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Because of Joseph

Joseph Lee was known for being tenacious and funny. Even when circumstances in his life seemed to conspire against him, he always maintained hope, faith, and his sense of humor.

When he was twelve years old, a bump on his forearm caused Joseph’s parents to seek medical attention. Initially, his doctor thought it was a cyst of some kind. But his parents sought a second opinion which later revealed a diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma – a type of cancer that affects muscle tissue.

Initially, his doctors recommended surgery to amputate Joseph’s arm. But surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation worked to eliminate the tumor. Joseph celebrated clean scans for several years. He also celebrated life in special ways.

“Joseph was my only sibling, and we were very close,” said his sister, Rachel. “During his cancer journey, he taught me to be grateful for life’s little things. He had such a kind spirit and loved to encourage others because of the unique perspective cancer gave him.”

Joseph inspired others with his motto, “keep fighting… and living – as normally as you possibly can.” After treatment ended, Joseph demonstrated his tenacity on the football field as a running back. He worked hard to graduate high school and was accepted into the University of Georgia. But cancer had other plans. Joseph’s cancer returned and spread to the lymph nodes of his left arm.

After he beat cancer again, Joseph went on to study criminology at UGA, walk on the football team, and later work in the Cobb County Police Department. In 2018, he was working as a government contractor in Kuwait when his cancer came back again and forced him to return home.

“He declined rapidly when he got home,” Rachel recalled. “One day he was having trouble speaking but called my name clearly as I was leaving his room. When I turned around, he held up praying hands and bowed his head as a gesture of thanks. That made me feel a special peace, and I knew he felt peaceful, too.”

Joseph Lee passed away on May 9, 2018, at the age of 29. His family has been involved with CURE in many ways over the years, but Rachel went a step further in 2020 by joining the Young Professional Leadership Council. The YPLC is a group of dynamic and emerging leaders in the Atlanta community with a passion for and commitment to advancing CURE’s mission. Rachel hopes to combine her experience as a Digital Transformation Privacy Program Manager at Chick-fil-A and her passion for fighting childhood cancer to help provide better options to children with cancer.

“I am impressed with the work CURE has done to achieve better treatments for kids,” she said. “But there is a long way to go, and I hope together we can raise money for research that will make a difference.”

Giving Back

Andy and Jana Dufresne didn’t feel like they belonged in the emergency room. On that chilly December evening, the hospital was packed with children who were obviously sick while their son, Watson, only had a rash and a low-grade fever. But their pediatrician had sent them, and so they waited their turn to be seen. The news that soon came their way was shocking.

“The nurse drew blood from Watson, and an hour later the doctor came back with a diagnosis of leukemia!” Andy recalled. “Watson’s symptoms were so mild that we never even considered cancer. But there we were discussing treatments and outcomes. What we thought was a rash were actually tiny bruises.”

Watson had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common childhood cancer and the most treatable. Since it was a Friday when he was diagnosed, Watson was scheduled for port placement surgery the following Monday morning. That day would also start a chemotherapy regimen that would last more than three years. For young parents, it was a daunting prospect.

“We started to doubt ourselves as parents,” Andy said. “We wondered if there was something in our house or if we had done something to bring this on.”

Andy and Jana felt compelled to enroll Watson in a study that would compare the standard treatment to a more aggressive one. Their hope was that doctors could learn ways to improve outcomes for children yet to be diagnosed. Watson was randomized into the standard group, and he took the physical brunt of treatment while his parents struggled with the emotional side of it.

“We had great family support and were embraced by organizations like CURE which are there to help,” Andy shared. “But it was difficult to watch him go through so much. Watson wasn’t able to leave the house for the first nine months, and his treatment totally dominated his life. In fact, when his brother was born, Watson asked what was wrong with him because his brother didn’t have a port.”

