AKRON, Ohio — They did it!
Kemery Kerschner, Madison Lehman, Morgan Loudon and Katelynn "Boo" Magyar all graduated from High School this month. It's a definite milestone, but these lifelong friends have passed many these last few years.
"I felt like I had been through so much and that I'd experienced and learned so much by the time I was eighteen, High School almost felt so small," says West Branch High School graduate, Morgan Loudon of Beloit.
Morgan was diagnosed at age eight with Rhabdomyosarcoma near her left kidney. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children.
She’s going to Ohio State University and plans to become a pediatric sports medicine doctor.
Kemery Kerschner graduated from Ashland High School and is going to Davenport University. Her dream is to become a Child Life Specialist in honor of the one who cared for her at Akron Children’s Hospital.
She battled Wilms tumor or nephroblastoma. The most common type of kidney cancer in children.
"I'm a two time cancer survivor and I'm going to this super great college for cheer and stunt and it's something that not a lot of kids that go through what we went through get to do,” she said.
The four met when they were kids, each fighting cancer at Akron Children's Hospital, all learning life lessons far too young.
Tyjanna Lehman, Madison's mom, says watching her daughter graduate is bittersweet because she knows there are other parents who won’t get to see this moment.
"No kid should ever have to deal with another child passing away, and unfortunately they all know several," Tyjanna said.
The girls have never forgotten those who should be graduating with them.
“It's almost like I was like carrying the people that couldn't be there with us with me so they could go through it too," says Crestview High School graduate, Madison Lehman.
Madison was diagnosed at age four with Burkitt lymphoma. It’s a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that is fast growing and potentially fatal if left untreated. https://lymphoma.org/aboutlymphoma/nhl/burkitt/
She’s going to Ashland University to study Life Sciences and perhaps one day become a science teacher.
The four admit fighting, surviving, and thriving wasn’t an easy journey. Often, they dealt with depression and anxiety.
"It's hard being a kid and having those flashbacks and especially dealing with survivor's guilt," says Kemery.
Laura Gerak, Ph.D., is a pediatric psychologist who focuses on oncology patients at Akron Children’s Hospital. She remembers the four fondly and helped them cope when they were young.
"I’m just blown away by how wise they are and their ability to talk about where they are and push themselves through this," she said.
The four forged friendship, like no other.
"I was always jealous of the kids that actually got to go to school when we couldn't, so it was always nice to meet the kids in the hospital and at camps and to know we weren't going through things alone," says Norwayne High School graduate, Katelynn “Boo” Magyar.
She was diagnosed at age four with lymphoblastic leukemia,
cancer of the bone marrow and blood. She’ll attend the College of Wooster and intends to become a pediatric oncologist.
Their bond has only become stronger as the years passed and while they may not be able to see each other as often as they like, they keep in touch virtually and with calls and texts.
Each is also a medical pioneer having participated in clinical trials dealing with their diagnosis. Research is ongoing into all facets of patient care.
"We're learning more about the impact of stress, the social determinants of health and how that impacts the long term outcomes of not only surviving your disease but how you thrive afterwards," said Dr. Jeffrey Hord, Akron Children’s Hospital Director of hematology-oncology.
The four feel like old souls, much wiser than their age and seemingly more prepared for the future.
Their parents say their kids have been teaching them how to get through life.
“Attitude, she always had a positive attitude,” says John Magyar, “Boo’s” dad.
Kemery’s dad, Toby, couldn’t agree more. "The truth is, we got our strength from her, I mean when you're that young and still keeping that positive attitude, it's infectious," he said.
The graduates say the wisdom, came from the hospital, not high school. What do they hope to teach others?
“You should be compassionate in all situations,” Morgan said.
"You need to be understanding, you don't know people's stories, if they're rude to you, maybe they had a bad day," Madison said.
"Don't take any day for granted because you never know when you won't have the next day so you need to live life to the fullest," “Boo” said.
"You’ll have your true friends obviously for the rest of your life and they’ll love you for whoever you are, whatever you've been through," Kemery added.
Congratulations to this inspiring class of 2022.