be a part of it! I was able to connect with other kids about what I went through physically and emotionally. I didn't feel alone anymore. I didn't feel like I was the only one. I became a Sunshine Kid. They gave me memories and friends that will last forever!
     
     
     
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