FEATURE | Posted Feb. 18, 2016

“It’s not about the destination; it’s about the adventure”

Leukemia patient on a mission to live well and “clothe the world in happiness”

Video: Leukemia patient Kristine Tesauro and her sister Brianna on a mission to live well and clothe the world in happiness!

When Kristine Tesauro strides into the clinic, she will wear a radiant and engaging smile. She will share laughs with young patients. She will greet every nurse and ask how they are doing. She will catch everyone up on her friends’ news, share her latest drawings and gush about a next adventure.

Then she will sit down in the familiar camel-colored leather recliner for three to four hours to get pumped full of chemotherapy.

For Kristine, it’s another day to spend living.

“Every time she comes in for treatments, her positivity and compassion light up the room,” says Child Life Specialist Ellen Meuchel. “Even when Kristine isn’t feeling great, she always smiles and makes time to say ‘hi.’”

The 21-year-old has been through a lot since April 2015 when a leukemia diagnosis forced her to part with a job she loved, put college plans on hold and battle the many daily afflictions of chemotherapy. But despite the challenges, Kristine says she’s been living the good life.

Kristine Tesauro and Amber  © UC Regents"In a very difficult time they have found a way to bring happiness to others."
— Amber Svardal

“It’s important to enjoy each moment in life and make the most of where you’re at,” she says, emanating a contagious, light-hearted spirit. “I try to find the good stuff in each moment and focus on that.”

Thinking about all the good that’s in her life despite the bad — her loving family, the health she does have — encourages her to keep going, she explains. “And focusing on others helps a lot,” she adds, excited to talk about what she and her sister have been doing to help others with cancer stay positive.

Determined to “stay happy”

It all started as a “stay-happy project,” explains Brianna, Kristine’s spunky older sister, who has kept her company since diagnosis. When Kristine learned she had cancer, the fun-loving duo decided they were going to enjoy life. No matter what. They redecorated Kristine’s bedroom with bright happy colors, bought a bigger TV and brought in games and fun electronics. But, after watching too many episodes of “The Office,” they decided to instead give their T-shirts a makeover, scribbling playful cartoonish animal designs and catchy phrase with markers.

Leukemia patient Kristine Tesauro with her care team and good friends at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Leukemia patient Kristine Tesauro with her care team and good friends at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“It was so much more fun than being glued to a TV screen,” Brianna says. “We found ourselves constantly laughing out loud in the hospital over the designs and the puns we created. It was some of the best medicine!”

To spread their cheer, they gave shirts to other young people in the hospital fighting cancer, giving the first hand-drawn version of the giraffe shirt to a 16-year-old girl fighting lymphoma.

“It made me happy to know that I could brighten up someone's day while they were going through such a hard time," Kristine says.

The sisters have been designing and giving away shirts ever since, even launching their own business, Catch Some Air.

Tell the hard stuff to “go catch some air”

“‘Catch some air’ was something our grandpa used to say when something was bugging him,” says Kristine. “It’s kind of like brushing off the crappy stuff and telling it to ‘get outta here!’”

They thought it was a great motto for dealing with the rough stuff in life, Brianna adds. “It’s not just a business name for us, it’s a lifestyle.” 

Pediatric cancer patient Paislee Schumann models her new T-shirt. © UC RegentsPediatric cancer patient Paislee Schumann models her new T-shirt.

Through Catch Some Air, the sisters design and sell shirts online when Kristine is in the hospital. The shirts are available in a variety of styles and cheerful colors for children and adults. In addition to the quirky kid Tees, like the “Happy as a Hippo” and “Spruce Like a Moose,” they offer three-quarter sleeved tops and hoodies with captions ranging from the fun and simple “Stay Happy” to the more inspirational “You were born wild, don’t let them tame you.” For each T-shirt sold, they donate a portion of the payment toward a free shirt to give away to a child with cancer.

“Any little thing that can make a child happy during the difficult time of cancer can make a world of difference,” says Brianna, who helps Kristine come up with the shirt captions and calls herself the “Executive Stick” of the business.

Now that they’ve sold more than 60 shirts, they can distribute dozens to kids in the pediatric clinic at UC Davis. As Kristine’s health improves, they hope to take the fun up a notch, turning the giveaways into special events for the kids.

Learn more about Catch Some Air

For more on the Tesauro girls’ remarkable story and to find out how to bring a “piece of happiness” to a child with cancer, please visit Catch Some Air.

“We were thinking of maybe turning the T-shirt designs into stuffed animals or rolling in a mega vending machine full of shirts or organizing some kind of interactive game to play with the kids,” says Brianna, brimming with ideas. “But, for the first distribution, it’ll just be us,” which, according to staff, has been plenty impressive.

“There are no words to describe how amazing these two sisters are,” says Amber Svardal, Kristine’s nurse care coordinator. “In a very difficult time they have found a way to bring happiness to others, to staff and pediatric patients. They have truly impacted more lives than they know. As one of their popular T-shirts says, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the adventure,” and these two are enjoying the ride and bringing everyone along with them.”

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