Summer Hammond '17 remembered for her selflessness and determination

by Annie Ma | 7/23/15 8:55pm

7.24.15.news_.summerhammond2_courtesy
Summer Hammond '17 was remembered for her kindness and her perseverance.
Source: Courtesy of Sharon Hammond

To Summer Hammond ’17, happiness was incomplete unless those around her felt it too. Not even a cancer diagnosis on her 16th birthday could shake her firm belief in positivity, in living life to the fullest. Family members say that Summer never made anything about herself — rather, it was always about what she could do for her friends.

High school classmate Mary Vansuch remembers that when the school raised money to help pay for Hammond’s cancer treatment, Hammond insisted on donating the funds. She reasoned that she could afford the treatment, while someone else out there could not.

“She was always a very genuinely nice and caring person, even to people who barely knew her,” Vansuch said.

Hammond was kind, welcoming and unstoppable in her commitment to live every day like it mattered, family and friends said. After a five-year battle with cancer, Hammond passed away due to complications from radiation treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on July 20, 2015. She was 20.

Growing up in Centennial, Colorado, Hammond developed a love for sports, animals and the outdoors. While a student at Grandview High School, she was a member of the varsity soccer, gymnastics, swimming and diving teams, among others.

Hammond refused to let her diagnosis dictate how she lived her life, friends said. Despite undergoing a very aggressive chemotherapy regimen that almost always limits patients from attending school, Hammond continued to do so and often carried her treatments on her back while going to classes, her mother Sharon Hammond said.

The treatment led Hammond to lose all her hair, though her mother laughed while recalling how adamantly she refused to wear a wig. The only exception was once for a wedding, though her mother said she ripped it off right after.

“To her, cancer was just an inconvenience,” Sharon Hammond remembers. “She would never allow it to be a barrier to living her life.”

Lisa Sparrow, who coached Hammond at Achieve Gymnastics for over 10 years, said that Hammond, in the middle of her chemotherapy treatment, would show up to practice every day, even when she could not participate. On the day of the team’s most important meet, she made her mom bring her from the hospital so she could be there for support. Hammond also coached younger children at the gymnastics studio, teaching lessons whenever her schedule permitted.

“Summer made an impact on so many people,” Sparrow said. “She taught us all the value of living.”

Alan Herron, another one of Hammond’s gymnastics coaches, remembered her commitment to making an impact with her life.

“I remember sitting with Summer one day talking about her cancer, the uncertainty of her time remaining and the approach she wanted to take for whatever time she had left,” Herron said. “It was a mini goal-setting session — we had set goals many times before as gymnast and coach but never like this. Summer lived each remaining day delivering on the goals she set for herself.”

At the start of her freshman fall, Hammond tried out for club soccer. She also discovered that her cancer had returned, this time in an isolated lesion, her mother said. Still, she played three out of the four days of tryouts and made the cut, her teammate Sarah Latulipe ‘17 said.

“When you make the team, the upperclassmen come to your room and surprise wake you up,” Latulipe said. “We did that for Summer too, except we went to Dick’s House where she was staying after treatment and she was just so incredibly happy that she was part of the team that she couldn’t care less about the cancer.”

Friends remember Hammond as the type of person who could facilitate friendships, making sure everyone involved felt included and happy.

“Summer believed that everyone should be comfortable and happy with how they were,” Sharon Hammond said. “Until then, she would work towards making other people happy, because it was never about herself.”

Aliyah Gallup ‘17 met Hammond on Dartmouth Outing Club first-year trips. They later roomed together their sophomore year. Gallup recalls many nights where the two could never fall asleep, because they would keep each other up talking about their days.

“We’d be lying there just so tired, but then we’d realize there’s this other thing we had to talk about,” Gallup said. “Conversations would last hours, and I just knew she was the person I could go to because she was so good at really listening.”

Hammond loved to dance, and Gallup remembers how she would create a fun environment for her friends regardless of the situation. Gallup said the line dancing at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge remained one of Hammond’s favorite parts of trips, and she often lamented that the College did not have line dancing clubs or lessons.

“We would be out dancing at a party, and she’s this cowgirl from Colorado at heart,” Gallup said. “She’d grab my hand, twirl me around and teach me some line dance move and not care at all and be so happy.”

Freshmen floormate Jennie Cunningham ‘17 remembers how dedicated Hammond was to building genuine, meaningful friendships. Though they were miles apart during their freshman summer, Hammond working on a ranch in Wyoming and Cunningham at a job back home in Alabama, Cunningham said that was the term that brought them even closer together.

