Every day in the United States, nearly 13 youngsters are diagnosed with one of the deadliest forms of childhood cancer. These children are PBTF Stars, and their inspiring stories are our Starlights.
You can locate a Starlight story by clicking on one of the links below. Starlight stories are arranged by the Star's first name.
Nov. 7, 2014
Getting married, becoming an artist, having 100 babies and being a veterinarian are all on 8-year-old Gabrielle Gaskell’s to-do list when she grows up.
“She just has the most tender heart,” says her mom, Kelli. “It just brings tears to my eyes.”
Gabrielle was diagnosed with an anaplastic astrocytoma less than a year ago. Her symptoms started with stroke-like paralysis in her arm, and her right leg started to turn out. Her fine motor skills diminished soon afterward.
Gabrielle has been treated at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and Stanford and is currently awaiting her next MRI. Her tumor continues to show significant growth even after two different chemotherapy treatments and radiation.
Her family and friends are working hard to raise awareness about childhood cancer, and are raising funds for Starry Night San Francisco. They invite everyone to join this 8.5K walk/run on Nov. 8 to benefit the PBTF and Stars like Gabrielle.
Register for Starry Night and form your team today!
May 6, 2014
Gavin Carroll was 6 years old when he first experienced symptoms of a brain tumor.
He encountered numbness and nausea, and had his first seizure on Christmas morning, says his mother, Stacy Minnis.
When the family learned that Gavin had a fibrillary astrocytoma, Stacy says that her first thoughts were, “Where do we go, what do we do, what are my options?”
Her once-active elementary school student now struggled with paralysis on the right side of his body, which sidelined him from his favorite sport – riding his dirt bike.
“When you’re told he may never walk or talk again – it’s hard to put that into words,” Stacy says.
Gavin’s surgery was successful. The 11-year-old is now tumor-free and is back on his dirt bike in Tennessee. He’s even playing basketball and baseball.
“It’s very important to us [to raise awareness] because we were so uneducated about it,” Stacy says.
May 31, 2015
Today Gavin H. is a 13-year-old honor roll student who plays on the chess team and challenges his younger brother in video games.
But to become a star student, he had to first overcome the diagnosis of a germ cell brain tumor when he was 8.
The golf ball-sized tumor led to multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, says his mother, Alisa.
“He didn’t really complain,” the Illinois mom recalls. “He was always really super strong. He had a calmness to him and never let himself get upset.”
When Gavin was diagnosed, Alisa didn’t expect to hear the words “brain tumor.”
“One thing that having a child with a brain tumor taught me is you never put off the chance to enjoy life,” she says. “Do it today because you never know what might happen tomorrow.”
To help raise awareness for children like Gavin and to aid in the search for a cure, make your donation today:
May 21, 2015
George Plym dubs himself the ultimate brain tumor survivor.
The North Carolina resident was first diagnosed with brain cancer in 1967, when he experienced double vision while playing baseball. He has overcome 13 brain tumors since then, but his treatment resulted in several secondary cancers.
Now 60, George continues to fight skin, thyroid and bone cancer, along with another brain tumor.
“[I] don’t think the worst, even if it doesn’t look good,” he says. “My whole life has been based on hope. I don’t worry about things that I cannot control.”
George’s desire to help others in his situation inspired him to start Western North Carolina Brain Tumor Support in 2001. He serves as president of the support group for adult brain tumor survivors, their families and caregivers.
When not mentoring other survivors, George can be found practicing his favorite hobby, photography.
His advice to parents with children diagnosed with brain tumors is simple: “Be truthful with them and tell them things will be OK.”
To honor George and children battling brain tumors, donate at
May 21, 2014
Michelle Seelen says she cringes every time she hears a child complain of a headache.
Her son, Gavin, was diagnosed with a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma at age 5. He complained of severe headaches prior to his diagnosis, Michelle says.
Aside from sensory issues involving taste and sensitivity to loud sounds, Gavin experienced few limitations as a result of surgery.
Michelle says that after Gavin’s diagnosis, it helped her family to seek out and read survivors’ stories, and to talk to other parents of brain tumor patients. Her greatest tidbit of advice is to “Stick together.”
Today, Gavin, from Alberta, Canada, enjoys playing video games and building with Legos. He celebrated his 12th birthday this month – cancer free.
May 2, 2014
Grayson Anderson wants to be a “brain doctor” when he grows up, says his mother, Paula.
The 7-year-old from Alabama already knows what it’s like to work with doctors and nurses, thanks to his experience with a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma.
After being diagnosed at age 2, Grayson went through brain surgery and therapy He received his first clean MRI scan about two years ago and continues to take anti-seizure medication.
