At AEF we have a philosophy that kids, specifically cancer fighting kids, are the strongest people around. They face challenges like countless rounds of chemo, transplants, surgeries, and life changes in stride. They don’t dwell on their diagnoses but focus more on the great moments that happen in between the chemo, surgeries, and more. Sam Dorey is the epitome of a strong cancer fighting kid. Recently Sam took time to talk with AEF and share her journey of strength in the face of the ultimate adversary; cancer.
Sam was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in late October 2016. At the time she was busy playing volleyball and AAU basketball in Wenatchee, WA. Her diagnosis would take her to Seattle Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House for the next year, away from her family and friends. Reflecting on that time in her life, Sam talks about the impact on her brother and dad. Moving from Wenatchee to Seattle and remembers, “I know it was hard on my brother and dad too because they had to basically stay at home and try to go on as normal while my mom and I were isolated in Seattle.” She thought not about herself but her friends back home who didn’t understand why she left and her new friends in Seattle also battling cancer.
Over the next year of Sam’s life, she experienced many highs and lows an average teenager doesn’t go through. As a basketball fanatic since elementary school, Sam previously found solace on the court where she hoped to play professionally. During treatment, as many cancer fighting families know, physical endurance diminishes. Sam explains, “I remember the first time touching a basketball on the court outside the Ronald McDonald House when I was going through treatment. I finally felt ok enough to go outside and dribble the ball from my wheelchair. Then I tried shooting the ball, I had zero strength so I couldn't get the ball to the hoop, and that broke my heart so much. I felt so defeated and crushed.” Then Sam heard the devastating news from her doctors that her knees and ankle were too damaged with chemo and she would not be able to play competitive sports again. Sam remembers “…hearing my bones were damaged and they wouldn't get much better and that it meant no running or basketball broke my heart even more. It took me a long time to accept this news without being angry or frustrated. Every time I would try to shoot or dribble, I would just get upset.”
Sam defines that time in her life as the biggest “low” she experienced in her cancer battle. But ever the optimist, Sam quickly followed her low with a big “high.” At the end of her treatment, Sam was able to play at the same Ronald McDonald court and shoot around. Her mom recorded a moment of Sam making a basket saying, “that was for you Joe and Daddy,” to her family back home. Upon returning home to Wenatchee she decided cancer couldn’t continue to negatively impact her life and became the basketball Team Manager, going to every practice and game, and participating with the team in every way she could.
Sam talks about other highs like being able to return to Wenatchee and participating in events she previously wouldn’t have. One such event was a local parade. Sam told us, “I got to ride in our local Apple Blossom parade on a float that my family and friends had created for me just to remind me and the community of what the POWER of love, prayers, and community can do for someone. I knew in that moment how blessed I was and how grateful I was for the love I received from so many.”
AEF founder Austen talked about such moments when thinking about kids battling cancer. She wanted all kids to look at their cancer battle and think I was sick last year but look at all the cool things I got to do because of it. Those things wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten sick.
And AEF is proud to be one of those “highs” for Sam. In 2019 Sam had an Honorary Team Captain experience with her favorite team, the Seattle Storm. During her event she was able to meet all her favorite players, receive a Storm jersey, and even get personalized shoes from Shavonte Zellous. She high fived the players as they went onto the court and shot around, just as her idols do. Sam talked about the day saying, “The Storm team treated me as a role model and fighter even though it was them who I looked up to. It was so amazing how kind and loving the Storm players were with me, my brother, and family. When Jewell asked me to shoot around with her on the court (which I really had not done for a long time), I was reminded of how much I really loved the game and how I longed to be a part of it. At that time, I still did not think I would be able to play ever again but watching them and just shooting with them inspired me to be as involved with the game as possible.”
Fast forward a year later and in 2020, Sam got to see her favorite team once again but this time on International Women in Sports Day with an extra surprise. Together with Jordin Canada, Sam signed a one-day contract with the Seattle Storm to become an official player, receive her own Dorey jersey and sit down with Q13 newscast to tell her unique story. And the day was further unique with Sam’s incredible news; her bones had healed, and she would be able to once again play basketball.
After going through the biggest low she could imagine, Sam explained “God blessed me with something I've dreamed of and it was like a sign and I knew I needed to get back out on the court. I knew that this was a new journey for me, and it was going to be hard, but I'm ready for it and I'm NOT going to give up. Both my mom and dad cried with the news. But of course, they had to ask multiple doctors to make sure the news was real and that it was really going to be okay for me to play and run again. My dad contacted my basketball coach that evening to see if I could at least practice with the team that next day.”
With this news, Sam had a brand-new challenge, learning to run again and use her legs in a different way. Sam is tackling her newest task by running track and staying positive. Though she is not the fastest on the team, the fact that she is able to run again is a win for her. Each time she runs she knows she is building endurance and strength to play basketball again.
At AEF we are able to meet the so many amazing kids that inspire us on a daily basis. Our Program Director, Hanna was able to be with Sam at both of her AEF events and comments, “The first time I met Sam was at her Seattle Storm captain experience. It was very apparent how special she is. After hearing her story, I was so impressed by her positivity, ambition, and fearlessness. She was not afraid to join the Storm players on the court and show off her 3-pointers. It broke my heart to know that she would not be able to play basketball again due to the effects of her cancer treatment. The second time I had the pleasure of spending time with Sam and her family was on National Girls and Women in Sports Day where she was interviewed at Q13 News alongside Jordin Canada. That week, Sam had just received the news that she could play basketball again! I was SO excited and happy for her. Due to her work ethic, passion, and skill, I have no doubt Sam will be up to speed in no time. Sam is truly an inspiration to so many people. I cannot wait to witness all the amazing things she will go on to accomplish in life.”
Sam is a true example of incorporable strength in the face of any challenge. She took every obstacle she faced in stride. We are proud to tell her story and report that she is now training for basketball and plans to play 3on3 tournaments soon.