Luke McQuillan understands all too well what it’s like to be a kid with cancer. The first clues that something was seriously wrong began when he was just eight years old and about to start third grade. There was an “out of the blue” bad fall while playing with his sister followed by more bouts of lost balance, blurred vision and unrelenting nausea.
The now seventeen-year-old Greenwich High School junior was soon diagnosed with medulloblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The diagnosis resulted in Luke receiving life-saving treatments at Yale Children’s Hospital, Smilow Cancer Center.
“In some ways, as bad as it was, I was lucky,” says Luke of his year- long treatments, which included cancer surgery and chemotherapy at Yale as well as radiation treatments at Mass General Hospital. “I was young enough that I didn’t completely get how serious it was.”
Now cancer-free and in the early stages of his college search, Luke has spent the past five years working to lighten the burdens of other kids receiving cancer treatment at the place that saved his life. “I wanted to give back because of all the things my doctors and nurses did for me,” he explains. To date, Luke has raised more than $121,000 for the pediatric oncology program at Yale, targeting his philanthropy toward gifts and programs that benefit teenage cancer patients.
“I feel like they get a bit forgotten,” he says of his decision to focus his grassroots fundraising efforts on initiatives that benefit adolescents. “The younger [cancer patients] get a lot of toys and gifts, but kids my age are impacted by cancer in a different way.”
Tapping into the extensive personal networks of his parents, Meg and Thomas, Luke used social media and speeches at his family’s parish, St. Catherine of Siena in Riverside, and his mom’s office at Sotheby’s International Realty to galvanize financial support. He also did his asking within the school communities at Greenwich High and his alma maters of Riverside Elementary and Eastern Middle schools to great success.
When he started fundraising, Luke focused on purchasing things that hospitalized teens might like to use to pass treatment time like art supplies and later, virtual reality goggles. “The thing I remember most about being at the hospital was that whenever I was there—as nice as everyone was—I just wanted to get home,” he says. “So I wanted to help by doing things that would make being there easier.”
His most recent contributions have gone toward supporting PRISM, an app-based program launched at Seattle Children’s Hospital that provides mental health and stress management support to teenage and young-adult cancer patients. He has raised enough money to fund the program for two years.
“They are coping with so much stress. And it’s not just the stress of, ‘I could lose my life,’” says Luke. “They are cut off from their friends, their activities. They are losing a really important time in their life to cancer, and it takes an emotional as well as physical toll.”
Luke’s pediatric oncologist, Dr. Asher Marks, said the hospital is grateful to the entire McQuillan family for their enduring support. “Over the past five years, Luke’s remarkable efforts to support our adolescent and young adult population have greatly contributed to the psychosocial care of these often overlooked patients,” said Marks, the director of pediatric neuro-oncology at Yale School of Medicine. “In launching the PRISM program, we are thrilled to further promote resilience in stress management for these patients.”
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