'She is my best friend': Mayo patient has sister to thank for life-saving transplant
Together since birth, Jack and Kaylie Vold go through the same growing pains as any other set of siblings — the playful teasing, the constant need to correct each other. If you're fortunate enough to have a brother or sister, you know exactly how this goes.
But spend even a few moments with them and you learn their relationship has a unique quality to it, one that penetrates through the normal brother-sister rivalry.
"She is my best friend," Jack tells me.
Kaylie quickly responds, "He's always been my best friend."
This past September, at the age of 11, Jack was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of cancer in which the bone marrow produces too many immature lymphocytes (a form of white blood cells). In need of a bone marrow transplant, doctors began testing family members to find a potential donor.
As it turned out, his twin sister Kaylie was a perfect match.
"It actually brought them closer, though they don't always admit it," their mother, Jessica Vold, said in our interview.
Jack spent 34 days in the hospital after receiving the transplant from his sister, his longest consecutive stay since being diagnosed last fall. He had only been out of the hospital for a week when we met, and was still going back for regular tests and treatment.
"He's pretty tough," said Jessica. "It's been easy for us to be a support group because he is such a warrior. We are so proud of him that he has stayed strong through it all."
All indications now are that the transplant was a success and that Jack — who enjoys swimming, fishing and basketball — may be ready to go back to school full time in the fall. "He's looking forward to being a normal teenager again," added Jessica.
Asked about their experience at Mayo Clinic, Jack, who had been shy up until this point in the interview, jumped into the conversation with enthusiasm: "It's fantastic. I mean, those nurses are so kind and nice to me ... They made me feel like family."
Childhood cancer is a difficult experience for the entire family. Between the traveling, the appointments, and the emotional and financial challenges that often result, going through the journey alone can feel overwhelming.
"Her treatments required that we be inpatient for most of a year," said Sherrie. "Many times this isolation caused a feeling of loneliness and anxiety, and were desperate to connect with other families in the same circumstance."
In 2007, Sherrie and three other mothers of children with cancer got together and formed Brighter Tomorrows as an outreach organization for families going through similar situations.
Their mission: To make sure families, like the Volds, do not have to face childhood cancer alone.
"[Brighter Tomorrows] has been a huge help," Jessica told me. "They welcomed us with open arms and were a really good support system for us."
The nonprofit offers an array of programs and services to families, from monthly family get-togethers and organized children’s activities to patient visits and family care kits.
For Jack, Brighter Tomorrows offered an opportunity to spend time with other kids going through the same experience.
"When Jack has attended our monthly family get-togethers, I notice nothing but smiles," said Sherrie. "He is delightful, has fun with all the other children, is strong and caring. I have never seen him complain, even with everything he’s been through."
She added, "I think knowing he is not alone in his battle against cancer, makes all the difference."
How you can help
This Saturday, July 8, Brighter Tomorrows will host its annual Go For the Gold 5K Run/3K Family Fun Walk at Silver Lake Park in Rochester. All proceeds from the event go toward the organization's continued efforts to help families touched by pediatric cancer.
While there will be serious runners, there will also be participants who dress in costumes and have fun with the kids to brighten their days, according to board member Ron Petrovich.
The Volds are one of two honorary families, whose courageous stories are being highlighted as part of the event.
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Cover photo courtesy the Vold Family