In less than two months’ time, 19-year-old Sam Featherstone went from independent college student living in Indianapolis to homebound and unable to walk. That’s the stark reality of the cancer he has been battling with every ounce of his mind, body and spirit for more than three years.
Featherstone is acutely aware that he is not alone — that there are countless other young people and their families engaged in the draining, debilitating and ultimately uncertain battle against pediatric brain cancer. That’s why he has decided to devote all of his remaining energy to raising money and awareness.
“Things have gotten pretty bad, pretty quickly,” he said, referring to the struggles he has undergone since a mid-October MRI revealed that his cancer, known as medulloblastoma, had aggressively returned. “It’s not about me anymore; it’s about raising money and awareness for pediatric brain research.”
In order to accomplish this goal, the Featherstone family (which includes Sam’s parents, Andy and Tammy, and older sister, Susan) formed a partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They have launched a website — samstrong.org — where people can learn about Sam’s story, make a donation to St. Jude cancer research in Sam’s name and purchase tickets to a “SAMSTRONG: Search for the Cure” fundraising event, Thursday, Dec. 27 from 6 to 11 p.m. CST at the Featherstone’s parish, St. John the Baptist in Newburgh.
The event, to be held in both of the school’s adjoining gymnasiums, will feature a live auction managed by Curran Miller, along with a silent auction, games, pizza and a presentation by Sam and a representative of St. Jude. Tickets are limited and can be purchased at samstrong.org for $20 apiece. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to St. Jude for pediatric brain cancer research.
“We’ve got some really amazing items for the live auction,” explained Andy Featherstone. “It’s going to be an amazing night.”
Andy also pointed out that the community support for Sam, especially in recent weeks, has been overwhelming.
“It’s not just individuals at Memorial (High School where Sam graduated last spring as valedictorian) or individuals within the St. John’s community,” he said. “The whole Tri-State area has been very outgoing in supporting the cause. Curran Miller being our auction partner is just one example of the whole community coming together.
“We’ve also gotten contributions from many of the Catholic elementary schools from throughout the diocese as well as words of support from priests throughout the diocese.”
Just a few months ago, things seemed to have taken a positive turn for Sam. As reported in an April 20 Message cover story, Sam underwent radiation treatments in the late spring that were very taxing on his body. Yet he came through with flying colors, and a June 8 MRI showed he was cancer-free.
In mid-July, the Featherstones enrolled Sam in a clinical trial in Grand Rapids, Mich., that involved a drug intended to help keep recovered neuroblastoma and medulloblastoma patients in remission. A late-July MRI showed a few areas of concern, but nothing that signaled a return of the cancer, and in early August he moved to Indianapolis to begin college at Indiana University Purdue University Indiana (IUPUI).
It wasn’t until an October MRI, which took place during Sam’s fall break, that the Featherstones learned the cancer had returned. Looking back now, Sam says there were troubling signs leading up to that MRI. For instance, he had been having some difficulty walking.
“Things were starting to kind of wane at that point,” he said. “The MRI just really confirmed it.”
After consulting with doctors and learning there were no additional treatment options available, the Featherstones — especially Sam — turned their attention to helping find a cure for a disease that continues to wreak havoc on so many families.
“Sam is the one who came up with the idea to do this (fundraising event) and he sent out an email message to eight or 10 people who we knew could get things done,” said Tammy. “It took off from there.”
A core committee began meeting once a week, and the result of their planning is an event that promises to be both fun and emotional.
“It will be a fun night,” Sam said, adding that he would like to thank everyone who has prayed for him and supported him over the past three-and-a-half years. “We think it will be successful, and I’m excited that all of the profits go to St. Jude. It’s not about me anymore.”
But the truth is, samstrong.org and the Dec. 27 event are about Sam. They’re about celebrating his spirit, honoring his courage and embracing the fact that a community of thousands has grown in strength and faith as a result of a very special young man.