Young cancer patient experiences ‘life in the major leagues’

George is seen here during his big day with the Phillies with Adonis Medina, a highly prized pitching prospect.

Thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies and Kisses for Kyle, an organization that provides special experiences and financial assistance to families battling childhood cancer, 11-year-old George Hamlin and his family were one of six families invited to experience life in the Major Leagues with 13 Phillies prospects including first baseman/outfielder Austin Listi, the recipient of the 2018 Paul Owens Award, pitcher Adonis Medina, catcher Deivi Grullon and pitcher Kyle Dohy.

Children and their family members participated in several activities including batting practice in the Phillies batting cages, arts and crafts and miniature golf in the event at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies play their home games.

Hamlin, of Oreland, was diagnosed with an ependymoma tumor in the brain in July 2018. That is a rare tumor of the brain or spinal cord that can occur in both adults and children. Ependymomas are the third most common form of childhood brain and spine tumors. “I had a great night and really enjoyed talking with the teammates, who were really nice,” said the sixth grader at Sandy Run Middle School in Upper Dublin Township.

He said it was “really cool” that the Phillies provided this opportunity for families who were being helped by Kisses for Kyle. George’s 5-year-old brother, Edison, said he loved hitting the baseball and playing games with the players. Crystale Hamlin, George and Edison’s mother, said the event was a great way to celebrate being cancer-free.

In a telephone interview after the event, George’s mother recalled how she decided to drive her son to Holy Redeemer Hospital on July 5 after he had been vomiting on and off for a couple of days. Shortly thereafter, doctors sent him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We got there around 11 p.m., and he was in for surgery by 2 p.m. the next day,” she said.

According to Hamlin, George’s tumor was almost “a quarter of the size of his brain.” She said doctors were able to remove the entire tumor during surgery. “Luckily, it [the tumor] did not travel down his spine. He was able to receive proton therapy or radiation at Penn. George had 33 treatments there Monday through Friday for seven weeks, and he ended his radiation at the end of September 2018.”

Hamlin said the type of tumor George had has a regeneration rate of 10 to 15 years, so he will have to have CAT scans done every three months. “He will have to be monitored pretty closely forever, but so far he is doing great, and he didn’t miss a day of school. This is his first year of middle school. During radiation, he and his friends walked to school every day, which is pretty amazing, and he got all A ’s for his first semester. He is just an amazing child.”

Despite experiencing fatigue, some vomiting and abdominal pain due to side effects of the radiation, his mother said George never really complained. “He handled it really well,” the single mom said. “Of course, there were a whole bunch of side effects that they tell you could happen from the radiation. They said he could lose his hearing in his left ear, but we went down to CHOP for testing, and his hearing was above average. So, we were super, super lucky.”

When asked about her support system, Crystale replied that the whole community helped them. Members of the community started a meal train; teachers came to visit; the principal from his elementary school called, and friends and family would try to go to treatment with the family. “We never stopped. I don’t think there was time to ever feel bad,” she said. “I don’t think I ever felt ‘Why us?’ or ‘Why me?’ I asked George, ‘Are you scared? Are you afraid of this?’ and he replied, ‘No, mom, I just have to get it done.’ I don’t think being in the hospital scared him.

“It’s hard as an adult to see your child sick, but I just focused on being a cheerleader. I had a girlfriend contact the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, D.C., because George LOVES panda bears. The Smithsonian arranged for us to have a private tour of a panda sanctuary, so that was something to look forward to. CHOP also gave us tickets to the Eagles games. We were in the front row on the 50-yard line, and we had sideline passes, which was amazing. Those kinds of opportunities don’t just happen every day. I also think the staff at CHOP and his oncology doctors were amazing.

“We are very fortunate to live where we do in the country to have access to CHOP and Penn because people travel from all over the country to receive care here. Penn is one of only three hospitals on the East Coast that has a proton machine, so that was amazing in itself.”

Last fall, George attended Kisses for Kyle’s annual Ladybug Bowl, a party that the foundation throws for children battling cancer and their families to dance and socialize. Crystale said it was great for him to meet other children who have been affected by cancer. She recalled how George had received 30 balloons from two of her bosses after his surgery, and he walked around to every room on the oncology floor and gave away the balloons to the other children.

Sharon Snyder, president for Kisses for Kyle Foundation in Willow Grove, started the foundation in April, 2001, in memory of her son Kyle, who died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Oct. 15, 1998, at the age of two years and seven months.

“My son battled leukemia for eight months,” she said. “While the child is battling the illness, everyone is affected, the siblings, the parents, their immediate family surrounding them. It takes a toll on them physically and emotionally. You are pretty much running on adrenaline, but once the dust settles, that’s when everything else comes flooding in.”

She said 2018 was the foundation’s biggest year yet. Kisses for Kyle helped 300 families with roughly 20 different programs and services. Kisses for Kyle provides financial assistance to help with bills, including rent and mortgage payments, car payments, utility bills, travel expenses, wigs and food. In addition, they help cover funeral expenses as needed.

For more information, visit kissesforkyle.org.