Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe delivered the keynote address to graduates and their families at this year’s celebration honoring graduating high school students who have received care from our ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic and VCU Massey Cancer Center. The graduates were presented with scholarships provided by ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, the Sickle Cell Association of Richmond–OSCAR and families who have developed scholarships in honor of their loved ones who lost their battle with cancer or blood disorders.
Damiyan Chavis-Baskerville’s family celebrated more than his academic achievement when they watched him accept his scholarship. The monumental occasion also marked a new chapter in their lives, an opportunity to reflect on where they’ve been and give back.
Damiyan was diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer, when he was 8-years-old. His treatment at CHoR and Massey included two brain surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation over a period of a year and a half. Due to the rigorous treatment schedule and resulting toll on his body, he missed most of second grade and was in and out of the regular classroom throughout his third grade year.
Fighting cancer as a family
“You think it can’t happen to you, until it does,” said Damiyan’s mother, Tedra Baskerville, of her son’s cancer diagnosis and the challenges her family faced. Her mother-in-law and aunt happened to be diagnosed and going through cancer treatment at the same time.
The family rallied around Damiyan, a quiet but decidedly strong second grader, and kept a positive attitude throughout the treatment and recovery process. Dr. Gary Tye, Damiyan’s neurosurgeon, was an important source of knowledge, expertise and support for the family as they faced the road ahead.
“From the moment we went to see Dr. Tye, I felt a sense of security. I knew he was going to do everything he could to help my child,” added Mrs. Baskerville.
Beyond the medical diagnosis and treatment, challenges came in many forms. When big sister DeAndrea was struggling with kids at school teasing her and her brother, her teacher encouraged her to write about her feelings. DeAndrea’s teacher was so impressed with her narrative on bullying that she submitted the story for a children’s Nobel Prize. Though DeAndrea did not win, the experience prompted her to do something positive for others.
Showing thanks, giving back
“Dr. Tye saved my brother’s life. He stuck with us from beginning to end, so I wanted to say thank you to him. Without him, who knows where we’d be,” said DeAndrea.
After years of planning, DeAndrea decided that there was no better time to say thank you and give back than coinciding with her brother’s graduation. She raised donations online and through the sale of yellow bracelets with the phrase “Stronger Together,” signifying Damiyan’s strong support system. She used the money to create chemo care bags for Dr. Tye’s patients and others currently going through treatment. The bags include games, coloring books, gift cards, blankets and other comfort items, including personal notes of encouragement from cancer survivors and families.
DeAndrea’s long-term goal goes beyond care bags to assisting with groceries and making sure families are taken care of during a difficult season in their lives. Damiyan is immensely appreciative of sister doing this in his honor. In addition to taking college classes and continuing to work after graduation, he plans to help his sister with the bags and her future, expanded endeavors.
“This has been a vision of DeAndrea’s for a long time. She and her brother have endured a lot to get to this point,” added Mom. “This journey is part of who we are as a family. I’m so proud they’re using this life-changing experience to give back.”