Anne Steppe and I met about ten years ago through a Charlotte women’s networking group. She was a professional organizer; I was a stylist in a salon. I loved her vibrant personality and we hit it off! We have remained Facebook friends. Over the years, we both launched our own businesses. Recently, I referred a client to Anne’s organizing business, Step by Steppe Solutions. I sent Anne a quick message on social media; then I saw some Caring Bridge posts about her son Cody. The information therein stopped me in my tracks! Cody had cancer – I had no idea. Following their story ever since, I knew I had to feature them in my Give Back Project. I’ve spent time with Anne and Cody; and their journey truly touched my heart. I just had to capture their wonderful connection in portraits.
The term “pediatric cancer” usually evokes images of small children in cheerfully decorated hospital suites – primary colors, cartoon characters – sweet little faces like those on St. Jude television spots. But what about teenage cancer patients? Still children, yes – but old enough to be aware of what is happening and the serious nature of it. My heart broke thinking about all the normal milestone moments a teenager would miss during treatment. With gratitude and admiration, here is the story of Anne and her precious teenaged son Cody.
A Little About the Steppes
Anne and her husband Jon have been married nearly 20 years. Anne is a professional organizer. Jon is a retired law enforcement officer, having served 21 years on CMPD. Their son Cody is 17 years old – a Junior in high school.
Anne, how did you know Cody was ill?
Cody wanted to play football; and on August 25th, we went for a “well visit” to see Pediatrician Christopher Guido of Eastover Pediatrics. Cody had mono at the end of the 20-21 school year and still had some neck swelling afterward. (Who knew mono can “kick off” lymphoma?) One look at Cody’s neck and Dr. Guido’s demeanor immediately changed. Bloodwork, heart ultrasound and EKG followed. All those tests came back totally normal. Still, we were referred to Dr. Christine Bolen, a pediatric Hematologist-Oncologist.
On September 3rd, Dr. Bolen saw Cody for bloodwork and a chest scan. Again, nothing was out of the ordinary – but the doctor was concerned about the swelling in Cody’s neck and scheduled a biopsy. The September 21st biopsy brought unwanted results – cancer – Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. If not alarming enough, a September 27th PET scan confirmed the location of Stage 4 cancer and that Cody had pneumonia as well.
The whirlwind continued. On September 30th, we met with Dr. Bolen and the team at St. Jude’s affiliate office here in Charlotte. On October 4th, Cody had surgery to put a port in his chest and chemo began. Pulmonary testing, CT scans, PET scans followed and showed treatment was working. Radiation would not be needed! Cody’s last day of chemo was February 9th. Final CT scans February 28th. And March 2, his port came out successfully.
“The hardest part was trying to wrap my brain around what exactly was happening – it all happened so fast, it was hard to take it all in.”
Not only were the Steppes experiencing the chaos of the pandemic, but Anne and Jon were immersed in the constant care and worry for their son. Anne revealed that at one point, she forgot it was her own birthday. She was just trying to get through one day at a time and it competely slipped her mind, until her mother reminded her. It was so hard to watch her son fighting this awful thing and feel so terrible after chemo. The last thing she thought of was herself.
In the toughest parts of this, what was your saving grace?
Our village – they truly circled the wagons around us! Cody’s school, Carmel Christian, was one of our most constant and fervent supporters. Cody’s classmates, the entire student body, the parents and the staff there all played a major role in getting our son through this journey. His school even threw Cody a parade in our neighborhood!
Our family, friends and neighbors ALL rallied – in front, beside us and behind us – whatever we needed. They made meals, brought Cody gifts, sent “pick me ups” in the mail, visited and checked in on us. Everyone prayed, prayed and prayed some more for our sweet son. We did not go through this alone – no one could. Parents whose children have gone through this showed up. Parents who had tragically lost children to cancer showed up. It was the most humbling experience of our lives to have so many people lifting us up.
Sometimes, illness can be isolating. But Cody’s friends and classmates made sure to include him and spend time with him, throughout his entire treatment. He was not forgotten. His classmates even created “TEAM CODY” bracelets for him. This care and thoughtfulness helped Cody remain in good spirits, in spite of feeling terrible after his chemo treatments, even when all he wanted to do was sleep. In our session, Cody wore his Team Cody bracelet and the beanie hat that got him through his treaments, when he lost his hair from chemo. His hair was just coming back in at our session.
Any thank you’s you’d like to make? “
How do you thank the people who saved your child’s life? How do you do that? Dr. Guido saved Cody’s life when he made that September 3rd appointment with Dr. Bolen. Dr. Bolen started us on the path that found Cody’s cancer. She and her team at St. Jude’s Affiliate Clinic at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital are true miracle workers and the kindest individuals you could ever hope to meet when your child is sick. Thank you to St. Jude’s for covering ALL the medical costs after Cody was diagnosed.
Thank you to Cookies for Kids Cancer for fighting the good fight, working to raise awareness and fund more clinical trials. Only 4% of the National Cancer Institute’s budget goes toward kids’ cancer research; yet cancer is the number one killer of children in the US. Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer – the average age being six years. It takes $100,000 to fund ONE clinical trial.
Thank you also to Caring Bridge for allowing us to share Cody’s story and keep folks updated. (His page had over 13,000 visits.)
What is the latest update on Cody?
“Cody is amazing! He went snowboarding recently! He’s running and cycling again and is anxious to resume his workout routine in the gym. Cody is ready to get back to being a normal 17-year-old. He will complete his junior year of high school online at home, then will blaze into his senior year at Carmel in the fall. Cody hopes to attend Appalachian State University for college.”
If you’d like to support the fight against pediatric cancer, these are the organizations that were vital to Anne and Cody.
St. Jude’s – https://www.stjude.org
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer – https://cookiesforkidscancer.org
Caring Bridge – https://caringbridge.org/visit/codysteppe
Update: Cody’s last scans on February 28 were ALL CLEAR!!!! And his port removal was successful!
Thank you to Anne and Cody for spending time with me and telling me their story.
The Steppes are such an amazing family. Cody is a great kid and his positive attitude is so inspiring! He has big dreams and I have no doubt that he will make them all come true.
Thank you for following along with my GIVE BACK PROJECT. If you know someone who has an incredible story to share, that you’d like to nominate for this Project, please go to firstname.lastname@example.org to email in a nomination.