AURORA, Colo. — Gabe Santisteven is a 15-year-old brain tumor survivor. He was diagnosed with Stage IV Medulloblastoma, a cancer that affects the brain and spine, as a child.
“When I was 9-years-old, I had just started 4th grade and I had bad headaches for a long time,” said Gabe. “And finally, one day, I had a bad headache and I couldn’t stand up or anything. I couldn’t hold my balance.”
His family ended up taking him to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital where they ran a series of tests to see what was wrong. Gabe had emergency surgery to relieve the pressure in his brain and remove a portion of the tumor for biopsy. He then endured radiation every day for six weeks, as well as six months of high-dose chemotherapy.
“There was a lot of things going through my mind about the future,” said Gabe. “Not too many people know about cancer in children and how we should be noticed for these things.”
According to the American Cancer Society, childhood cancers make up less than 1% of all cancers diagnosed each year. About 11,060 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2019. Childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly for the past few decades.
“When we got that diagnosis life just stood still,” said Gabe's sister Kandace. “Cancer is not easy… it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”
Six years later, Gabe is cancer-free, but he wanted to bring awareness to childhood cancer. He asked his mom why there were no special license plates for kids with cancer, and his idea inspired his sister to get involved.
“We went out and got over 8,000 signatures, and that happened through online signatures and even Gabe going out to the grocery store and asking people, ‘Hey, I’m a cancer survivor and I really want to see these plates out, can you help us?’” said Kandace.
After more than a year of petitions, legislative hearings and votes by the Colorado Senate and House of Representatives, Governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado HB18-1255 into law on May 22, 2018.
Gabe's idea was the most recently approved Colorado special license plate - the Childhood Cancer Awareness plate.
The proceeds from the plate benefit The Morgan Adams Foundation to fund pediatric cancer research at Children’s Hospital Colorado / CU Anschutz Medical Campus and Cops Fighting Cancer to provide financial assistance to families.
“I knew there was something in him and he was going to change the world, and he’s going to continue to change the world and this license plate is only the beginning,” said Kandace.
“I’m just very proud that I was able to bring this forward and that all the money goes toward pediatric cancer research,” said Gabe.
His family says, so far, the state has registered 343 Childhood Cancer Awareness plates. They hope to get to 3,000 before July 2023 to make sure the plate doesn't get retired.
“I hope they see that kids are fighting all over Colorado and hope they can help the cause,” said Gabe.
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