Now in first grade, Grayson enjoys sports and playing with his three brothers. One day he hopes to play football for the University of Alabama.
“Until this happened to him, I had no idea,” Paula says. “Now, I try to raise as much awareness as I can.” She even has a gray ribbon tattooed on her wrist as a permanent reminder of the cause.
May 5, 2014
On any given day, Helena Whitfield can be found swimming, riding her scooter or playing with friends.
But the 10-year-old Canadian’s schedule also includes doctors’ appointments and therapies to treat the medulloblastoma she was diagnosed with four years ago.
Helena has battled through surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and numerous hospital stays. “She was a trooper [through treatment],” says her mother, Biserka Maradin-Whitfield. “She was amazing.”
Helena’s family considers her one of the “lucky ones,” but the thought of a recurrence lurks.
“No matter what I was doing, the fear was always there,” Biserka said. “When I would get ready to go to bed, the nightmares would always come.”
Before her daughter’s diagnosis, Biserka didn’t think about pediatric cancer. Now, she’s helping to raise awareness and hopes others will take note.
You can be a part of the fight to cure the kids. Learn how at curethekids.org.
May 10, 2014
Isaiah Perry is a rambunctious 2-year-old, says his mother, Shelly Laterreur.
His spunky attitude has helped him bounce back from numerous health battles.
When Isaiah was 8 months old, doctors diagnosed him with a ganglioglioma and Arnold-Chiari malformation – a defect in the cerebellum. Brain surgery was followed by occupational, physical and speech therapies, and he has routine MRIs.
Between hospital visits and doctors’ appointments, Isaiah enjoys playing with blocks, reading books and watching his favorite television show, Dora the Explorer. He’s also a big fan of Batman and Spiderman. “He’s a very happy-go-lucky kid,” Shelly says. “Nothing holds him back.”
Shelly says it is imperative that people learn about childhood brain tumors and their lasting effects on families.
“Before Isaiah was diagnosed with this, I was not aware of this disease,” she says. “It changes your life forever.”
Dec. 19, 2014
Recess is top of mind for most elementary school students, but that wasn’t the case for Jack Fineske. At age 6, he was focused on overcoming a medulloblastoma.
Four years later, his struggles continue. Jack is currently undergoing treatment for a second brain tumor recurrence.
“He has affected so many people in our community for accepting his cross with a great grace that extends a new level of faith, hope and love to all who have faithfully followed and supported him on this journey,” says Jack’s father, Brady.
Brady’s employer, TDC Companies, has also stepped in to support Jack. Their employees paid a minimum of $10 to wear jeans to work on a Friday. Proceeds were donated to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
The TDC team wants to help the PBTF “continue to help the families with children suffering from brain tumors and continue to inch closer to finding a cure,” Brady says.
You too, can make a difference for children like Jack. Create your own fundraising page at www.curethekids.org/myfundraiser.
Nov. 14, 2014
Just a month after his second birthday, Jack Speichert began rubbing his head and vomiting daily.
His parents, Sarah and Tim, took their firstborn son to and from the doctor this summer to determine the cause of his discomfort.
Jack was eventually admitted to the ER for his symptoms. An MRI revealed a brain tumor.
Jack had two surgeries in Omaha to remove the tumor. After an infection developed in his brain, he was moved more than 600 miles to a children’s hospital in Memphis. He started chemotherapy once the infection was under control. Radiation will follow.
“He’s still in good spirits,” says Tim. “He’s pretty chipper and has a lot of energy.” Keeping a regular routine of naps and bedtimes helps, Tim says.
Jack has a catheter in his chest to receive treatment, has lost his hair and is wearing a helmet because part of his skull was removed to treat the infection. But Tim says his son has gotten used to it all.
“We remain hopeful that our ‘Super Jack’ can do this,” says Sarah. “He shows his strength and resiliency more and more each day.”
You can help find a cure for children like Jack. Visit www.curethekids.org to learn more.
Sept. 5, 2014
Jennifer Sizemore says any parent of a little boy knows that he daydreams and laughs a lot. And that’s why she and his dad thought it was normal for their son, Jacob, to giggle for no reason.
But when the giggling continued, and Jacob began to have petit mal seizures, his mom knew something was wrong with the 9-year-old.
Jacob was diagnosed with a benign dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumor, or DNET, after suffering a grand mal seizure and having a CAT scan in the emergency room. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor, but it returned years later. . Jacob had a second surgery over Christmas break in 2012.
“He wasn't supposed to have another tumor,” Jennifer says. “This is why we need more research. Because the number of tumor incidents are growing and changing.”
