Children’s Hospital Ambassador has ‘try anything’ spirit

Five years of cancer treatments give Holly Huntimer courage to encourage others

Children’s Hospital Ambassador has ‘try anything’ spirit

Holly Huntimer, the 2024 Sanford Children’s Hospital Ambassador, was supposed to be going to school with all her friends, riding her bicycle around the neighborhood and goofing around outside with her sisters, Alexis and Haley.

Instead, this fourth grader, who turns 11 in June, was living with parameningeal rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer. What started as an earache eventually led to scans that revealed that she had a tumor about the size of a lime inside the soft tissue of her cheek on the right side of her face.

Not yet 6 at the time, Holly began chemotherapy. Now with almost five years of treatments behind her, she is in remission. She still receives IVIG infusions at the Sanford Children’s Hospital and has routine scans to monitor any changes.

The remission has changed life dramatically for Holly, whose seemingly endless series of treatments, tests and hospital stays piled up. It got so that feeling healthy was a distant memory for her and the Huntimer family.

Holly started getting better about a year ago. She has grown to almost the same size as her twin sister Haley now and she doesn’t need to take breaks anymore on the four-block walk home from school.

She has learned to ride a bicycle, something akin to getting the keys to the city for a youngster who had watched kids her age ride them for years. She shoots baskets with Haley, who supplied the bone marrow that has played a huge role in Holly’s recovery, and no longer needs to take naps during the school day.

In short, there is a whole new world out there she had only experienced in glimpses until recently.

Hospital patient to hospital ambassador

“I was feeling happy to get back to school and being normal,” Holly said. “I have a better life ahead of me. I can see some friends and go to birthday parties.”

As the Sanford Children’s Hospital Ambassador, Holly now has more than birthday parties on her to-do list. One of the highlights of her schedule is being asked to hit the first tee shot at the Sanford International PGA Tour Champions tournament set for Sept. 9-15 at Minnehaha Country Club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“She spent half her life in the hospital and now there’s just a few visits,” said her father, Adam Huntimer. “She can just go to school. She doesn’t have to spend a whole week in the hospital. That’s unbelievable.”

Holly’s perseverance came through in those years of never-ending treatments. Her great strides during this year of recovery have also revealed her adventuresome spirit. She’s game for all kinds of fun stuff now.

“She’ll try anything,” said Amy Huntimer, Holly’s mom. “We did some rock climbing. … We hear, ‘I want to try snowshoeing. I want to try curling.’ You name it, she’s on board. She just wants to explore and try everything. And it’s so wonderful to see.”

Holly’s new confidence shows up in other ways her parents cherish. It might be a conversation with someone who wants to hear about her cancer recovery, or she’ll bring home a story about the kinds of situations you run into in fourth grade.

“She’ll tell me, ‘I met someone today that didn’t have any friends, so I went up to her and I was their friend,’” Amy said. “As a parent, what more can you ask for? She’s a such a kind little girl.”

Compassion from caregivers

The Huntimers are experts in spotting and appreciating kindness. They saw it when their daughters walked home from school together. They would take a break halfway through – maybe sit on someone’s lawn for a while or make a stop at the library – so that their sister could rest for a bit before finishing the trip.

Haley and Alexis also taught their sister how to ride a bicycle. It was a job that couldn’t be addressed until Holly was healthy enough to do it, so they waited until she was ready. When it came time, they had her rolling in three days. Holly refused her parents’ involvement in this project. This was a kid thing.

Holly’s hospital visits do not take as long now and do not happen as often, but when she goes in, they still know her by name.

“It was making me feel happy,” said Holly, who admitted to getting emotional when she talks about the Sanford Children’s staff. “They cared for me and did a lot of things for me to make me feel better and to show me they care.”

The Huntimers had many conversations with Holly’s providers over the last four-plus years about what to do next. The family needed a medical team that listened and responded with understanding, resolve and expertise. Now, as they continue to witness their daughter’s return to a full and healthy life, they will tell you, yes, that’s what they got.

“They put so much of their own love and compassion into each child,” Amy said. “Being on the side where it was my child receiving that, I see it. Holly fought and the nurses would see what she needed. If she was having a down day or feeling depressed, they got somebody in there who would cheer her up. It was a team effort from Day One.”’

‘You would be very brave’

Day One for Holly’s term as an ambassador began with her reading promotional material for Sanford, as well as participating in an interview about her experience recovering from cancer with the help of the Sanford Children’s Hospital. She was asked to explain what she would tell other children who are going through some of the same things she went through.

“I’d tell them it would be OK,” Holly said. “And you would be very brave, and you don’t have to worry about it because they’re just trying to help you. And if you know it hurts, you can still be tough and get stronger each time.”

Moments later with the camera off, Holly apologized.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I almost cried right there.”

The Sanford International is getting an honest and kind ambassador this year, in addition to a healthy one.

Huntimer is the eighth Sanford Children’s Hospital Ambassador, joining Jaxon and Jeren Scheff (2018), Avery Hill (2019), Ben Wieman (2020), Cobey DeSchepper (2021), Sam Matheson (2022) and Landyn Keiser (2023).

For more information about the Sanford Children’s Hospital Ambassador program and previous representatives, visit

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Posted In Cancer, Children's, Foundation, Sanford International