What a difference a little more than five years has made for Sadie Keller of Lantana.
She’s gone from a shy 7 year old battling a rare form of cancer and recording encouraging videos about her journey in her mom’s closet to collecting toys for sick children to advocating Congress for funds to fight the disease.
Last month, she celebrated her 13th birthday and later this month becomes a first-time author with the release of “Better Angels,” a 250-page paperback published by Gavia Books.
“My whole life has changed in five years. It’s crazy to think about that,” she said. “I finished chemo May 26, 2017 so it’s been nearly three years which is crazy to think. It’s exciting to think the more time that goes by the less likely it comes back.”
Keller co-wrote the book with U.S. Representative Michael McCaul of Austin who she first met in 2016 at a cancer event in Washington, DC and again in 2017 at a lobbying event seeking more federal funds for research.
“When he was in fourth grade one of his friends passed away from cancer so he really wants to focus on childhood cancer,” Sadie said. “He started Congressional Childhood Cancer Caucus more than 10 years ago so I told him my story. He took me and my mom on a tour of the Capitol.”
“He is the reason it has gotten the attention within Washington,” said her mom, Sarah.
“Better Angels” is a heartbreaking yet heartwarming tale of what it’s like to face the possibility of death at a young age and how to turn it into a life-giving opportunity.
“It was hard because I had to relive everything in writing the book,” Sadie added. “But it was amazing because I have my story that I will never forget now.”
Sadie was first diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or ALL B Cell for short in February 2015. Over the next two years plus, she underwent an array of tests, treatments, and trips to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
After attending Harpool Middle School for her first semester in sixth grade, she switched to online learning to provide more time to write the book and launch and oversee her foundation’s work to fight childhood cancer.
Her continuing lobbying efforts were instrumental in Congress passing – and her witnessing President Trump signing in person – the STAR Act (Survivorship, Treatment, Access and Research) in 2018. She also pushed for the Creating Hope Act and RACE for Children Act, providing funding to create chemotherapies that don’t have so many lasting side effects.
She and McCaul also visited oncology kids in Botswana, Africa, in the hospital Texas Children’s Hospital built as part of its Global Hope initiative introduced by McCaul to help doctors in Africa diagnose and treat childhood cancer.
“It was exciting because it will make more of a difference for kids with childhood cancer,” Sadie said. “Surviving kids are a big part of that act because not all kids do survive.”
She said while 8 of 10 children survive cancer in the U.S., 9 of 10 die in Africa, where she and McCaul visited in February soon before things shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her book, which she said took about eight months to write, is now available for pre-order on her Facebook page at facebook.com/sadiekellerfoundation.org or can be bought at all major bookstores. A national book signing tour this May was postponed due to the pandemic. In lieu of that she is doing some virtual promotions. She also recently started a bi-weekly program known as Calling on Angels on her Facebook page.
She has continued her Sadie’s Sleigh program securing and distributing holiday gifts for children suffering from cancer in hospitals in North Texas and as far away as Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. In total, Sadie’s Sleigh has helped 18,000 children at more than 11 hospitals and distributed over 58,000 toys.
All these efforts not only help children battling cancer now, they help her promote the fact only about 4 percent of cancer research funding goes to study pediatric cancer.
“How much you live isn’t all about the years, but about the people you touch, the difference you make, and the joy you bring to others,” said Sadie.