Why We Exist – guest blog by Dominique Schell

   Dominique Schell is a 20-year-old college student, osteosarcoma survivor, youth ambassador and activist dedicated to starting an international movement to raise awareness about sarcomas.  She started an organization called Crutch4Sarcoma in 2015 after a friend and fellow student at the University of Melbourne ran a marathon on crutches (yes, you read that correctly) to support Dominique, who had been on crutches for 10 years.  Dominique recently reached out to cc-TDI to discuss ways our organizations could collaborate.  She is more than just an inspiration for our team.  She is a reminder of why it is critical we make all forms of childhood cancer universally survivable:  the world needs more people like Dominique.  From Dominique: I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in Switzerland in 2006, at the age of ten. After nine consecutive months of chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumour from my right leg, I was told there had been a 100% removal rate of the tumour.  However, it didn’t end there. For the next ten years, I suffered endless complications due to the very first surgery I underwent, including the rejection of a bone graft, a fibula-tibia transplant, stress fractures and, for the cherry on top the cake, an aggressive bone infection. Most of these surgeries took place in my second home, Singapore, where my family was relocated after my cancer treatment in Switzerland. In 2015, I moved to Melbourne, Australia, to continue my studies at college. Within five weeks of settling in, I established my own foundation, Crutch4Sarcoma, with the aim of educating teenagers and young adults about sarcoma. It really kicked off when 10,000 dollars was raised through a student’s challenge of running a marathon on crutches (which he successfully completed). Within the next six months, three other people unexpectedly decided to challenge themselves to support Crutch4Sarcoma. One ran for 10km a day for a period of 100 consecutive days (in Singapore), whilst others challenged themselves to run half marathons (in England). Since then, we have raised mor than $29,000 for sarcoma research. Another unexpected campaign that completely took off was my open letter to Taylor Swift in November 2015. I’d recently been to visit sarcoma kids at the Singapore National Hospital, and after giving a short talk there, I realised how badly I wanted to help them. So I wrote Taylor a letter on Facebook, asking her to visit these children. Amazingly, my letter reached her but sadly her time in Singapore was too short. Still, I was able to take a cancer survivor along to her concert to meet Taylor and her mum. Regardless, the letter raised a lot of awareness through the press and social media across the world, more than I could ever have imagined. In 2016, I decided to raise awareness in high schools to reach more teenagers. So, I contacted a handful of schools in Singapore and spoke to over 1,200 students within a period of weeks about my experience with childhood cancer. My goal was to spread awareness about childhood cancer as well as showing teenagers how fortunate they are to be fit and healthy, a privilege that children in the cancer world don’t have. It was about being grateful. This also led to an invitation to speak at a student conference in Switzerland – an incredible opportunity to fly back to my home country and speak there! The icing on top of the cake was in December 2016, when I was given the opportunity to give my own TEDx talk. This year, I have many goals I hope to achieve. Firstly, I want to give sarcoma patients more of a voice on social media. So, I recently initiated a ‘Hero of the Month’ feature on Crutch4Sarcoma’s website, which will give ‘normal’ people a glimpse into the lives of sarcoma fighters through interviews and photoshoots.  I would also like to join forces with research institutes, such as the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute, as I firmly believe that by joining forces, we can be stronger together, whether by supporting them in terms of raising funds or helping out in particular projects. A long term goal of mine is to make the hospital environment a friendlier and more enjoyable experience for a child in a cancer ward, through specific interior designing and technological wellness advances. I really believe the environment can make the whole experience of childhood cancer so much more bearable, both for the patient and the family. The “Why we exist” series is comprised of guest blogs from people and institutions that embody why the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute’s mission to make all forms of childhood cancer universally survivable is so important.​ If you would like to learn more about the work the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute is doing to initiate clinical trials for sarcomas, please visit our website or contact Erin Benson at erin@cc-tdi.org.  

Share this post
Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin