When Amy Speck-Kern turned 18, like other high school seniors, she battled calculus tests and college applications. But unlike most high school seniors, she also battled acute myeloid leukemia.
“It’s a more rare form of leukemia, and the treatment is much more intense,” said Speck-Kern. “I was in the hospital straight for three months, and I did not go home at all because they had to be so aggressive with the treatment in order for it to be successful.”
After that stay in the hospital and an additional three months undergoing more chemotherapy, Speck-Kern went into remission in April of 2004. She graduated as one of the top members of her class and continued to Marquette University (Wisc.).
Speck-Kern says the entire support team aided her and her family at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. “It’s not just the chemotherapy but also the psychological support—the whole body treatment,” she said of her programs in Milwaukee. “For example, I was able to receive physical therapy and even use an aqua-trainer, as well as speak to a psychologist. There were so many people who were there to help us.”
As Speck-Kern moved out of Wisconsin and on to a professional career as a dressage rider and trainer at Excel Dressage, she learned that the support system that she experienced in her treatment wasn’t necessarily the norm.
“I wasn’t aware that [such a support team] wasn’t covered by health care—you go and get chemotherapy, but then they don’t do anything else,” said Speck-Kern. “It’s such a difficult endeavor, really for the whole family, to go through treatment.”
So when she heard that the Kids Cancer Foundation near her home base in Wellington, Fla., provided its patients with the type of care she received, she got involved.
“I really wanted to help out in any way that I could because I was so lucky to deal with people who had this kind of support and to go through treatment successfully,” she said.
Speck-Kern’s desire to compete with her horse again also helped her power through chemotherapy. And so 13 years later, she interwove her two support systems together to give back. On her journey to this year’s Markel/USEF Young Horse Dressage National Championships (Ill.) with Kathryn Hoog’s 5-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Gerona (Tango—Odessa, Junior STV), Speck-Kern set up a GoFundMe account where half of the proceeds helped the pair travel to the championship, and the other half was donated to the Kids Cancer Foundation.
“It’s totally extra that has nothing to do with the chemotherapy, but I was so inspired by watching my dressage videos every single day and the World Cup finals. And that kept me going,” said Speck-Kern. “You have to be able to do that—to keep going when you feel terrible and depressed. You have to find a way to want to fight, and I think that the support the Kids Cancer Foundation does for the families and the kids, it gives them more reason to keep going. To keep fighting it.”