You might recall the Sidler Family from Family Hour at THON 2014 this past weekend. When their son, Eli, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma in September of 2004, his father Bret gave him the nickname “Chemowarrior.” The nickname initially represented a badge of honor for the hardship he endured through his battle with cancer, but it has since empowered a story of its own to develop far beyond expectations.
“Eli did not consider himself to be any braver than anyone else, but that first year of treatment was very hard on him and he rarely complained or asked ‘Why me?,'” said his mother, Sue Sidler. “He took it all in stride, including his relapses and many other treatments and surgeries.”
The Sidler’s signed up for the Four Diamonds Fund’s Adopt-a-Family program shortly after Eli was diagnosed and were paired with the Penn State Club Field Hockey team. During their speech at THON, the family emphasized their appreciation for times when the Four Diamonds Fund paid for expensive prescriptions they could not afford. Of course, financial support was just one of many benefits that would emerge from the ensuing partnership with THON and Club Field Hockey.
The program, which is designed to allow “organizations and Four Diamonds families to build strong relationships,” has become a privilege to take part in for those within the THON community. Eli attended his first THON with Club Field Hockey in 2005 and attended every year thereafter until 2012, the year of his unfortunate passing, at age 16. His parents cited both the personal bond Eli built with the girls on the team as well as the attention they gave him as memorable landmarks throughout his journey as as THON child.
That same attention has shifted to the Sidler family since Eli’s passing. “Throughout the years, the team stayed in touch with us, coming to visit and sending notes and presents,” Sue said. “As the members graduated, some stayed in touch and we now have alumni living all across the country.”
Current members of the Club Field Hockey team enjoy their relationship with the Sidler’s as well. “We are so lucky to have formed relationships with Eli, Bret, and Sue,” said Arianna Gianakopoulos, one of Club Field Hockey’s dancers this year. “They have faced such hardship, and Bret and Sue could have easily removed themselves from THON once Eli passed. Instead, they continued to come back to Penn State to support our team and share their story.”
A Way to Raise Awareness
Following Eli’s death, Bret went on a road trip later that summer and brought along Chemowarrior bumper stickers to “tag” across the country in remembrance of Eli’s life. Following the trip, Bret distributed the stickers to people he knew to further spread the message, which of course included the Club Field Hockey team. Since that road trip in the Summer of 2012, stickers have been placed in 20 states and 14 countries around the world and an instagram account (run by Club Field Hockey alumnus Alex Garger) has even been created to showcase locations of the stickers.
“I think the Chemowarrior sticker tagging kind of embodies the fact that we can take a little piece of Eli with us on our journeys, keep him in hearts and minds, and show him the world he didn’t get to see,” said Meredith Miller, Club Field Hockey’s other THON dancer. “20 states, 14 countries — the kid is really making moves.”
In addition to its mainstay at the Jordan Center, the sticker was seen this past weekend as far away as Florence, Italy. Members of the team studying abroad there this semester represented the Chemowarrior from a cafe where they went to watch the THON livestream. For those watching, the entire place went quiet when Bret and Sue spoke during family hour and by the time they finished, everyone had tears in their eyes. “That’s just amazing that half way around the world, people are hearing about Eli and his life,” Miller said.
A Foundation For The Future
Following such an outpour of support, the Sidler’s started a foundation in Eli’s honor to research improved treatments for Ewing’s Sarcoma. “CHEMOWARRIOR: The Eli Sidler Foundation,” as it is called, will be dedicated to increasing awareness and raising money to fund research into the cause and treatment of the disease. The family has formed a board of directors for the foundation, written bylaws, and designed a logo, which should look familiar for those who have seen the stickers. Currently, they are awaiting IRS approval for 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit foundation, which they hope to have by April.
The family is planning on officially launching the Foundation on April 11, the date which would have been Eli’s 18th birthday. They also plan on naming this April 11 the first annual “Chemowarrior Day,” and with the help of Club Field Hockey’s players and alumni, they look to complete the start of the project through a social media blitz and the launch of their website. As for the bumper stickers, Club Field Hockey has already started to sell them for $1 each to benefit the foundation.
The Sidler’s believe that private money will make a difference in battling the disease due to its rarity and lack of both government and cancer agency funding. They are already working with others in the Ewing’s community to identify research that is committed to bringing new treatments to patients via clinical trials within the next 12 to 18 months. They also plan on reaching out to corporations and other benefactors for donations.
More than anything else, Club Field Hockey will always hold a special place in the Sidler’s hearts. As Bret said Sunday, “They got to know us and they carry Eli in their hearts, so his story will go on and he will not be forgotten. We consider them family.”