TULSA, Okla. — Sky High for Kids, an organization working to raise the funds needed to help children beat cancer, is finding some roots in Oklahoma.
"Cancer doesn't know boundaries,” Shagah Zakerion, a patient advocate and cancer survivor, said. “Cancer doesn't know state lines. Cancer doesn't know age. It doesn't discriminate."
It’s a battle that one non-profit won't stop fighting, and it’s doing so by raising awareness across the nation and investing in local communities like Tulsa.
"My journey with cancer started almost 17 years ago,” Zakerion said.
She’s a warrior. Zakerion has beat cancer now for almost two decades. She received the diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome as a teen.
“That's really scary whenever you are young and you have a whole life ahead of you,” Zakerion said.
Her cancer is a rare form, one doctor at Tulsa’s Saint Francis hospital worked non-stop to diagnose her before sending her to St. Jude’s research hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
That's where the journey began.
“The doctors there said the same thing,” Zakerion said. “This is extremely rare in your age group, but the only treatment we have is to give you a bone marrow transplant."
She said the hospital in Memphis pioneered bone marrow transplants in children, all at no cost. The hope she was given to fight was contagious.
“Those experiences have led me to this moment where I have dedicated my healthy year, and the years I have left, fundraising for St. Jude’s,” she said.
Zakerion, a Tulsan, has relapsed twice, getting treatment at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. It’s there she met the CEO of Sky High for Kids, a non-profit raising funds to research and treat pediatric cancer.
"Tulsa, Okla. is such a welcoming community and a giving community, and we found there was a huge need for Sky High and our mission here,” Brittany Franklin, the CEO of Sky High said.
Sky High has gone global, changing the game in childhood cancer survival rates through research and treatment at Texas Children’s Hospital Cancer Center and St. Jude’s.
"Our direct services programs are impacting families right here in Tulsa, Okla. through Saint Francis Health System, because we are sponsoring all of the kids that are undergoing treatment,” Franklin said.
St. Jude’s eighth affiliate clinic is in Tulsa, and Saint Francis is working hard to battle pediatric cancer. For Sky High, it was a perfect fit, so it hit the ground running.
"I had no idea that childhood cancer was the reason for death in children around the world,” Lilac Guzman, VP of Gastech Engineering and Sky High Fundraising Event Chair, said. “If I can help raise funds for a wonderful organization that does this full time, it would be great."
Guzman found a calling to get involved with Sky High. She's now hosting and chairing a major fundraising event on May 15 called ladies who brunch, held at the Mayo Hotel.
Tickets for the event are still on sale and it includes keynote speakers, pediatric patient testimonies, and a fashion show. You can purchase tickets here.
Fairly new to Tulsa, the Sky High fundraising is just beginning.
“We've got all these wonderful companies that have jumped in, and we want to continue this, so I’m very happy,” Guzman said.
Currently the nonprofit has partnerships with St. Jude, where it committed $20 million to a new advanced research center, making it the largest pediatric cancer research center in the country fighting the deadliest forms of childhood cancer.
The nonprofit also pledged $20 million to Texas Children’s Cancer Center, allowing it to develop the first immunotherapy center for kids in the country.
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