Dani Brewster, RN, works as a nurse on the hematology/oncology floor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Over the years, she and her coworkers have repeatedly heard different versions of the same question: “How can you work somewhere so sad?” According to Dani, “sad” is the last word she would use to describe her job. She tells From the Bedside about one very special young man, SuperSam Santhuff. SuperSam was Dani’s neighbor before he was her patient, and his story was told throughout the second season of The Frontline for Hope.
As a child, the word “cancer” was a part of everyday life for me. My younger cousin, Dylan, fought his battle with leukemia with the utmost of determination. Although I was young and sheltered from many of the scary things he went through, I heard about these wonderful nurses and doctors who stood by his side throughout it all. They were amazing in my young eyes; almost like superheroes helping him in his battle. Little did I know how very wrong I was. Spending one day, even one hour, on a pediatric oncology floor can make one realize just who the superheroes really are.
I have learned more about life and how I should live it from these little ones than I can ever thank them for. Sam Santhuff, or Super Sam as many know him as, and his family are no exception. The Santhuff family and I were neighbors when Sam and his twin sister, Ava, were babies. We were reunited when he began treatment on our floor for Rhabdomyosarcoma. That reunion with Sam and his family would change my life forever.
Sam went through eight months filled with numerous rounds of chemotherapy, proton treatments, radiation, and six surgeries before relapsing with this monster of a disease days after they had declared him disease free. He continued his battle through more chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Sam’s battle with cancer ended September 14, 2014. But I refuse to say this young man lost his battle to cancer. In so many ways he conquered and rose above what cancer tried to drain from him. He rose above it, touched lives through it, and is now with the God he spoke so freely about… cancer free.
This is Super Sam through my eyes…
Sam, at his young age, faced the weight of cancer with the soul of someone much older than himself. His faith was miraculous. For such a young boy to be able to speak so openly about God and the place he holds in his life puts my actions of faith to shame. He didn’t speak of God as a “side note” or someone he heard about. He spoke about him with intention, as someone who he relied on to get him through the day. I struggled my whole life placing my worries in God’s hands as I was told to, but Sam, at the age of 6, has shown me how.
His sense of reasoning was astounding for such a young boy. Through pain of injections, nausea, long hospital stays or just plain crummy days, he could reason that these things had to happen for him to get better. This reasoning would be a battle for a mature adult. Through this reasoning and understanding Sam also taught me a valuable lesson as a nurse… to slow down. Sometimes the tasks of the day just consume you as a nurse. You think that the only way to get through the day is by going 60 miles a minute and doing five things at once. The more and more I took care of Sam, heard his questions, and saw the comfort a little discussion about a shot or medication could bring, I realized how much a little patience and explanation could make on a little one’s day.
Sam’s giggle was contagious. And yes… throughout all of these treatments I heard this giggle often. How amazing…He laughed in cancer’s face. With every smile and every giggle he might as well have looked at cancer and said, “You didn’t win today!” Preceding these giggles was usually a witty remark that would make everyone’s day a little brighter.
And last, but certainly not least, Sam’s heart is indescribable. I was about to give him a shot in his leg to boost his immune system cells one day when he gave me a beautiful flower he picked out himself. He wasn’t thinking of his battle… he thought of me that day. He wasn’t thinking of the battle he just had with cancer at the hospital, either, when he insisted on helping a homeless individual on his way home another day. He faced more stresses in a day than you or I could ever comprehend; yet, he took time to think of others and to love others like we all should.
Sam’s battle grew stronger and stronger but his character never changed. He continued to give out “beef cake” hugs to those who loved him even through the pain. He was more concerned about the young boy coughing in the hallway, wishing he would get better, than worrying about the results of his final PET scan. Sam was a young man mature beyond belief, full of strength, full of faith, and full of love. He was witty, quite the jokester, and could light up the room within a matter of minutes. He was brave, polite and courteous, yet impeccably strong-willed. Sam was completely selfless. I have never met another individual who challenged me more to be a better person. He challenged me to slow down and embrace each moment in my day, to find faith, to love others and put them above my own struggles, and to smile in the midst of an awful day. Sam will make me a better nurse.
The little souls that wake up each morning determined to fight, they are amazing to me. A giggle coming from the room down the hall, the sound of a motorized tractor making its rounds around the hallway, the faint drone of Mario cart on the wii, a ringing bell, these are the sounds of heroes not letting cancer win that day. I have heard too many times, “Isn’t it hard to work there?” or, “Isn’t that so sad?” To anyone who has ever asked, I am answering you with some questions of my own: Who wouldn’t want to work alongside their heroes every day? Who wouldn’t trade some hard days to have your life touched by some of the strongest, most inspiring individuals there are?
I wouldn’t trade this for the world.