“We had to drive a lot at our jobs,” Cunningham said. “So whenever we were both in the car, we’d just stay on the phone with each other and talk. It’s funny to me that we became closer as we were so far apart, and it just proves how much she was putting into strengthening her friendships.”

Friends and family say the summer she spent working on a ranch in Wyoming after her freshman year brought together the things she loved most. At Dartmouth, Hammond was pursuing a degree in biology with a minor in studio art, with the goal of becoming a veterinarian.

“Both me and her father are doctors,” Sharon Hammond said. “I thought she might always come into medicine, but she had an affinity for animals, rode horses, loved her dog, and so vet medicine just made sense.”

Hammond also valued the small gestures that made her relationships so genuine, Cunningham said. The two were in the same Math 8 class, where Hammond kept a running list of their inside jokes on the back of her notebook. At the end of the term, Hammond cut out the back of the notebook and had it framed as a Christmas present to Cunningham.

“She did things like that, which made you feel like you were one in a million,” Cunningham said. “Things like how sophomore year, three out of five nights or something like that, without fail we’d meet and sit down in Collis and just debrief about every little thing in our day.”

For Hammond, it was not a question that she would take advantage of all the opportunities Dartmouth offered, her mother said. During her sophomore winter, Hammond studied Spanish while abroad in Argentina.

In Argentina, Joy Shen ‘17 said that Hammond encouraged her peers to be adventurous and nudged them outside of their comfort zones. She pushed the city-dwellers to hike, horseback ride and explore remote towns, cheerfully teasing them for being “afraid of dirt,” Shen said.

When a planned trip to Elkie Valley in Chile left the group stranded between a run-down bus stop and their final destination, Shen said that Hammond was thrilled by the adventure of the entire experience. On a horseback riding excursion, Shen remembers Hammond chasing down a horse that had run away with her terrified friend still on it.

“None of us had ridden before, so when the horse ran away we were all so overwhelmed,” Shen said. “But Summer just kicked her horse and chased them down, because she just knows about ranching and all this amazing stuff that just happens to be in her skill set.”

Shen was also Hammond’s freshman floormate and remembered how easily she could bring strangers together.

“When Summer found out she had to go through treatment again, she decided to dye her hair blue because she might as well go crazy before she lost it,” Shen said. “So then she invited our floor to do it with her, and some soccer girls as well. We don’t know anyone, and we’re dying our hair and she made us all feel so comfortable with each other.”

Throughout her treatment, Hammond continued to give back to the community. At Dartmouth, she was deeply involved with Relay for Life to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.

Though she was often unable to make meetings because of ongoing treatments, Relay for Life co-president Mercedes De Guardiola ’17 said that Hammond would always email in ideas for improving the event. She said that Hammond was essential in promoting Relay’s success, following their split from the Hanover event as they struggled to find footing.

At the Relay event in the spring, De Guardiola recalls Hammond being one of few volunteers who stayed for the entire 12 hours. Relay participants wore one of three types of shirts — volunteer, committee member or survivor. De Guardiola recalls that Hammond chose to forego her survivor status for the committee shirt, believing her most important role was to support the event and other survivors.

“She wanted to be there as a committee member, because she didn’t want it to be about her,” De Guardiola said. “It just goes to show the kind of person she was, and she’s not the kind of person you find every day.”

Immediately prior to her passing, the Relay executive board had decided to name Hammond the Survivorship chair, a position that would accommodate her schedule while giving her the leadership recognition she deserved.

“I think I speak for the entire board, that we just regret that we didn’t get a chance to tell her that,” De Guardiola said. “I think she would have loved it.”

De Guardiola said that the committee will dedicate next year’s Relay for Life event at Dartmouth in honor of Hammond. She also said that they were in talks with the American Cancer Society to discuss how to donate next year’s fundraising total entirely in memory of Hammond.

In May of 2015, Hammond’s cancer had spread to her bones. Still, she participated in the Memorial Challenge, an event held in honor of Blaine Steinberg ’15 and Torin Tucker ’15. Hammond and Steinberg were both members of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, though they never had the chance to meet, fellow member Tanya Budler ‘15 said. Still, Hammond drew inspiration from Steinberg’s memory, always wearing a bracelet that read “Live Like Blaine.”

“Summer recognized the specialness of Blaine,” Budler said. “She felt like there was something in Blaine’s legacy that needed to be remembered, to live up to. I remember visiting her at the hospital just recently, when she didn’t have very many personal things on her, and she still was wearing that bracelet.”

