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By ANGELICA LaVITO
FOR THE LEADER
Holidays are meant to be spent at home with family, not in a hospital bed. But some teens battling cancer do not have a choice.
Whitney Setterdahl, a sophomore at the University of Illinois and a St. Joseph Ogden grad, wanted to helped brighten some of those patient’s holidays. She organized a gift and money donation called Stockings for Strength to give presents to 72 teens at Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.
Setterdahl chose the hospital because of its special significance to her: it’s the hospital where she receives cancer treatments.
“Honestly it was probably the absolute best Christmas present for me just because it’s something I’m very passionate about and something that I got to see from the other side,” she said. “And to know how that would’ve meant to me when I was there.”
Setterdahl was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer July 24, 2015. She went to her doctor’s office to receive a shot when the nurse felt lumps on her glands. It was diagnosed as cancerous, and she had her thyroid completely moved Aug. 13.
Setterdahl moved into Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls one week later.
“Ultimately the best decision I’ve ever made was to go through with it because I obviously felt healthy and got back on my feet relatively quickly,” she said. “And the thought of being at home all semester was pretty horrible, so I’m glad I gave it a shot.”
Setterdahl has since undergone three radioactive iodine treatments, which attack thyroid tissue leftover after surgery. To support Setterdahl, two of her Kappa Delta sorority sisters sold T-shirts last summer, and the company gave Setterdahl 15 percent of the profits to donate to a charity of her choice.
She had $200 to spend, but she was weary of donating the money to research. Instead, she thought of her own experience in the hospital. She remembered how she wished the hospital felt homier and realized she could help bring that feeling to teens.
Her goal was to raise $500 to buy presents for patients and donate them around the holidays. Instead, she raised $3,500.
“My goal was $500, so it definitely blew all my expectations out of the water,” she said.
Prairieview-Ogden District 197 held a toy drive to help, collecting 10 to 12 boxes in addition to the money Setterdahl raised. She even had to scrap her plans to donate stockings because she had so many gifts to donate and some that were too large to fit.
Setterdahl traded stockings for tote bags stuffed with items such as hand sanitizer, lotion, makeup, Rubik’s Cubes, board games, including Catchphrase, remote control cars, pajama pants and fuzzy socks. She could not deliver the presents herself because of sanitary concerns, but she received updates as staff handed them out.
“I think realizing how many people it truly impacted is still very surreal for me, and it’s something I definitely want to continue and keep going in the future and giving back,” she said. “Especially Barnes, because it’s such an amazing place and they made it so easy to give and everything.”
Setterdahl plans to organize Stockings for Strength again next year, though she might shy away from focusing on cash donations and encourage people to donate more presents if possible.
And next holiday season, Setterdahl hopes to be almost cancer-free. On Dec. 30, she received her first negative scan since she was diagnosed. In order to be considered in remission, she must have three consecutive clear scans.
Then she will no longer be a patient, but a survivor.