Young cancer patient inspiring others to give during the holidays

November 16, 2004

Megan Schillerstrom, an 8-year-old cancer patient at the University of Chicago Children's Hospital, proves age doesn't matter when it comes to making a difference. With support from her neighborhood friends and family, she raised more than $7,000 to fight leukemia and lymphoma through lemonade stands, charity walks and school fund-raising.

Now, this young dynamo hopes to inspire other children and their families to give back. The Naperville third-grader will be the keynote speaker at a private fund-raising event at American Girl Place, 111 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, 2004.

"Megan's story is an example of how others can give back to the community," said Dana Suskind, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, who helped plan the event. "We want to acknowledge her hard work and hope her story inspires children as well as adults during this holiday season, which really is about giving."

Mothers and daughters were invited to American Girl Place to enjoy brunch, carolers and a private shopping spree. Proceeds, including 10 percent of their purchases, will buy equipment and toys for the play areas inside the new University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital, which opens this winter.

Megan was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002 -- on the day she was to begin first grade. She lost her thick, brown wavy hair three times because of chemotherapy. Instead of focusing on her cancer, though, Megan shifted her attention toward raising awareness and funds for the fight against leukemia.

With the help of her younger brother Alex, 7, and six neighborhood friends, ages 6 to 10 years old, Megan formed a team called the Warm Your Heart Kids. The group's goal was to raise $2,000 in sponsorship for the Light the Night Leukemia and Lymphoma Walk, which took place on Sept. 23 in Naperville.

The children decided to earn donations by selling lemonade in their neighborhood. Megan said she got the idea from a story on the news about two boys who raised money for the poor by building a lemonade stand.

"The kids would sell lemonade during the summer months for 25 cents a glass," said Megan's mother, Angela Schillerstrom. "It was a definitely a group effort. When they raised $400 it inspired the team to keep going and think of ways to earn more."

The team then went door-to-door in the neighborhood and asked people to donate. Megan also put a note in her school's lounge, so the teachers could give as well. By the end of summer, the Warm Your Heart Kids had raised more than $2,148.

Even though the walk is over, the team's efforts are still underway. Megan participated in fund-raising events for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The team planned a roller skating party in December and is donating all proceeds to Chicago Comer Children's Hospital.

Megan finished her chemotherapy on Oct. 28, 2004. She enjoys school and is playing soccer. Angela said she's talking about trying gymnastics next.

"Megan has an amazing outlook, which made it easier on our family," Angela said. "When she learned about the new Chicago Comer Children's Hospital, she wanted to repay the exceptional doctors and nurses who took care of her. So, when she was asked to speak at the American Girl event for the hospital, she saw it as another way to help. She's so excited and hopes she inspires others to give during the holidays."

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