From Ivanka: This week the Eric Trump Foundation hosted its ninth annual Golf Invitational and Auction Dinner at Trump National Golf Club in Westchester. I’m so proud of my brother’s organization, and I look forward to this opportunity to support it every year. ETF is dedicated to fundraising for St. Jude Children’s Research hospital through events and other initiatives. The hospital has committed to accepting every single child that requests their care, and costs a million dollars to run—each day.
The cause was perhaps driven home most effectively this year, when the keynote speech was delivered by Maggie Cupit, a former patient at St. Jude’s, who’s now studying to become a pediatric oncologist herself. Read her entire speech below. The entire audience had chills as we listened to the testimony of this brave, intelligent young woman.
ETF is incredibly effective in the work they do to support the hospital. This foundation is a passion project for my brother and he works tirelessly to maintain an unbelievably low expense ratio. Because his overhead costs are so low, the organization is able to donate almost all of its profits to St. Jude. The Trump Organization, my family and many of our friends generously donate their resources and time to make that possible. Trump National Golf Club, Westchester donated the use of their facilities for the event.
This event in particular was ETF’s largest fundraiser of the year—they raised $1.7 million, all of which will go to the building of the most technologically advanced Intensive Care Unit and Surgery Center, dedicated solely to children, in the world. The day started with breakfast at the club, and then it was time to tee off. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play in the tournament (I love putting my competitive streak to use for a good cause!), but I made it out to the club in time to watch a performance by comedian Gilbert Gottfried and participate in the auction dinner, hosted by Elvis Duran. It’s such a fun day and, more than anything, it’s inspiring to see so many people come together for such an amazing cause.
From Maggie: Can you remember the worst moment of your life? Are you able to pick just one, that stands out from the rest?
May 6, 2010, was a Thursday. It was a hot, sticky day in Southern Mississippi, and I had just returned from my exciting freshman year at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. I was home for the summer, but not planning on being home for long. I’d been selected to complete a research fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. It would be my first time doing scientific research, and it was going to be on childhood cancer at a famous hospital. As a pre-med student, I couldn’t think of many things more exciting than that. But before I returned to Memphis, I had an appointment with an orthopedist to get some MRI results from an inconvenient reoccurring pain in my right leg. I assumed there was a cartilage tear from all the dancing at college parties. I was wrong.
I remember when the doctor walked into the room. For once, my eager smile was not reciprocated. He didn’t make eye contact. He sat down on a stool. I wondered if this meant that I needed surgery, that I was not going to get to do my research project. I broke the silence—“What is it?” I asked.
He mumbled something about abnormal tissue. I didn’t like the sound of that, and I wanted to eliminate the worst-case scenario as quickly as possible, so I a blurted out “Is it cancer?” I expected a strong “no” or even a laugh—it was impossible for the answer to be yes.
But then it happened. The worst moment of my life. A few seconds of silence as he stared at the ground. And then he gave a small, shaky nod.
The rest of the day was a blur. I waited for my mom to leave work and get to the doctor’s office. I focused on trying not to throw up. I kept trying to wake up from what had to be a nightmare. I saw my mother weep like a baby for the first time in my life, the entire drive home from the clinic. I was too afraid to cry.
It was Ewing’s Sarcoma, a childhood bone cancer that occurs most often in teenage boys. It was not common or predictable or even medically explicable. I was one in two million. I was simply one of the unlucky ones. At the time, that was all I thought I was—unlucky.
From May of 2010 to May of 2011, I took a leave of absence from college and spent an entire year at St. Jude being treated for my cancer. My mom and sister picked up their lives to fight with me.
There were many moments from that year that I would rather not remember. The 15 cycles of chemotherapy, all five days long, spent inpatient because I was dry heaving the entire time. The potty chair next to my hospital bed that I was required to get up and use every two hours so that the toxic chemo didn’t destroy my kidneys and bladder. The way it felt like ants were crawling down my throat for days after chemotherapy sessions. The limb-sparing surgery that removed my tibia and knee and replaced them with titanium, and the daily painstaking physical therapy that followed just so I could learn to walk again. Being told I would always have a limp and never be able to wear high heels. The way my friends in college just down the road moved on with their lives while mine was put on pause. The realization that my dreams of returning to college and getting into to medical school might never become a reality because even if I did survive I might never regain my strength or mental capacity. The leg infection that made me septic and required me to have another leg surgery and start physical therapy all over again. Being told that a friend from St. Jude had relapsed—or worse, being told that a St. Jude friend had died. There were moments that year that made me feel like surviving wasn’t worth it, moments so miserable that I considered giving up.
So how did I make it? How am I standing here today? I attribute my survival to two things that made me want to live. One is my family. My mom took off a year of work and left home to live with me and take care of me. She did everything for me, from feeding me to pushing me in my wheelchair, to bathing me when I was too weak to do it myself. My little sister uprooted her life and was homeschooled her 8th grade year just so she could be with me, too, just as she was becoming a teenager. She knew better than anyone how to annoy me, but also better than anyone how to make me laugh.
