Cherish the small moments, cancer survivor tells graduates

Patient Stories |


Knoll and Green

Former patient Seth Knoll serves as the guest speaker for Riley’s 11th annual Hematology/Oncology Graduation.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Life is filled with small moments that can be beautiful blessings if we only take the time to notice.

That was the message of former Riley kid Seth Knoll, who served as guest speaker for the 11th annual Hematology/Oncology Graduation at Riley Hospital for Children on Friday night.

This year’s ceremony, like last year’s, was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Knoll joined the online event from Philadelphia, where he is vacationing with his family.

Knoll, now a 21-year-old nursing student at Marian University in Indianapolis, likes to take stock of all those small moments he experienced as a patient at Riley and since his own “graduation” from cancer treatments.

In a speech given to mark the graduation of three high school seniors who are undergoing treatment for cancer at Riley, the Noblesville resident encouraged the students to embrace all that life has to offer, even the hard stuff.

Knoll is a Riley Children's Health hospital bed

“For many of us who have faced something so life-threatening like cancer, we understand each moment given to us is an opportunity to appreciate and experience the world,” Knoll said.

He was 16 when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and underwent five months of chemo before going into remission. But his respite was short-lived. Eight months later, the cancer had returned. Luckily for Knoll, he was able to receive a stem cell transplant from his brother and has been cancer-free since then.

He paid tribute to many people in his speech, most notably the late Riley oncologist Dr. Grzegorz Nalepa, whose compassion, intelligence and understanding gave Knoll and his family peace during a dark time.

Knoll with Dr. Grzegorz Nalepa

Knoll also gave a shout-out to music therapist Caitlin Krater, not so much for the beautiful music she makes but for the joy she brought him during his hospitalization.

“I didn’t necessarily want music therapy,” he said, “but she had this authentic joy that I felt like I could really benefit from. So, week after week, she began to teach me the ‘Game of Thrones’ theme song. Every time I would leave the therapy sessions with her, I felt more joy, I felt incredibly comforted. I look back with such appreciation for those moments.”

And then there was that time he participated in the Olympics … Knoll laughed as he recalled how some of his nurses arranged a wheelchair race in the hall as a nod to the Olympic Games that were underway at the time.

“The nurses on the hematology/oncology unit are just the best,” he said. “They’re so fun … like everyone else at Riley they created small moments for me to cherish. I have so many beautiful memories there.”

His advice to graduates Chloe Dale, Derrick McDivitt and Jeannelle Rooney was borrowed from one of the doctors he met early in his cancer journey: “Continue to live, not merely exist. Give thanks for the small things, and go make someone happier today for your thoughtfulness.”

Knoll smiles as he poses outside

Meredith McMahan, practice administrator for pediatric hematology/oncology at Riley, served as master of ceremonies for the event, which was also attended by Knoll’s Riley teacher, Peggy Green.

“I know many of you didn’t have pandemic on your list of senior year activities, but I think you all are used to the unexpected at this point,” she said. “You never expected to get cancer or to be a cancer survivor.”

While their path through high school may have looked different from their friends’, graduation is a significant milestone in anyone’s life, McMahan said.

“We are so grateful to be here to celebrate with you and so proud of all of you.”