Jacob is a now a typical 15-year-old who makes good grades, loves playing online video games and runs his own YouTube channel with friends.
Share your Starlight with us at http://pbtf.convio.net/family-resources/share-your-story/.
May 12, 2015
Jahnay Gardner is a successful 20-year-old college student studying criminal law.
But to make it to her freshman year, Jahnay had to first overcome the diagnosis of a brain tumor.
The Pennsylvania teen went through surgery and still battles residual tumor growth, which is monitored every three months.
Jahnay remained active and productive in high school despite her illness.
“She wanted to go back to school. She did well, attended prom, and graduated,” says her mother, Synia. “She just feels like nothing can stop her. She is a beautiful girl. She’s an inspiration to us all [and] she is determined to not let this tumor stop her in accomplishing her goals.”
You can make a difference for Stars like Jahnay:
March 13, 2015
Jamarion Johnson stays busy with playing video games, skating and riding his bike with his twin brother Amarion and his sister, Jada.
If this 9-year-old isn’t at home enjoying one of his favorite hobbies, he’s most likely at one of his many doctors’ appointments to treat the glioblastoma he was diagnosed with in September 2014.
“He was having frequent headaches and then one day he woke up and his vision was blurry and he had no leg usage,” says his mother Tatrabianne.
After his diagnosis, the youngster went through brain surgery and chemotherapy. “It was hard for Jamarion after surgery as his right side was weakened,” Tatrabianne says. “The chemo made his hair fall out, which was hard, and he couldn’t return to playing football or be with his classmates in fourth grade.”
In order to focus on Jamarion’s care, Tatrabianne was not able to work, which sometimes created a hardship on the family. “But it brought our family closer,” she says. “Jamarion never has a sad day. He always has a happy face and never complains.” Determined to overcome his challenges, he aspires to play football again and become a professional football player when he grows up.
Thanks to Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation - Georgia Chapter for contributing Jamarion’s story.
Feb. 20, 2015
Jessalyn Walker has one motto: “You only live once.”
She adopted the phrase after being diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma last year, says her mother, Melanie.
Doctors diagnosed Jessalyn with a brain tumor following a grand mal seizure.
“She was so brave and clear-headed about it. All I could do was hug her,” Melanie says. “She just took it all with a grain of salt. Most anyone would be devastated if that happened. She was ready to deal with it.”
Jessalyn, now 15, has coped with blind spots in her vision since her brain surgery, and takes medications to manage her symptoms. But Jessalyn is an honor roll student who plans to attend college.
“She has fought strong and recovered from her surgery,” says Melanie, who sells gray brain tumor awareness bracelets to raise funds for the PBTF. “Today, she is doing amazing!”
May 30, 2015
Jessica Bookwalter loves playing checkers, singing along to the “Frozen” soundtrack, and the color orange.
From the outside, her day looks like that of a typical 5 year old – go to preschool, play, take a nap, then come home and help her family cook dinner. But mixed into her routine are medications with breakfast, chemotherapy treatments and regular MRIs.
When she was 4, doctors diagnosed the Pennsylvania child with a brain tumor after she experienced headaches and blurred vision, says her mother, Michelle.
“It’s not an illness you can see,” Michelle says. “People don’t realize there are battles that you just don’t know about. They have to be aware that these children are fighting every day.”
Michelle is proud of her daughter for being strong and accepting the help of others. Jessica even helps her nurse set up her chemotherapy treatment.
“She gets tired and sick a lot, but she keeps moving forward,” Michelle says. “The spark in her eyes remains bright. Stars can't shine without darkness.”
Help Stars like Jessica today by donating in her honor:
June 13, 2014
Two-time brain tumor survivor Jessica Schnute doesn’t let her medical setbacks limit her optimism.
She scurried from table to table in her wheelchair at the PBTF’s Atlanta Ride for Kids event in June, meeting new people and checking to see if she can be of help.
Jessica is a Star at the event, an honored guest who is a childhood brain tumor survivor. Doctors first diagnosed her at age 12.
“My mom knew something was wrong,” Jessica says. “We were on vacation in Florida and I didn’t want to play in the ocean or get in the pool. That wasn’t like me.”
She’s been through numerous surgeries, a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy and radiation.
When asked how she’s doing today, the 24-year-old replies with a reassuring smile: “I’m doing good. I’m cancer free.”
You too, can get involved with the foundation and help children like Jessica. To learn more, visit http://pbtf.convio.net/get-involved.
May 9, 2014
Joana McKeoun never complained about the challenges she faced, says her mother, Tina.
One of those challenges was an oligoastrocytoma, diagnosed in 2008.
