Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Georgia Bulletin

Class of 2015: Overcoming leukemia leads BT senior to pediatric oncology

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 30, 2015

Following an annual tradition, The Georgia Bulletin has taken the opportunity to shine the spotlight on some of the extraordinary high school seniors who grace our Catholic schools in the area.

Leaders at the seven Catholic high schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese were asked to nominate a graduating student they believe represents a role model for their students—a student who symbolizes the drive and faith and compassion of the student body—someone that the faculty watched grow from a wide-eyed freshman to a confident leader.

Among these profiles are a senior who teaches a special needs student to ice skate, a teen who started a charity for children struggling with cancer, and a French-speaking immigrant who began her school career answering all questions with a yes or a no without understanding the question. These profiles and all of the others illuminate an attribute of perseverance.

As these young people and all their classmates step toward the future in the next weeks, we wish them well. We are proud to share their stories.

Diagnosed with leukemia at age 5, Andrew Appert of Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell, is a childhood cancer survivor. Appert started his foundation, “Friends of Andrew,” while he was undergoing treatment. The foundation collects and distributes new toys to children at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta cancer center. Photo By Michael Alexander

ROSWELL—Time has erased much of Andrew Appert’s memory of his treatment for cancer. But the disease has not stopped shaping his life, from starting a nonprofit and attending a summer camp for cancer survivors to looking ahead to a career as a doctor.

Appert, who just turned 19, was in kindergarten when he was overcome with a seizure, a reaction to chemotherapy.

“I remember waking up in an ambulance. That was pretty enlightening,” he said, speaking in a conference room at Blessed Trinity High School. One wall of the room is filled with colorful tabs outlining the school day, class by class. Such is the life of a high school student bound for Notre Dame University that he carries two bags: one for his computer, the other a backpack filled with economics, world religions and calculus textbooks.

His cancer treatments (three years and two months of chemotherapy) for acute lymphoblastic leukemia ended when he was 8. But caring is still an intimate part of his life. His nonprofit, “Friends of Andrew,” works with stores to take surplus toys from their shelves and deliver the soft, the fuzzy and the engaging toys to the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where he was treated. The toys are a comfort after difficult procedures.

Three cars brought their latest delivery of more than 700 toys. He shared an elevator ride with a young girl in the midst of her treatment. He handed her a toy.

“It was really shocking to see myself as a caregiver instead of receiving care,” he said.

‘Greatest part of having cancer’

Appert recently passed a milestone as a survivor, so his checkups with his oncologist will be less frequent. He plans on again attending Camp Sunshine, a summer getaway for kids touched by cancer he’s long attended. He has to skip a year because of his age, but he intends to return as a mentor-counselor.

It’s the “greatest part of having cancer,” he said. No matter the disability, the scars from cancer or the fear it causes, at the camp young people embrace each other.

“I have formed unbelievably strong, lasting friendships with young adults who have endured difficult trials,” he said. “I have also learned that stepping out of one’s comfort zone and trying something new is the key to discovering new joys in life.”

He’s the oldest son of Maryann and Dave Appert. The family lives in Johns Creek and attends St. Brigid Church. At home, he plays rock songs on his Ibanez Gio guitar.

‘An appreciation of life’

Teacher Greg Johnson said Appert is a student who raises the bar of excellence for the school community. Johnson and Appert bonded since both faced health crises at a young age. Johnson, a 2005 graduate of Blessed Trinity and now a math teacher, had a brain tumor during his high school years.

“I believe that Andrew has an appreciation of life that few his age share. As a result, Andrew gets the best out of himself regardless of the endeavor,” Johnson said via email.

His school workload is challenging, said the teacher. “He is an individual that brings the best out of himself and his peers daily. He is well-respected by his peers and the faculty.”

Appert was accepted at top colleges. He was awarded a merit scholarship and placement in the honors program at Notre Dame, where he intends to major in a pre-medical program next year. His goal would be to practice pediatric oncology inspired by the care he received.

The senior said students beginning high school need to think about taking risks and trying out unfamiliar activities. “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. That’s how you grow.”

With graduation on the horizon, Appert said he’s torn by the desire to see what future doors open and the pull of remaining with his friends. “I definitely think it could slow down. I’m enjoying high school so much I don’t want it to end.”