Childhood cancer survivor spearheads fundraiser to give back

 By Justin Katz |

CassandraAlthough Sophomore Cassandra Honour overcame leukemia as a toddler, her life was permanently changed when doctors couldn’t diagnose her illness in 2004.

Honour’s mother searched the country and found a doctor in Cincinnati, Ohio, who was willing to do a biopsy. The case was sent out around the world, but it wouldn’t be until a year and a half later until a doctor at Michigan State diagnosed her that she finally got answers.

Honour was the fourth person in the world to be diagnosed with multicentric interosseous fibromatosis, a rare cancer affecting the bones and organs. The only other cases of the disease have been documented in fully-grown men from foreign countries. Although her illness had a name attached to it, there was still a lack of answers and this played a part in keeping Honour hospitalized for most of her childhood.

“I didn’t really have a childhood,” Honour said. “Growing up, my friends were my doctors, nurses and my mom.”

Partly because of her own struggles with cancer, Honour, along with Flagler senior Courtney Hoston, are hosting a charity dance-a-thon on Feb. 21 to raise money for a local organization out of Jacksonville, the Child Cancer Fund, that provides support to the families of children with cancer.

“The theme behind dancing is that you are dancing for people who can’t,” said Hoston.

Honour wanted to help as a way to give back to the kinds of organizations that helped her as she grew up. Due to being hospitalized so frequently, Honour enrolled in Hospital Homebound, a program that brings teachers to children who are unable to attend school due to their illness. While this gave her an education, it left other things to be desired.

“Right when I got diagnosed, I was in wheelchair so that was one thing that sets you back from your peers. Having to live in a hospital for weeks, and even months at a time, it definitely affects your social life,” Honour said. “I wasn’t really with my friends. Some of my friends didn’t even know me anymore.”

Her cancer will never be completely cured, but learning to live with the disease has been a part of Honour’s life. Shortly after being diagnosed, she began attending Boggy Creek, a camp in Eustis, Fla., providing children with serious/chronic diseases a chance to meet other children who are experiencing similar illnesses.

“I got to meet a lot of other kids with cancer and other illnesses who really understood me,” Honour said. “It really saved my life.”

Places like Camp Boggy Creek are becoming a much larger necessity. The World Health Organization estimates there are 14 million new cases of cancer each year. Of those, 13,500 are children, according to Kids V. Cancer.

IMG_0647 As proof of how much Boggy Creek helped her, Honour has a tattoo that represents the camp’s logo: safety, respect and love. She also credits her recovery to her religion with a second tattoo that displays the date she was baptized, a biblical verse she lives by — 1st Corinthians 13:3 — and the name of God in Hebrew text.

Now Honour and Hoston are focused on making their event a success. Hoston has seen charity marathons done at other larger universities and wanted to replicate it at Flagler. She believes that many other Flagler students want to give back to the community, but finding time is the challenge.

“A lot of people on campus want to give back, but might not have the time to join Phi Alpha Omega or Rotaract,” Hoston said. “[The dance-a-thon] is a short term commitment but has a lasting impact.”

Hoston, whose family has been affected by several forms of cancer, quickly teamed up with Honour who suggested to target childhood cancer. Although Honour and Hoston are responsible for organizing the dance-a-thon, their initiative has spread to other students wanting to make a difference.

Along with attending the event, sophomore Mary-Jo Lendering is taking the fundraising to another level. She has pledged to shave her head during the dance-a-thon if she received $500 of donations for the charity.

Her GoFundMe page has over 15 donations from current students, Flagler alumni, faculty and staff from the offices of career services and admissions.

Lendering, who lost her grandmother to pancreatic cancer in 2013, met Honour when she arrived at Flagler and is always amazed at the outcome of events like the dance-a-thon.


Cassandra Honour (left) and Courtney Hoston are responsible for the organization of the Dance-A-Thon to take place on February 21st.

“I’ve been to several cancer events with [Honour], and it still amazes me what certain people are doing for others,” Lendering said. “These events are special because it’s a time where they can forget that cancer even existed and enjoy themselves.”

With her financial goal of $500 achieved, Lendering is committed to shaving her head and hopes it will play a part in bringing awareness to the issue of childhood cancer.

Bringing awareness to the issue is Honour’s goal, but there is one thing she wants everyone to understand about people fighting cancer.

“Don’t let [cancer] define the person. [People] don’t ask me to go places, they don’t ask me to do things with them,” Honour said. “They just assume that I’m not going to feel up to it.”

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It’s much better to ask a person than to just assume,” Honour said. “If I say I’m not feeling up to it, then that’s OK. But don’t just exclude me from things.”

Interested in attending the Dance-A-Thon? E-mail The event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 21 from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the Virginia Room of the Ringhaver Student Center.

Want to support Mary-Jo Lendering? Vist her GoFundMe page.

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