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Cal's Angels rose from despair to provide a lifeline for cancer patients, families

Cal's Angels provides a lifeline for cancer patients, families
Cal's Angels provides a lifeline for cancer patients, families 03:43

Born from tragedy, a non-profit has become a lifeline for families facing the unimaginable challenge of childhood cancer.

Brooke Copeland and her family credit Cal's Angels for helping them through the most challenging times.  

She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on April 7, 2022. 

"My world just stopped; everything was hard," Brooke said.

She fought so hard through months of treatment, thinking she was on the other side of it, as her type of leukemia has a 98%t cure rate. 

Until this past summer, when an eye infection was the first clue of a devastating relapse.

"The cancer took off like wildfire," said Brooke's stepfather, Tom Chitwood. 

Brooke, now 16, was back at Lurie Children's Hospital and left with few options.

"Sometimes it was really hard; sometimes I felt like giving up, but I kept fighting," she said.

"They gave me a drug, and it worked. In two weeks, my bone marrow was cancer-free, and they had no idea how it worked; it was a miracle."

This gave the doctors a window to get Brooke strong enough for a stem cell transplant.

"We started stacking wins," said Chitwood. "That's what we started calling it."

Another colossal win came from Brooke's 13-year-old sister, Ashley. She was a perfect match and donated her stem cells. 

'She saved my life," Brooke said. 

Chitwood said: "We like to joke that her sister is no-nonsense. We joke that her sister's stem cells got into Brooke's blood cells, got in there, and said, 'You're out, you're out, you're out.' She cleaned house, and they have the same blood type now."

Cal's Angels was there each step of the way, granting Brooke wishes, connecting her with fellow warriors, and supporting her family.

 Stacey Wahlberg started Cal's Angels with the help of a family after losing her stepson, Cal Sutter, to leukemia at the age of 13.  

"We grant wishes, we raise awareness, and we fund research for children fighting cancer," said Wahlberg. 

"The most helpful piece is they connected my wife and me with other families with kids in our areas," said Chitwood. "There are four in our town alone in Geneva. When they do things like that, you know they are thinking about you. You are not alone; there is a whole organization saying, 'How can we make their lives a little bit easier today?'"

"It's really hard work dealing with the potential loss of life on a daily basis," said Wahlberg. "I have crawled into hospital beds. I have hugged way too many parents beside caskets. It's wrong on so many levels, and we can do better."

Brooke is doing great, building weight and strength, and recently celebrated the 100-day mark since her transplant.

"When you add all that up, Brooke's story is amazing," said Chitwood. "She really is a miracle, and we are not afraid to talk about it. We want people to know that what they do, people like Cal's Angels, makes a world of difference."

Cal's Angels is holding a fund-raiser gala this Saturday. To purchase tickets or to donate, click here. 

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