During her cancer treatment as a young child, Philipsburg’s Emily Whitehead and her family had one simple rule: Smile every day.
Nowadays, seven years after being declared cancer-free, 14-year-old Emily finds smiling comes a lot more naturally — especially on days like Friday, when the Emily Whitehead Foundation raised more than $49,000 at the fifth annual “Tee Off for T-Cells” charity golf tournament at the Philipsburg Elks Lodge & Country Club.
To date, the foundation has raised more than $260,000 from the golf tournament alone to help further research for childhood cancer treatments while spreading awareness.
“It means a lot because there’s so many people coming, and there’s a lot of support coming from everybody,” said a grinning Emily, who’s just starting the ninth grade. “It’s nice we’re getting this money to donate to research.”
Emily is the face of a foundation that is the result of her cancer treatment making a worldwide impact. In 2012, Emily’s doctors didn’t think anything was left to be done after she relapsed with a form of lymphoblastic leukemia and a bone-marrow transplant was no longer possible.
But she and her parents never gave up. Sometimes, Emily’s father would blow up latex gloves or turn her upside down on her hospital bed to get her to smile. Through all that, eventually, they discovered an experimental T-cell therapy treatment — in which a patient’s T cells are essentially trained to kill cancer — and the treatment was a success.
According to the foundation, Emily was the first child in the world to have her immune system trained to fight cancer. The treatment moved from clinical trials to actual treatment about two years ago.
Knowing Emily’s story, 96 golfers from around Philipsburg and Centre County showed up Friday to support the Whitehead family and their foundation — so other children can get the help that Emily did. Among those who were on-hand Friday were former Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, former Penn State wrestling champ Kerry McCoy and longtime NFL long-snapper (and one of Philipsburg’s favorite sons) in Jon Condo.
Condo and Emily’s father, Tom, started the golf tournament five years ago. And, every year, it’s grown — so that face-painting and even a bounce-house were available for children Friday.
“I’ve always said to see a smile on a kid’s face is one of the best things a grown person can see,” Condo said. “That’s everything right there. To see a smile on someone’s face that has gone through so much trial and tribulation, it’s something. ... So it was a no-brainer to team up with the Whiteheads and to help prevent and cure pediatric cancer.”
There were a lot of smiles from Emily and the Whitehead family on Friday. Looking around in the clubhouse, a few feet from a packed dining hall and an army of golf carts, the Philipsburg teen couldn’t have been happier.
“I’m really grateful because now that I’m cancer free, I can help other kids get to where I am today,” Emily added.
For more information on the Emily Whitehead Foundation, or to donate, go to emilywhiteheadfoundation.org.