The other thing that gave me strength—that gave my entire family strength—is surprising and intangible, difficult to articulate and impossible to fully understand unless you experience it. My biggest source of strength was and continues to be the magic that is found inside of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
It is difficult to explain the magic of St. Jude in words, but you, of all people, deserve my best attempt. Close your eyes and picture what it must have felt like, to be so sick during the point in your life that you thought was going to be the best, not the worst. And everywhere around you, there are children—babies, even—with the same awful disease taking the same awful medications that kill part of them in order to save the rest. But even in spite of this, every single employee you meet, from your own doctors and nurses to the chef in Kay Café to the lady in the gift shop, is full of joy, hope and gratitude. No, not sadness or despair or anger at such an unfair universe, but joy. And it’s incredibly contagious. How does this make sense? The St. Jude mission is to save children’s lives, to give them another chance at survival, yes. But it is much more than that. The St. Jude mission is to make each moment left in life count, based on an understanding that life is too short and fragile and delicate and full of chance to waste a second. This applies to every patient, whether his or her prognosis is promising or grave. And because these goals surpass all others at St. Jude, and because everyone at St. Jude understands this, St. Jude is completely different from anywhere else in the world. And it becomes a place with no barriers of race or social class or language, a place where different religions pray together because they realize we are all equally in need of god, a place where money no longer means anything and love and family mean everything. It becomes a place that changes a person forever.
I cannot say for certain that had I received treatment elsewhere I would not have had the same medical outcome. After all, the medical knowledge that St. Jude pioneered for the treatment of Ewing’s Sarcoma is freely shared with the medical community. I can say for certain, though, that had I been treated anywhere but St. Jude, my family would be in medical debt for the rest of my life, and I would have lost much more than my hair and my tibia. I would have lost my spirit, my joy, and my hope. These are the things St. Jude let me hold onto, despite the awful circumstances I had found myself in. And as a result, on the days I felt like I couldn’t go on any longer, St. Jude found a way to put the life back into me.
Because of this, my year of cancer treatment, though it did have its downs, also had a lot of ups. When it was time to leave, I may have lost my leg bones and my hair, lots of weight, and a year of college, but I had also gained a lot of things.
I gained courage, strength, hope, inspiration, optimism, understanding and faith. I gained countless new role models and many dear friends; some of them I got to see recover, and a few who I had to see leave this world behind with grace and true strength. I gained a career goal and a renewed passion for life. But the biggest thing that I walked away with was an overwhelming understanding of and sense of gratitude. I am grateful to God, grateful to my family, grateful to St. Jude, and grateful to you—you, the reason that this magical place not only continues to function but also continues to grow.
In May of 2011, I was declared cancer free. I returned to Rhodes College in August of 2011 and began my research project in a lab at St. Jude. After completing it, I completed two other research projects at St. Jude. Just months after returning to school, a boy named Drew noticed me because of my unique and very short haircut, and we began falling in love. I was able to stay in touch with all of my St. Jude family during the duration of my college days, and I graduated from Rhodes College in May of 2014. My oncologists, nurses, and other members of my St. Jude care team came to my graduation party. I have been cancer-free for over four years, and we do not expect my cancer to return.
I am now a second-year medical student at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, in the class of 2018. I have published a book about how my time at St. Jude impacted my faith and my life, I am the President of my class, and I’m heavily involved in pediatric oncology research. I plan to pursue a career in pediatric oncology. My goal is to one day be to another kid or teenager what St. Jude was—and still is— to me.
I wish that I could do something bigger, something more concrete to show you how much St. Jude means to me and how much it impacted my life. But believe me when I say that the things I learned at this hospital will stay with me for the rest of my life. I will never be the same. I will always live more joyfully, hope more wholeheartedly, pray more faithfully, give more generously, forgive more willingly, accept life more gracefully and love more deeply, thanks to St. Jude.
To the Eric Trump Foundation and every person in this room: Thank you. Thank you for believing in miracles, for believing in finding cures and saving children. Thank you for believing in young people like me when most of the world refuses to hold onto hope. Thank you for continuing to support St. Jude, for keeping it alive, and for making your efforts bigger and better as time goes on. It is because of your support that St. Jude is able to not only save lives, but change them forever.
Can you remember the best moment of your life? Are you able to pick just one moment, separate from the rest of your life, that stands out?
The day I was officially declared cancer free. My no mo chemo karaoke party. The trip to Hawaii with my mom. The day my best friend in college, Rachel, became my sorority little sister. My first date with Drew. Being on the homecoming court at Rhodes. Getting accepted to medical school. My college graduation party with all my St. Jude doctors. Taking the Hippocratic Oath in medical school. This last Christmas day, when Drew asked me to marry him. The email that said my scientific article had been accepted to be published. The first time I went to Europe. Spending this past weekend in New York City with my mom.
I can’t remember the best moment of my life, because there have been so many. And because of St. Jude, there are so many more in my future.