Home > Family Stories > Erin Phillips, a beacon of inspiration against childhood cancer

Erin PhillipsFor some families in our programs, the words “believe in tomorrow” mean much more than just an organization. These words mean a friend, a family, and a caring heart – forever.

For Erin Phillips, a childhood cancer survivor and “graduate” of Believe In Tomorrow’s respite program, these words mean just that.

Erin was diagnosed in 2001 at eight years old with a type of childhood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The day was a blur; she didn’t know what cancer was, and couldn’t understand why her parents were crying as they rushed from the pediatrician’s office to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. She’d only had a few fevers in the weeks leading up to this doctor’s visit, so what could be so wrong?

While the rest of the world struggled to understand the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Phillips family struggled with their own unimaginable news, received just three days after the towers fell. “Our world just fell apart,” said Erin’s mom, Joann. But it was shortly after Erin began treatment that they could begin to believe in tomorrow.

Erin and her sister with "Mister Wayne"

Erin (left) and her sister with “Mister Wayne”

No matter the season, the Phillips family enjoyed their many Believe In Tomorrow respites during Erin’s treatment. They became best friends with program coordinator, “Mister” Wayne Littleton, each time returning as if they had just seen each other yesterday.

“It was just a little slice of heaven in the middle of all the craziness,” said Joann, reflecting on their first stay at the Believe In Tomorrow House By The Sea. “We didn’t know what to expect, and we could hardly believe it. Being able to connect with other families, all going through the same thing – you all know you’re struggling, and it almost created a bond.”

Erin was declared to be in remission in 2003, but they kept in touch. This past April, Erin was our guest speaker at the Believe In Tomorrow Gala By the Sea, delivering a powerful and inspirational speech of her memories and experience with the organization.

She spoke of how she was worried that Santa would not know where to find them during their Christmas respite, but how they woke up to a room full of toys and holiday goodies.

She also spoke of her favorite week with Believe In Tomorrow. During a wish trip, she met another boy fighting brain cancer and they became inseparable. She mentioned this to “Mister” Wayne after the trip, and the next time she and her family stayed at the Believe In Tomorrow House By The Sea, Dakoda and his family – all the way from Denver, Colorado – were there too.

“I still have a picture of the two of us on my dresser from that week,” said Erin. “It was the best week ever, and even though he passed away a few years later, our families still talk about the time we spent together.”

Visiting the apartments before the Gala, Erin said a flood of memories came back to her. From the paintings on the walls to the dolphin-themed light switches, she was taken back to her favorite childhood memories, even while fighting cancer.

Erin and her mom

Erin and her mom, Joann, at the 2014 Gala.

She is currently studying biology at Towson University with plans to graduate in 2015, and her family continues to give back in any way they can. “We were on the receiving end for so long, but we have come full circle and now want to be on the giving end,” said Joann. And we think that having Erin as an inspirational speaker about Believe In Tomorrow’s programs is an amazing way start!