Whitney Setterdahl peeked down the toy and game aisles at the Urbana Meijer on Tuesday, finally stopping when she approached the sports trading card section.

“It’s hard to find items for boys,” she said. “We get a lot of makeup and lotion and things like that, but I like to try to get a lot of games that can be for either gender.”

 In a hospital — Setterdahl found when she was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer two years ago — a gap exists, and it’s one that she fell into during her three days at Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis. Closets overflow with gifts for children, but entertainment for teenagers, she found, was difficult to come by.

So when she received $200 last year from a T-shirt company after her mother and a few friends printed shirts that read “We Fight With Whit,” she decided to do her best to fill that gap.

Setterdahl set up a GoFundMe account with a goal of raising $500, on top of the $200 she already had.

She wound up receiving more than $3,000 worth of donated items and money to spend on holiday gifts for hospitalized teenagers.

“Last year was kind of a shock,” she said. “I thought 20 or 30 (stockings) would be amazing. ... (When the donations rolled in), I realized that I was in for a lot but obviously thrilled.”

Setterdahl spent the money on games, decorations, socks and other gifts that might make a hospital stay more palatable.

This year, she was at it again with another GoFundMe campaign and wound up with even more donated items along with plenty of cash.

 At her family’s Ogden home, her bedroom has overflowed with gifts given to her by the community.

Setterdahl, of course, can empathize with those teenagers.

Just before her freshman year at Illinois, she was at the doctor for a few routine shots when the nurse asked how long she had thyroid issues.

“I honestly didn’t know what a thyroid was,” she said. “She said, ‘Oh, I felt a nodule.’ ... The nurse left the room, and I said, ‘Oh, this is odd.’”

After a series of tests, the harrowing diagnosis came the week before her birthday. With uncertainty swirling around her, Setterdahl’s birthday celebration with her friends was muted.

Her anxiety swelled, but when she went to Barnes-Jewish, doctors reassured her.

“It was the single most comfortable experience ever,” she said. “A lot of people are surprised by that.”

Setterdahl spent three days in the hospital for surgery to have the cancer removed. While the experience was a positive one, with family surrounding her the whole time, she noticed others weren’t so lucky. Plenty of kids spent far more time in the hospital without many of the creature comforts of home.

Setterdahl took trips back and forth from the adult unit to the children’s unit. And while small children had plenty to occupy themselves, she found that older teenagers didn’t.

“Seeing other people’s condition versus my own really put things into perspective,” said Setterdahl, who will be considered in remission with a negative scan in May. “I think seeing other people like that that were going back and forth, I saw that was one of the places I could help out. ... You feel weird, and you don’t have anything to do but sit and stare at the wall and think about your situation.”

Last Wednesday night, Setterdahl; her mother, Nicole; her two brothers, Jack and Ben; and her boyfriend, Nolan Jasinski, huddled around piles of board games, Nerf toys, candy canes, socks, perfume and other various gifts and filled stockings.

Last week, they took the gifts to St. Louis. While she’s not allowed to personally hand the stockings to sick teenagers with weak immune systems, that doesn’t dampen her excitement or sense of satisfaction.

“Everybody’s reaction there (last year), some of them were parents or relatives or parents, they were so immensely grateful,” she said.

“What the lady at Barnes said was, ‘You made a lot of kids’ days.’ That alone made it more than worth it for me. ... Knowing how happy it would have made me, it gave me chills.”

Categories (2):News, People


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abramo wrote on December 28, 2017 at 5:12 am

Just before her freshman year at Illinois, she was at the doctor for a few routine shots when the nurse asked how long she had thyroid issues.

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