Almost eight years ago, St. Jude mother Michelle found her 6-year-old son, Tyler, screaming in pain, with fingers and toes swollen into a curled position. Last December, she watched as he crossed the finish line in Memphis.

This finish line was literal, as the now-teenage Tyler had just completed his second St. Jude half marathon — a race that takes participants through the campus of St. Jude, Tyler's home away from home for several years. Inside this building is where the young boy crossed a more figurative finish line six years prior.

On Feb. 4, 2013, Tyler was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer. What started as night sweats, soreness in the arms and legs and a local diagnosis of a potassium deficiency (the pediatrician told her to give him a banana) quickly became pain so intense that he could not walk. In just under three weeks, Michelle's little "spider monkey" grew lifeless. On Jan. 31, she rushed him to the emergency room, where doctors ran every test imaginable, and then called St. Jude.

For the ninth straight year, Taste of Country and Townsquare Media are taking two days to bring attention to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a world-renowned medical center in Memphis, Tenn. At St. Jude, researchers make groundbreaking discoveries about cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and share them freely across the world, and they do it without ever asking families of patients to pay. The treatment, the travel, the food and the lodging — it's all free at St. Jude.

It's all free because of efforts like Country Cares, the country music community's 30-plus year commitment to saving lives of children.

Michelle was familiar with St. Jude when she walked through their front door. Her niece had been treated for pediatric melanoma there previously, and was now doing well. That alone wouldn't normally ease a mother's fears, but walking through the doors, she was flooded with calm.

"Because I was like, you know, this is the best place in the world," she says. "This is the place where everybody wants to be if their child has any form of a catastrophic illness. This is where they choose to be — at St. Jude."

A three-year protocol meant 1,200 rounds of chemotherapy. Tyler's bones were so brittle at times that some broke. He needed occupational therapy and physical therapy. St. Jude became his new school, which meant child life specialists going to his old school to talk about his diagnosis on his behalf, assuring them he wasn't and wouldn't be contagious when he returned.

In the summer of 2015, Tyler was declared cancer free, and since then, all of his scans have been clear. Six years later, his mother still reflects on the journey, with more of an understanding than ever of why everyone says St. Jude is a place of hope. The doctor told her on the night of her 6-year-old's cancer diagnosis that he would do everything possible to save his life.

"He never said, 'Well, I’m not going to get this chemotherapy because your insurance won’t pay for it,'" she shares. "Or, I’m not going to order this test or this many rounds of therapy for monetary reasons.' He said, 'I’m going to do what it takes to make sure that he thrives.'"

"And Tyler is thriving."

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When Tyler finished his second half marathon last December, his mother got to put the medal around his neck. The moments before brought flashbacks of the days he cried and threw up and suffered, but on this day, he was indeed thriving. He's an inspiration.

"I want to show the other patients of St. Jude that they can do it,” Tyler says. "It doesn’t limit you just because you have cancer. Even after treatment you can work hard, and you’ll be able to do the things that I do one day."

Please consider becoming a partner in hope today. It's a $19 a month commitment that goes a very long way for children like Tyler.

*This story was first reported at the St. Jude Inspire website.

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