Across Utah County, there are people waiting for donations, whether it is a needed organ, bone marrow or blood that will save their lives. Others have given these lifesaving donations to complete strangers. Gift of Life highlights those involved in the medical donation process.
The chunky sugar cookies aren’t just delicious. Topped with gold sprinkles, they’re a nod to Childhood Cancer Awareness Month — and are a way for one cancer patient to pay it forward to another.
Shelbie Luce, a 19-year-old who lives in Lehi, is baking sugar cookies to raise money for Ali Herbert, a 7-year-old from Brigham City, who is receiving treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“With all the help that I got going through treatment, I just wanted to help someone else,” Luce said.
The Luces met the Herbert family when the Luces were serving meals at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for Shelbie’s birthday.
The families stayed in touch, and Luce brought up the idea of a fundraiser for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September.
It’s a topic Luce has become intimately aware of since her first diagnosis two years ago, and that she’s become passionate about since.
“Seeing all the statistics on how low the funding is, and how little research there is is really sad because so many friends have lost their lives that I’ve known,” Luce said. “It’s not rare like they say. It doesn’t feel rare.”
About 15,780 children under the age of 19 are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, and one in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before they turn 20, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. Funding for pediatric cancer is relatively small compared to other cancers, with 4 percent of federal government cancer research funds going to study the cause, according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
Luce herself saw immense support from her Lehi community after she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in the summer of 2016.
She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy that included staying in the hospital for weeks at a time before going home, resting and returning to the hospital to do it again. After four rounds of chemo, Luce rang the bell signaling the end of chemotherapy the day after Christmas in 2016.
Luce returned home, finished high school, walked with her class at graduation and then found out in the summer of 2017 that her cancer had relapsed. She returned to the hospital for more chemotherapy before receiving a bone marrow transplant from her younger brother a year ago.
While Luce was in the hospital for most of the bake sales, barbecues and a week of fundraisers Lehi High School did to fundraise for her, seeing photos of the events and watching people band around her gave her strength.
“For me with all the fundraisers, it wasn’t even about the money or how much they raised, it was that they thought of me,” she said. “It really impacted me and my family, too, feeling all that support and love.”
Her story mirrors Ali, who is staying near Primary Children’s Hospital with her mother after going through CAR T-cell therapy, a newly-approved therapy which involves a patient’s T cells being taken from the patient’s blood and then changed to attack cancer cells.
Ali was diagnosed with ALL in February 2015. She underwent two and a half years of treatment, which included chemotherapy, and celebrated being cancer-free and off treatment for 10 months when her family discovered she’d relapsed.
Heather Herbert, Ali’s mother, has found strength through her friendship with the Luce family.
“It’s really nice to know you’re not alone and you have somebody else who has been there and felt those same feelings as you,” Herbert said. “It’s so nice to see when other people are doing well because it gives you hope.”
She describes her daughter as a “human Olaf” who constantly smiles and doesn’t complain.
“She is the type of person who would give you her last cookie,” Herbert said.
Ali was going to have a bone marrow transplant, but didn’t qualify or have a match on the national registry. A donation drive the family hosted brought in 400 new donors to the Be the Match bone marrow registry.
Luce brought Ali a stuffed animal and her sister made special signs to cheer the 7-year-old up. When they’re together, Luce and Ali talk about crafts, or toys Ali is playing with — anything but the hospital and cancer.
Once they return home to Brigham City in about two weeks, Herbert and Ali will have to continue returning to the hospital once a week to make sure Ali is doing well.
“I am hoping this is her cure,” Herbert said. “If she were to relapse, we’re kind of out of options.”
Luce said she’s been doing well in the year since her bone marrow transplant. She’s submitted her papers to go on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is waiting to hear if she’ll be able to go.
She’s also preparing to fulfill a second round of cookie orders and has made more than 40 dozen cookies so far.
“Ali is the sweetest thing,” Luce said. “She lights up a room and I want to help her family in any way possible.”
Herbert was surprised by the fundraiser and thinks it’s a sweet gesture.
“I think it’s so generous that someone would give to our family,” she said.
Cookies are $15 for a dozen and $8 for a half dozen. They can be ordered by sending money via the Venmo app to Shelbie-Luce-1.