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Monday, April 15, 2013

Inspired by tragedy: Chelsea Lately

Anthony, Chelsea, Joyce, and Cory Castillo
On April 5, Chelsea Castillo (Class of 2013) received the National Alumni Board Service to the Community Award. She was also recognized the next day at the Honors Convocation as part of Spring Family Weekend. It was a privilege to meet Chelsea's outstanding, courageous, and gracious family. I know a little about Chelsea and sent her some written questions for this post. I was blown away... and can't do any better than she did. Here are excerpts from Chelsea's responses:

My sister’s name is Chloe “Belle”, she would now be 13- she was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma on her 7th birthday, June 12, 2006 and passed away two days shy of her 9th birthday, June 10, 2008.

Though we are 8 years apart in age, she really was one of my best friends. 

Since Build-a-Bears were her favorite toy, she decided, while spending one Christmas in the hospital, that she wanted to buy a Build-a-Bear for each patient on the oncology floor who had to be there for Christmas as well. She created an event at Texas Children’s Hospital called Chloe’s Wish, inspired her Child Life Specialist to create the organization Legacy of Love, and won theheart of future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who significantly facilitated our efforts to raise over $60,000 donated to Texas Children’s Hospital. This has become an annual event for my family at Texas Children’s hospital and has expanded. We now give over 100 bears each Christmas to the oncology floor and clinic in Houston.

My family’s effort to make our lives, while on the horrible roller coaster ride that follows a cancer diagnosis, as normal as possible definitely prevented us from slipping into despair (which can easily happen when regularly spend weeks in the hospital) and maintained our hope, strength, and integrity as a family unit - in the fight together.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve as Program Head of TUVACs Cancer Awareness group for the past 4 years and, with the growing support from my peers on campus, we’ve been able to expand this event to San Antonio’s Children’s Methodist Hospital.

When I was in kindergarten and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I drew a stick-figure doctor with a stethoscope and what appeared to be a superhero cape. I still have this drawing and it also helps me remember two things: That there was never any hope for me becoming an artist and that I’ve wanted to be a doctor as far back as I can remember.

My experience with Chloe’s illness did solidify the type of doctor I want to be, both in regard to the specific field and in how I treat the patients, their families, and other health care professionals I am surrounded by on a daily basis. 

I feel like through indescribable lows that my sister endured as she battled for her life, as a child who should’ve been found swinging from monkey bars rather than becoming ill from toxic chemos an watching as strands of hair would fall out from her head, she remained a light, an inspiration, and a vessels of God’s pure love through her continuous and selfless compassion for others.

This inspires me day in and day out to attempt to do the same. She is absolutely an inspiration and example of how I think I should give 110% each day, without excuse, in investing in and serving others.

I have witnessed more incredible kids than I can count on my fingers succumb to their illness because despite the impressive technologies, resources, and knowledge that we currently have, there is still no cure. This reality definitely fuels my passion for the research aspect. My friends are often surprised that I do lab work because I am quite extroverted and research many times involves hours of isolation under a hood, staring at a flask of cells essentially. I admit that I think this would be incredibly boring and laborious if I didn’t have the faces of children who had battled Neuroblastoma, the specific cancer that I am currently working with, ingrained in my mind.

I started my research on childhood cancer last summer at the Greehey Childhood Cancer Research Institute, associated with UTHSCSA, have continued it through this school year, and have recently received a stipend to finish my work this summer. I am dedicated to finding a cure for this disease, but I am also very passionate about working with the children who continue to battle for their lives now. The MD that works in our group gives me hope that I can do both as a doctor.

My sister’s selfless love and service was definitely contagious and I think it’s a way that I am able to keep her legacy alive.

Other highlights (in addition to Chloe's Wish, TUVAC, Greehey Research) from Chelsea's resume:
- Camp Periwinkle: serves as counselor at a week-long camp for children with cancer
- Periwinkle Foundation: serves as volunteer with childhood cancer patients using therapeutic art projects
- Trinity University Chemistry summer research: potential applications in cancer treatments
- American Association of Cancer Research: presented research
- Cancer Research Institute: Best poster on micro-RNA in pediatric cancer
- UT-Austin Summer Research Symposium

1 comment:

Creative1 said...

I am Chelsea's aunt here in San Antonio. Chelsea has always been driven from the time she was a young girl. We are proud of her accomplishments and have no doubt in her ability.
Her desire to help others is deeply rooted in her family values and experiences. We look forward to seeing great things from her and the work that continues to be her passion.