'Super' Sam wins battle against rare cancer

Sam Santhuff’s mother, Cassie Santhuff, places Sam’s 13-and-a-half foot long strand of beads around his neck Friday at St. Louis Children’s Hospital among family and friends. The beads carry different meanings, each representing a moment in Sam’s battle to beat cancer.

Sam Santhuff’s mother, Cassie Santhuff, places Sam’s 13-and-a-half foot long strand of beads around his neck Friday at St. Louis Children’s Hospital among family and friends. The beads carry different meanings, each representing a moment in Sam’s battle to beat cancer. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

Sam Santhuff stepped off the elevator and onto the ninth floor of St. Louis Children’s Hospital wearing his “Super Sam” T-shirt and shiny red cape.

He walked the same steps, wearing the same outfit, many times before. But this time was different.

“Today I’m going to kick cancer’s butt,” Sam said to a cameraman there to document Sam’s last chemotherapy treatment.

Sam Santhuff, 5, of Fulton was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma — a rare form of cancer — near his nose in August 2013.

Photo gallery of Sam's last day of chemotherapy

After checking his vitals, Sam went into a room surrounded by his family, friends, hospital employees and a documentary film crew that would capture the experience.

“One, two, three,” Sam said as the medicine was injected through a port in his chest.

The moment meant so much to Sam and his family, his mother Cassie Santhuff said, but she described it with one word: freedom.

Sam — with his mother, father, Matt; twin sister, Ava; and many others who filled the hallway’s width — then walked to ring the bell to let everyone hear that his cancer battle was won.

Cassie Santhuff followed him by ringing the bell as well.

Around the same time the bell was ringing at Children’s Hospital, friends and family of the Santhuffs, were ringing bells, buzzards and other noise makers to celebrate with Sam. Five churches, including St. Peter Catholic Church and First Christian Church in Fulton, also created their sounds of victory.

Cassie Santhuff she’s continuously shocked by the support her family receives and her family is grateful for it. She added that the response is overwhelming because cancer’s touch is widespread.

“It’s really a community diagnosis, especially when it’s a kid,” Cassie Santhuff said.

Another moment of symbolism came Friday when Sam was given his 13-and-a-half foot strand of beads, each representing a moment in Sam’s journey.

Cassie Santhuff said her two favorite beads are glassy and bumpy. Bumpy beads represent times when Sam faced difficult, sometimes painful, challenges.

The glassy beads symbolize a moment in which Sam displayed an act of courage, like when he remained strong through a 12-hour surgery in the fall.

Sam has eight glassy beads.

The Santhuff’s faith has helped guide them through this trying time.

Cassie Santhuff said when Sam’s last chemotherapy treatment was scheduled earlier than expected, Ava could not contain her excitement.

“She had this moment,” Cassie Santhuff said. “And it was that God answered her prayers.”

Sam listened to what he calls his “God CD” the night before his last chemo day. The back of “Super Sam” T-shirts display the Philippians 4:13 verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“He’s walked blindly by faith,” Cassie Santhuff said.

Sam Santhuff will lead a “ringing of bells” on March 16 during the First Christian Church service. Sam and other cancer survivors will ring bells together and then the whole congregation will join.

Now, Sam will meet with oncology in order to manage side effects and will attend physical therapy on a regular basis. He will also need more reconstructive nose surgeries.

Childhood cancer will be a long-term battle for the Santhuffs. Cassie Santhuff said she’s readying the government paperwork to start a non-profit organization that would help fund research.

“While the odds are so much better for kids, they’re still not good enough,” she said.

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