Michelle Litton couldn’t help but smile as she picked up her daughter Jillian, 13, from school. She was taking her to swim practice and noticed her daughter’s hair was already growing back.
In April 2019, Jillian shaved her head in support of pediatric cancer research at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach at the annual St. Baldrick’s event, and Michelle couldn’t be any prouder of the young woman Jillian was becoming.
Jillian was 1 and a half years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute at
Miller Children’s & Women’s.
Jillian needed an aggressive dose of chemotherapy, that would require a long-term stay at Miller Children’s & Women’s, where her doctors and care team could monitor her progress.
“We lived in and out of Miller Children’s & Women’s for almost a year,” says Michelle. “It was really hard on everyone. My husband and I had to split time between taking care of Jillian’s older sister, who was 3 at the time, and being with Jillian. On top of all that, I was pregnant with our youngest son. Our family and friends really rallied around our family to support us.”
Jillian luckily was too young to remember her battle with AML, and everything that comes with it.
“Looking back, I feel so lucky that this happened to Jillian before she could really remember,” says Michelle. “Chemo is so tough, but she took it with that same smile and attitude she has today.”
Now, years removed from her time at Miller Children’s and her battle with AML, Jillian knows that even though she might not remember that tough period in her life, it still played a part in shaping the person she is today.
“It’s hard to remember my time in the hospital or my battle with leukemia, but I’m reminded about it at my yearly appointments with my care team and I know it was a major part of my life,” says Jillian. “This year, I really wanted to do something to help spread awareness and to try to make a difference. I remembered that one of my nurses had invited my family to a St. Baldrick’s event a few years ago, and I started doing some research on how I could get involved in this year’s event.”
When Jillian let her parents know about her plans to raise money and shave her head for pediatric cancer research, at first, they were a little surprised.
“We know how tough being a teenager is and we wanted to make sure she was okay with shaving her head,” says Michelle. “She reassured me that she was actually excited about it, and we all got behind her and helped spread the word about her fundraising campaign.”
Jillian worked to raise $7,100 for pediatric cancer research. On the day of the event, she shaved her head in solidarity with other children still battling cancer.
“This won’t be the last time I participate,” says Jillian. “I think I am going to give my hair another year to grow out, but I’ve already convinced my mom to shave her head at next year’s event.”
The Litton family is just getting started in spreading awareness and raising money for pediatric cancer research. The family plans to continue to participate in future St. Baldrick’s events and are looking into planning their own fundraising events in the future.
“Jillian really motivated us,” says Michelle. “We know how lucky we are that her battle with leukemia was an intense but relatively short one, and we understand that not everyone is as lucky as our family. We want to make a difference for all the families whose little ones didn’t make it home. Jillian helped our family realize that we have an obligation to get involved.”
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation supports clinical research at Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute through the Children’s Oncology Group by giving Miller Children’s & Women’s a supplemental grant each year.