It has been ten years since that fateful day in the hospital, and Watson is doing great. His family stayed away from things related to cancer for a time but began to feel they have a responsibility to other children and families facing childhood cancer. Through various efforts, they began fundraising for CURE and recently found a new way to engage.

“We love that CURE is focused on children and balances their efforts between funding research to eradicate cancer and caring for families,” Andy said. “I happened to be on the website and saw the page about the Young Professional Leadership Council. I thought it looked like the perfect thing for me.”

The Young Professional Leadership Council (YPLC) is a group of dynamic and emerging leaders in the Atlanta community with a passion for advancing CURE’s mission. Council members meet monthly and support CURE through various volunteer opportunities and their annual fundraising event, Spring Fever.

“I never want to lose sight of what Watson went through,” Andy said. “The YPLC allows me to work with like-minded individuals who are socially-active and charitable. I feel obligated to help based on our experience, but the YPLC lets me serve out of a passion for the cause.”

Andy has recently joined CURE’s Board of Directors and we appreciate his dedication and willingness to serve in that capacity.

Avery’s Back

Following eight years away from the childhood cancer community, Avery is back and committed to assisting CURE’s Young Professional Leadership Council (YPLC) fundraise to advance CURE’s mission.

Diagnosed with ALL (leukemia) as an eleven-year-old, during the spring of her fifth grade year, Avery underwent treatment from 2005-2007. During this time, she saw CURE in the hospital serving meals, providing support, and serving as a beacon of hope through its staff as they worked to defeat childhood cancer.

Essentially causing her to miss all of middle school, Avery’s treatment was the standard protocol at the time and consumed her sixth through eighth grade years.

“I am blessed and grateful to be eleven years off treatment without lasting side effects,” Avery said.

While on treatment, however, Avery experienced a few rather rare side effects as a result of her chemotherapy. The most frightening of these was a series of mini-strokes during the most intense phase of her treatment that caused partial paralysis and a day without sight. Another side effect involved an allergic reaction to a chemo which resulted in her doctors shipping an antidote overnight from Washington D.C.

For Avery, treatment was a fact of life that, as far as she could help, didn’t stop her from being involved with CURE, making friends in the hospital and at Camp Sunshine, and trying (when she could) to be a normal kid. Of course she wasn’t a normal kid going to school. Instead she went to clinic appointments and wore a bandana on her head for almost three years. Her goal, however daunting her circumstances, was to instill hope and happiness where she could and advocate for future change through research in the field of pediatric oncology.

Fully re-entering school in ninth grade, Avery’s outlook was dimmed through personal experiences with loss over the next two years. She describes “the loss of her two closest friends and three great friends she’d met during treatment to relapses and complications” as “the hardest test” she’s had to face. Rather than catch up on what she might have missed in middle school, Avery remembers her first two years in high school as ones filled with funerals, grief, and the resulting emotional scars that come with losing friends.

Following the last, but most significant loss, of one of her closest friends in November 2010, Avery made the choice to get away from the childhood cancer community as much as she could. This included no longer attending or speaking at CURE events throughout Atlanta and no longer attending Camp Sunshine. Avery decided to attend Columbia University in New York and spent six years away from Atlanta both interning during the summers and being a full-time student. Receiving her BA in Art History in 2016 from Columbia and her MA in Art History in 2018 from the Bard Graduate Center, Avery took the time she needed to grow into the young woman she is today and heal from the wounds she had accrued.

“I always knew I’d be back,” Avery said. “I needed time to accept, process, and recover at my own pace from my experiences,”

Energized and ready to work, Avery chose CURE as her first avenue to give back as the organization was a vital support network to her and her family throughout and following her treatment.

Avery and other members of CURE’s YPLC invites you to join them at an exciting event called Spring Fever on March 22. Held at the Stave Room at American Spirit Whiskey, this night promises fun for all. Tickets are  $75 and include a full open bar, signature cocktails, unlimited food tastings, live music, interactive games, a silent auction… all while supporting CURE Childhood Cancer! Get your tickets today at