Summer Dale

Team Summer Founder

In October of 2011, Summer had just begun her sophomore year of high school in Atlanta, GA, when a persistent pain near her hip led to the discovery of a large tumor. Diagnosed as a rare and aggressive form of sarcoma cancer, chemotherapy began immediately, and Summer's world was never the same again.

At first, she did not want to have anything to do with other kids with cancer. When she went into the AFLAC cancer wing of Children's Health Care of Atlanta, she kept her head down and did not talk to anyone. At the same time, she was separated from her high school friends. Cancer had thrust her into a scary medical world full of pain and fear, surrounded only by adults. She felt isolated and alone. "I'm the only one," she said. "I'm the only kid in my whole school with cancer."


After her second round of chemotherapy, Summer's beautiful long dark hair began to fall out in chunks. She was horrified and decided to have it all shaved off to spare herself the sight of her pillow in the morning.



As a sign of solidarity, her twin brother, Jordan, shaved his head too. Summer said later that something profound happened to her the day of the "shaving party." For the first time since she had been diagnosed, Summer had someone by her side who was going through the same thing she was going through. Family and friends were patting Jordan's bald head as much as hers. She felt the power of that connection of shared experience, and it dawned on her that she really needed other kids with cancer because they were the only people who could really understand what she was going through.


Shortly after that, long-time family friends Haley and Tonya Kilpatrick brought Summer a gift -- a batch of purple (Summer's favorite color) wristbands that said "Team Summer" on them. They told Summer that they had lots of them and they were going to sell them for $5 each, with half of the money going to help pay for her medical expenses, and the other half to a worthy cause of Summer's choosing.


Everyone expected Summer to donate her half to a children's hospital or to cancer research. But Summer came up with something else entirely.

By this time, she had begun talking to the other kids in the hospital and cancer clinic waiting rooms. It was not hard to see that some of them were having a much more difficult time than she was. Summer met Sarah, an 11-year-old-girl who was facing her second battle with Ewing's sarcoma, the first when she was only eight years old.


Sarah was fascinated with Summer's iPhone and asked to borrow it to play her favorite game, Angry Birds. Summer learned that Sarah had a two-hour commute each way to and from chemo treatments -- with no electronics to keep her busy in the car. So Summer decided to use some of the money she was in charge of to buy Sarah an iPod Touch. A gift from one kid with cancer to another, and Team Summer was born.


Summer's attitude and outlook shifted profoundly. Now when she went into the hospital, finding kids to help became her mission. While she was simultaneously undergoing endless rounds of chemotherapy, weeks of radiation and multiple surgeries, she was also getting to know the kids around her, dreaming up special gifts that could cheer them up. She gave a 13-year-old boy with lymphoma a laptop so that he could stay in touch with his friends while he was in the hospital; a 20-year-old-girl who was fighting osteosarcoma and was depressed over the loss of her hair, got a fashion photo shoot, complete with a professional makeup artist and clothing stylist; a 6-year-old girl with leukemia got a motorized scooter - something she had always wanted; a 13-year old boy facing a leg amputation got several huge sets of Mega-Bloks, a particular passion of his and a great distraction from what was coming.


The more gifts Summer gave, the more people donated to her cause, raising more than $50,000. And the more kids she helped, the happier and calmer Summer became. She saw a purpose to her life. Her mission had her glowing from the inside. A month or two before her death, she said that, even if she had the choice, she would not trade away the cancer if it meant she would have to go back to being the person she used to be; her transformation of heart and spirit were that important to her.

On November 11, 2012, Summer lost her battle to cancer at home, surrounded by her family. She was 16 years old. Nearly 1,000 people, dressed in purple, attended her Celebration of Life at Opera in Atlanta. Her legacy lives on as the kids she gave gifts to followed in her footsteps, giving gifts to other kids with cancer. And those kids, in turn, have found kids they could help, and so on. Today, Team Summer is a thriving network of kids helping kids, giving gifts of friendship that connect them to each other and light the way through some of the darkest days of their lives. Read Summer's Journey »