November 17 2016
A chance encounter on the Queensboro Bridge at Mile 15 of the New York City Marathon changed one runner's motivation mid-race.
In 2013, at the age of 20 years old, Hillary pushed herself to finish an extraordinary journey. Hooked up to fluids and an IV pole, a mask covering her face to keep germs at bay, Hillary turned a corner on the floor of the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A crowd of onlookers broke into loud cheers and applause.
With that final corner rounded, Hillary had completed walking a marathon within the walls of the St. Jude. With confetti flying around her, Hillary hugged her mother, then members of her care team—her journey complete.
Hillary has always been active. There wasn’t any way she was going to let two separate battles with cancer slow her down.
When Hillary was just a toddler, she fell in love with dance. She watched with rapt attention the heels that pounded the stage and was wooed by the sweet sound of jingle taps. Hillary didn’t know the teens who were jigging in those clogging shoes. But by the end of the rousing performance, she had found her calling.
Hillary has won national awards for clogging and danced with her college dance team. Her repertoire includes tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, lyrical and dance line. “Dance was my life,” Hillary said.
But in 2008, something happened to Hillary that threatened to end her dance career forever. She fell ill during dance practice. Her family turned to St. Jude for her treatment and care after she was found to suffer from b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
After three years of chemotherapy that pushed her cancer into remission, Hillary thought she’d conquered cancer forever, but her victory would be short lived.
Doctors soon learned Hillary suffered from an unrelated form of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She began her second cancer battle in October 2011. Hillary underwent another nine months of intensive chemotherapy and achieved remission once again.
Sadly, Hillary relapsed and returned to St. Jude in 2013. Her treatment included chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Hillary pushed herself to remain active. Being able to dance for an audience is what she misses most, and she knows she needs to work hard to make her dreams a reality.
The idea of walking the length of a marathon—26.2 miles—helped keep Hillary focused on the benefits of remaining active after her bone marrow transplant. She walked at least 1 mile each day to build strength, endurance and prevent fluid build-up in her lungs. Three weeks after her transplant, Hillary walked 26.2 miles, or 286 laps, in the corridors of the BMT Unit, becoming the first St. Jude patient to cover the distance of a marathon while receiving inpatient care.
Hillary is now fighting cancer for a fourth time. She’s undergoing chemotherapy and a stem cell treatment at St. Jude. While Hillary fights leukemia, she continues with her coursework in college, majoring in chemistry. She has also choreographed line dances for high school students and ran a dance camp. With Hillary’s determination, she’ll be back on her feet very soon.