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‘You’re not ever alone’: Jill Martin shares inspiring messages from childhood cancer survivors

"You can be strong and sad and that’s OK."
/ Source: TODAY

Before Jill Martin ever dreamed that cancer would be part of her story, she met a 3-year-old boy named Oscar diagnosed with kidney cancer who inspired her and many others.

Martin has for years been a board member of the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a non-profit organization that brings opportunities to children facing medical issues, among other challenges.

This year, Jill and Oscar Saltalamacchia reunited on TODAY for the teen’s 18th birthday.

Oscar is now cancer-free. His mother tragically died of breast cancer recently.

Martin herself is battling breast cancer: In June 2023, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

“I know that your mother would be so proud of you,” Martin told Oscar. “What do you think it would have meant for mom to have seen you here today on your 18th birthday?”

“It would have meant everything to her,” said Oscar.

As Martin wrote in an essay for TODAY.com, she tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people whose BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have mutated carry a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Martin said she plans to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Martin, Oscar and members of the Radio City Rockettes — a treat for the teen who loves dancing — paid a visit to Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, where Oscar once received cancer treatments.

At the hospital, Martin met other patients such as Nina Colella, 9, whose leukemia is in remission.

"You know that I'm battling breast cancer now, so I know you had some advice for me," Martin said to Nina, in conversation with her sister Sadie, 7, and their mom Alaina Colella.

"Don't even think that you had cancer and just keep moving on," Nina answered. "Look on the bright side and not the dark side."

Oscar also imparted advice to Martin:

"Don't feel like you have to battle it alone, you know? You're not ever alone, even when you think you are."

Martin later told TODAY’s Craig Melvin, Dylan Dreyer and Sheinelle Jones what she had learned from the children.

"I always admired them and saw the strength, and now that I'm dealing with (cancer), I have a whole new sense of empathy," said Martin, adding tearfully, "They taught me ... you can be strong and sad and that's OK."