Kappa president Autumn Chuang ’16 said Hammond was a dedicated member of Kappa and an inspiration to the whole sisterhood. Current summer president Audrey Djiya ’17 echoed Chuang’s sentiments, calling Hammond a “blessing.”

“I will never forget when she sent out a blitz to the house — the subject line was ‘Let’s be better.’ That’s who she was,” Chuang said.

Immediately upon hearing of Hammond’s recurring cancer, Cunningham drove up to campus from a weekend away and went straight to her hospital room.

“The first thing she said when I walked in the door was, ‘Jennie this is a positive zone, we have to be positive,’” Cunningham said. “She was ready to fight it ‘til the end.”

Determined to participate in her sophomore summer, Hammond’s mother said they moved her in to her room in the sorority house at the beginning of the term. At that point, her mother said her health had weakened to the point where she could not be around anyone with even the slightest infection. Yet Hammond refused to hear her prognosis, instead believing that positivity was the answer to healing.

In a letter to her mother, Summer wrote, “I believe in Western medicine, but it’s not the only thing. We should believe in the positive. I need to approach every day with the belief that, ‘I will live, I will live.’”

Despite new challenges, Budler said Hammond was still determined to make the most out of the term. The two planned on doing the Prouty together on July 11. Though Hammond was too weak to bike or walk, she had been a golfer in high school and signed up to play that Saturday.

Budler arrived on Friday, when she said it was clear that Hammond was likely too weak to play. The next morning, her condition had not improved.

“God knows how she held a club that day,” Sharon Hammond said.

Still, Hammond was adamant about playing and the two made their 1 p.m. tee time. A few holes in and growing tired, Hammond and Budler noticed two signs posted. One read, “Keep going, you’re the one fore me” over a photo of Ryan Gosling. The second read “Summer Hammond Rocks!” in hand-drawn, colorful letters.

“I don’t know who put those up, but I think it was her nurses at DHMC,” Budler said. “That made Summer say ‘Hey, we have to keep going, we have to finish this!’ She pushed through and we did nine holes, not all 18, but it was a lot for how she was feeling. She was so relentlessly into supporting good causes, like this and the Memorial Challenge. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.”

The Prouty was the last time Hammond left her hospital room.

“She fought the cancer until the end,” her mother said. “The thing about Summer was that she had a very bad cancer, and she knew it. In no way did that limit her. She knew she wanted to study abroad and she did. She kept playing soccer, kept showing up when she couldn’t play. She wanted to live her life. Even if it meant two to six hours at the hospital, she’d be there and then come back and keep living.”

After Hammond’s passing, Shen reached out to the Argentina language study abroad group, offering her room as a space for friends to process their emotions. Almost immediately, responses poured in and the group spent the afternoon painting and putting together photos on a memorial board.

“Since we got back, none of us really could work out our schedule to get together for a reunion,” Shen said. “But as soon as we heard we just dropped everything in the most hectic point of term to come together and do this for her. It just shows how much she touched us. She loved being outside, so we hiked to some random place in the woods and put it there in her memory.”

Hammond’s friends and family said that she will be remembered for her strength, her energy and her refusal to feel sorry for herself. Her first-year trip leader, Anoush Arakelian ’14, recalled Hammond’s determination to study abroad.

“She was going to Argentina in a month and I looked at her in the eyes and said, ‘You know you need to get better first before you travel.’ I knew it didn’t matter what me or anyone else said, this chica was Argentina bound,” Arakelian said.

Dartmouth club soccer coach Stephen Severson said that upon hearing of Hammond’s passing, the team gathered at his house for a period of reflection, eventually arriving at what they could do next.

“We can learn from Summer’s model,” Severson said. “To always fight, to accept any challenge, to support noble causes, to make the most of every day and every encounter.”

Sharon Hammond said that throughout her daughter’s battle with cancer, Hammond never let her diagnosis define her relationships.

“She didn’t care to be the focus,” she said. “Cancer was just a fact, and the rest was what mattered. When she died, very few people knew how sick she was, because she wanted them to be happy, to live their lives, to not let her cancer dictate anything.”

Her mother said that Hammond believed in positivity, in warmth and in making every interaction, every relationship special.

“The most important thing about my daughter, from a young kid getting bad news at 16 to the woman she became, is that she was a woman who strongly felt that everyone should be loved for who they were,” Sharon Hammond said. “If that wasn’t true for everyone, she’d work toward that until it was.”

A memorial service is planned for the fall term. Students may submit remembrances to the vice provost’s office.