Through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Joana continued to attend high school. She even took on extracurricular activities such as volunteering for Relay for Life and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, running cross country and track, and ballroom dancing.
She went on to study at the University of Michigan and hoped to become a journalist.
Tina says that her daughter never gave up, even when the tumor came back twice. The determined scholar refused to miss school, scheduling her treatments around her class schedule.
Days after her 21st birthday, Joana succumbed to the illness she had fought for six years. Her mother is now spreading awareness about the disease.
“It’s the worst feeling when a doctor is so helpless and they tell you there’s nothing else they can do,” Tina says. “I hope one day parents don’t have to hear that. I want to help find a cure for all children.”
Oct. 17, 2014
John Passarella, winner of the first Starry Night drawing for a VISA gift card, has a very personal reason for raising funds for the PBTF’s new walk/run.
"In January 2001, our then 7-year-old son, Matthew, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given six months to live,” John says. “Basically, we were told he wouldn't live to see his eighth birthday. We chose to move forward, giving our son a chance to beat the odds, while agreeing not to compromise his quality of life, however many days or months remained.”
Over the years, John says, “Matthew has battled through several brain surgeries and radiation therapy. Today he is a survivor, a high school graduate who attended college and is currently working and enjoying his first job.”
The Passarella family, with the support of relatives, friends and coworkers, have raised more than $120,000 in support of pediatric brain tumor research and awareness, but they aren’t stopping there.
“We are grateful for Matthew's medical outcome, but many children aren't as fortunate and they desperately need our help,” John says. “Now, through the inaugural @Starry Night 8.5K walk/run, my family, participating as Matthew's Milers, is supporting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation's mission to ‘cure the kids.’ Matthew will be there, cheering us on.
We hope that others, even those not directly affected by a pediatric brain tumor diagnosis, will support the PBTF in this important cause."
May 19, 2015
Joshua Catterick is a 2-year-old who has already experienced seven surgeries in his lifetime.
At just 4 months old, the infant from Canberra, Australia, was diagnosed with a choroid plexus papilloma.
Joshua’s latest scan shows zero tumor regrowth, but he now lives with mild cerebral palsy, epilepsy and vision problems, says his mother, Kylie.
When Joshua isn’t going to medical appointments, he loves playing on his iPad, which also serves as a form of therapy. The toddler is already tracing letters and spelling words on the device.
Kylie says her son is also captivated by music, especially by Ed Sheeran and Sia.
“In the 22 months since they found Josh’s tumour, my eyes have been opened to things I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” she says. “Awareness needs to be raised because, at the moment, the lack of understanding when it comes to brain tumours is astounding. Also, as sad as it makes me, until the awareness levels increase, research is not going to get the funding it both needs and deserves.”
You have the opportunity to fund research for children like Joshua by visiting http://pbtf.convio.net/site/TR/Events/General?px=1318178&pg=personal&fr_id=1510.
For those living in Australia, check out the Brainchild Foundation at www.brainchild.org.au.
May 22, 2014
Helen Kivlin often found her daughter Julia on the phone with friends working on group homework late into the night.
Julia excelled in school and also had a knack for sports, particularly volleyball and basketball. Her ultimate goal was to attend Drexel University and become a photographer, Helen says.
Julia’s upbeat attitude and zest for life didn’t even falter when doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor.
And support never wavered for Julia. Teammates and classmates rallied around the teen, raising money to help Julia through her treatments. And after that, they went on to raise funds for the children’s hospital where she was treated.
Despite her hard-fought journey, Julia died three days after her 15th birthday, in February 2011.
But her memory lives on through a named PBTF scholarship fund created last year by donor Gregory Balestrero.
Helen thinks her daughter would be thrilled to know other brain tumor survivors now have the chance to pursue their education.
“She won’t be forgotten,” she says. “Her struggle won’t be forgotten.”
May 24, 2015
Nine-year-old Kaylah Blackwell’s brain tumor journey began four years ago.
“She was running through the house and she came to me and said, ‘Mommy, my eyes went out,” says her mother, DeShawna.
A CAT scan revealed that Kaylah’s intermittent blindness was a side effect of hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid on the brain, caused by a brain tumor the size of a freckle.
Doctors monitored her progress for several years. When an MRI showed growth in Kaylah’s tumor in 2014, she started chemotherapy. Her treatments will continue until this fall.
Despite her illness, the now youngster from Georgia doesn’t complain, says her mom.
“She’s a strong little girl,” DeShawna says. “If this little person can deal with this and not complain, everything in my world doesn’t compare.”
