For the past ten years, friends, families, and supporters from around the region and the country have come together for one Sunday every May. Their purpose? To bring awareness and show support for children and families in the pediatric cancer community at the Annual Hope & Heroes Walk.
With each year, our Walk continues to grow. No matter how large this event becomes, the fellowship within our community creates a unique sense of closeness and real support. Stacy Kim and Kyle Okimoto, captains of Team GOAT (the initials of the two girls they are honoring, “our Gillian O. and our dear friend Ally T.”), share how important such a community is to a patient’s journey.
Gillian is Stacy and Kyle’s 13-year-old daughter. In December 2017, at the age of 11, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her right femur. Gillian underwent chemotherapy treatment here at Columbia and completed treatment in August 2018. She still returns to the outpatient clinic for regular blood tests and CT scans.
It was during Gillian’s treatment that her parents crossed paths with a similarly situated family in Honolulu, Hawaii. In early 2018, Stacy and Kyle were introduced to the parents of a young girl named Ally. Like Gillian, Ally was also diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her femur (left). She was 11-years-old at the time.
Ally’s teacher is a mutual friend of Kyle’s family and helped connect the two families via Facebook. Soon afterward, Gillian and Ally became texting buddies. When Ally’s family made a visit to New York last October, the two girls met for the very first time. Over the winter break, Gillian visited her relatives in Hawaii and went to visit Ally as well.
In September 2018, Ally completed her osteosarcoma treatment. Unfortunately, she had to resume treatment this year as lesions were found in her lungs. She continues with chemotherapy and will undergo two lung surgeries this coming June.
While many miles separate both Gillian and Ally as well as their families, the support they provide each other is felt close to home. “They are a critical part of our support team,” says Stacy. “No one understands what we have gone through as much as they do.”
Ally and her family are continuing their support as virtual walkers on Team GOAT. But most importantly, their family serves as a source of inspiration. As Kyle puts it, “They have such positive energy and are always willing to help others. This is why it is our privilege to honor Ally.”
This is Team GOAT’s first year in the Hope & Heroes Walk. We asked Stacy why they are walking with us, and here’s what she said:
“While we are fortunate to have health coverage, we know that others who don’t have insurance aren’t turned away but are given the same attention and treatment. Until such disparities are eradicated, we want to help ensure that every child diagnosed can receive high-quality care.”
The entire family loves the doctors and nurses at Columbia and admires their dedication to children and their families. “They never rushed our encounters and took the time to get to know each of us,” Allison, Gillian’s older sister said. “They always remembered what book Gillian was reading the last time they saw her and inquired how my classes were coming along.”
And that’s what Hope & Heroes strive to do – create a patient experience that is welcoming, comforting, and supportive of patients and their families. Funds raised from the Hope & Heroes Walk help make that possible.
We’re excited to have Gillian, Ally, and Team GOAT as part of our ever-growing Walk community! Join them and more than 1,000 participants as we walk to end pediatric cancer and blood disorders.
Visit HopeandHeroesWalk.org to learn more or register on-site on Sunday, May 19 at Pier 62/63.