When Brad Zolnowsky’s daughter, Sydney, was just 14 months old, she was diagnosed with a type of soft tissue cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. The cancer was just behind her cheekbone, and the family rushed to find the best treatment options for their little girl. Brad and Sydney’s mom, Megan, took their daughter to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson and Salt Lake City’s Primary Children’s Hospital before getting her into a clinical trial at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
For nearly a year, Megan, Sydney, and her older sister, Mia, relocated to Tennessee, staying in the Target House with other St. Jude patients and families. Brad worked at 3 Creek Ranch at the time and flew back every three weeks or so to visit, coordinating his trips with Sydney’s treatments so he could be there when she needed him most. They often brought the girls to the Memphis Zoo where Sydney could see her favorite animal. “She would get excited about elephants,” Brad recalls.
Sydney had surgery and a regimen of chemotherapy that lasted for a year. She successfully finished her course of treatment in 2012. Once a year, she still travels back to the hospital for scans and check-ups.
“St. Jude patients are patients for life,” says St. Jude regional development specialist Allison Boyce, who notes patients still receive follow-up care even when they’re not in the active treatment phase.
This in-depth care is something families appreciate. “It’s not like a normal hospital,” Brad says, mentioning how the hospital looks at the health of the whole child. “They look at every aspect of a child’s well-being, from hearing to eyesight,” he says. When she was receiving treatment, Sydney took a little bit longer than usual to start walking—which was unrelated to her cancer—and the hospital had specialists work with her to help her achieve this developmental milestone.
Today, Sydney is a healthy, happy 9-year-old enrolled in the dual immersion program at Munger Mountain Elementary School. She loves hockey, basketball, and playing with her older sister, Mia, who is now 11. Thankfully, she doesn’t remember her early treatments. “We were lucky she was young—it was probably easier when she was 1,” Brad says. “She bounced right back. She’s pretty resilient.”