One Family’s 10,000-Mile Cancer Journey ends in Joy

Tucked among other islands of Micronesia, Kosrae is a remote speck in the middle of the Pacific. Eight-year-old David Kihleng and his family called this tiny island paradise home—at least, they did until they learned that David had T-cell leukemia in 2018.

Without adequate care on Kosrae, the family headed first to Hawaii, then to Oregon, where David’s dad Bruce was able to find work. Over 10,000 miles from home, the family felt alone and adrift—until Children’s Cancer Association (CCA) stepped in.

“Almost immediately, CCA felt like family to us,” said David’s dad, Bruce. “It was tough adjusting to a big city, but they were basically our cheerleading squad from day one.”

A New Friend in David’s Corner

With all of his friends back on Kosrae, David longed for a buddy to keep him company during the long days at the hospital. So CCA introduced David to someone very special—his very own JoyRx Mentor, Charlie.

“I like everything about Mr. Charlie!” said David. “When we were hanging out, he would bring really fun toys to play with and made me smile a lot.”

“It was really nice for us too,” admitted David’s mom Kate. “Knowing that Charlie was there, I could go pick up David’s medicines at the pharmacy without worrying.”


Making Music—and Memories

David’s family is no stranger to the Joy of music. Bruce plays guitar and all five kids play ukulele or sing. As for David, he professes to being shy but will eagerly break into a rousing chorus of “La Bamba” on request.

So, when the JoyRx musicians showed up in David’s hospital room one day, well, that was a jam session waiting to happen.

“Being able to dance and make music with them made me so happy and excited,” said David. “They would learn exactly what songs I like to sing and then play along with me.”

CCA brought Joy to the family in other ways, too. David lights up when he talks about his family’s trip to the Caring Cabin, cheering on the Blazers from a VIP suite, and celebrating his first Christmas in Oregon with countless presents under a real tree.

“Thanks to CCA, we’ve had some truly unforgettable experiences,” smiled Bruce.


Keeping the Joy Coming, Even in the Midst of COVID-19

In the middle of David’s journey, COVID-19 suddenly added a whole new layer of stress and isolation. But despite the need for physical distancing, CCA still found ways to provide meaningful moments of Joy.

“Charlie and I play on FaceTime now, and we’re also pen pals,” explained David.  “Sometimes he’ll even put a gift card in his letters so I can get a new toy.”

As for the JoyRx Music team, they’ve stayed in regular contact with the family as well, and continue to offer music medicine through live Facebook performances and interactive music offerings at


Looking Ahead with Hope

“Through all the chemo, David never complained; sure, at times he would show some pain, but never to the point where he refuses a shot or anything of the treatments. He is truly a hero in that,” said Bruce.

And now, with David’s chemotherapy treatments finally behind him, he’s feeling more like the fun-loving kid he used to be. He loves animals (especially dinosaurs!), playing music with his family, and making people laugh.

“He’s so funny—definitely the comedian of the family,” said Kate.

For now, the family is taking it one day at a time, forging a new life in Oregon while David’s medical team closely follows his progress through frequent check-ups.

While they don’t know what the future holds, Bruce is profoundly grateful that Children’s Cancer Association has been part of their journey. ‘Throughout it all, they’ve been there for us every step of the way,” he said.

As for David, he plans to express his gratitude in his own special way—by bringing the Joy of music to other young patients.

“I’m going to have my brother play the ukulele while I sing to other sick kids like me,” he grinned. “I want to help them feel better.”


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