“All I could think was:
I have this second
chance, and I need to
do something amazing.”
“My mom was so sad that she never got to see
my sister graduate high school,” says Court of her
older sister, Christina, who died before graduation.
“It was really important to me to do that for [my
Court finished chemotherapy in October 2012 and
returned to school for her senior year. She graduated
with her high school class in June 2013.
Court won a full-tuition cancer survivor scholarship
to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where she
began studying interdisciplinary health services in
the fall of 2013. Adjusting to college wasn’t easy at
first, and she had a hard time relating to her peers.
“I just felt so lucky to be alive. Every single person
I had known with cancer had died, and I didn’t,” she
says. “I was a baby coming back into the real world.”
She savored the sun on her face and being able
to get in and out of the bathtub by herself. Things
the other college kids stressed about—getting
rejected by a romantic interest or arguing with a
parent—didn’t faze her. “All I could think was: I
have this second chance, and I need to do some-
thing amazing,” she says.
Sitting in her sun-drenched apartment near the
St. Joseph’s campus, Court, now 22, looks down at her
leg and smiles. She’s come far in the past five years.
The 14-inch scar that runs vertically down her left leg
from thigh to shin is beginning to fade, although some
days her leg still hurts. While the osteosarcoma is
gone, she still thinks about cancer and the possibility it could come back. Her Li-Fraumeni diagnosis
means she is at high risk of developing cancer again.
Every six months, she undergoes screening for breast,
bone, blood and brain cancers.
Yet in the face of uncertainty, Court says she has
found “her inner peace” by setting goals, staying
focused and charting her own path. Reginald sums
up his sister’s ethos: “Use the time you have wisely.”
One way she does that is by raising money to
support children with cancer. She helped orga-
nize two dance marathons at St. Joseph’s to raise
money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals
and CHOP. At the inaugural dance marathon in
2016, Court and her fellow students set a goal
of raising $18,510, an amount chosen to observe
the year of their school’s founding, 1851. They
surpassed that amount, raising $28,000 for the
pediatric cancer center at CHOP. “I feel lucky to
be able to give back to my hospital,” she says.
In December 2017, Court became the first person in
her family to graduate from college. Now she’s working
three jobs to save money and is finishing a few more
prerequisite courses before applying to nursing school,
one step closer to her ultimate goal—to become a pedi-
atric oncology nurse. She wants to help children with
cancer as she was once helped by the nurses at CHOP.
“A hospital can be a really unwelcoming space, but
for me it wasn’t, because I was surrounded by people
who made me feel safe,” Court says. “I want to do
that for other kids.”
LINDSEY KONKEL is a science journalist living in Haddon
Township, New Jersey.
Court Simmons stands with her brother, Reginald, at the Parkway Run &
Walk on Sept. 30, 2016. The annual fundraiser benefits pediatric cancer
research and treatment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.