Kaylah often spends her days enjoying neighborhood puppies, playing soccer, competing in pageants or making her own talk show on YouTube. She hopes to become a teacher or a nurse when she grows up.
Make a difference for Stars like Kaylah by donating to the PBTF today: http://pbtf.convio.net/site/TR/Events/General?px=1318190&pg=personal&fr_id=1510. .
Sept. 12, 2014
When you ask 3-year-old Kaylee what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll tell you she wants to be Minnie Mouse, says her mom, Briana Pearson.
“Kaylee is a true girl, her favorite color is pink and she loves to dress up and dance,” Briana says. When she’s not dancing and dressing up, however, Kaylee is going to occupational and physical therapy several times a week to regain strength.
She was diagnosed with a low-grade juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA) brain tumor earlier this year. Her grandmother first noticed the lack of movement in Kaylee’s right arm. Eventually Kaylee started limping on her right side.
Kaylee and her family went from the pediatrician to a neurologist. After an MRI and a biopsy, she underwent brain surgery on April 30.
Kaylee continues to recover with the help of weekly therapy sessions to improve her strength. Her next MRI is in October.
The Pearson family and their friends are also focused on helping other children like Kaylee in the fight against childhood brain tumors. Their team, Smiles for Kaylee, is raising funds for our new 8.5k walk/run, Starry Night Chicago.
To sign up for Starry Night, visit www.mystarrynight.org today.
May 4, 2014
Kurt Bourne’s family had a nickname for him – the “mighty deer hunter.”
“He thought he could call deer,” says his mom, Leigh. “He would sit in a deer stand and yell for deer. I would try not to laugh, but he was just so hilarious in his sincerity.”
When Kurt wasn’t traipsing through the woods, the Mississippi native spent his free time playing baseball, fishing and riding four-wheelers.
“He followed in his daddy’s footsteps,” Leigh says.
But he began to have trouble with his favorite activities when he was diagnosed with an anaplastic astrocytoma in 2009. Kurt passed away three months later at age 11.
Leigh says she wants to stress the importance of raising awareness about the disease.
“Our kids are our future,” she says.
May 28, 2014
Lesane “Jimi” Moyle loves drawing, writing stories and playing cards, says his mom, Jennie.
Those activities make his days feel normal, despite weekly chemotherapy treatments and routine MRIs.
In October 2013, doctors diagnosed 6-year-old Jimi with medulloblastoma. Since then, the young Australian has endured two craniotomies, radiation and chemotherapy. He still has 11 months of chemotherapy ahead of him.
Jimi’s tumor and treatment have limited his mobility on the right side of his body. He now writes with his left hand and relies on a wheelchair.
“He is an amazing little man. So full of life and courage,” Jennie says. “He inspires me every day.” On rough days, Jennie focuses on her children. “I let all their laughs and smiles run through my head. I have to stay focused on the positives.”
She encourages people to help spread awareness about childhood brain tumors because they never know when the disease could affect them.
“More awareness will hopefully evolve into more funding and eventually one day a cure,” Jennie says.
May 3, 2014
Lila Howington’s days are filled with going to kindergarten, playing soccer, riding her scooter and reading her “Fancy Nancy” books.
The healthy 6-year-old doesn’t remember the surgery, chemotherapy and stem cell transplants she encountered as an infant, says her mother, Annie.
Lila’s health battle began on a family trip from New York to North Carolina when she was 3 months old.
She became sick in the car. When her condition didn’t improve after several days, her parents took her to the emergency room. An MRI revealed a golf ball-sized brain tumor.
Feeling comforted with family close by and trusting the medical team who had helped Lila, her family chose to relocate to the Tar Heel State. “A four-day trip turned into six years,” Annie says.
Today, Lila is brain tumor-free.
“She went through something so tough,” Annie says. “She’s really lucky to be here. She’s special.”
May 15, 2015
12-year-old Lydia Mertin was diagnosed with a primitive neuroectodermal tumor in December 2014. The tumor, the size of a large plum, caused severe headaches, vomiting and a weakened right side.
Lydia and her mother, Loreli, now live two hours away from their home in Arkansas so that Lydia can receive necessary treatment. Lydia’s dad cares for her two younger siblings at home.
To get through the rough days, Loreli says that sometimes she has to “cry in the shower.” She said raising awareness about childhood brain tumors is key to one day finding a cure.
“It just doesn’t seem like there’s enough [research],” Loreli says. “You would think with something this hard to treat, there would be more resources.”
Lydia is now undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. She’s had to put aside activities she once enjoyed, like managing her school’s basketball team. But one day she hopes to make it back to school with her friends and become a cheerleader.
To make a donation in honor of Lydia and her fight, visit: