Meet the Winners of the 2016 Andre Sobel Award


The Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 Andre Sobel Award, a national essay contest for teen survivors of life-threatening illness, now in its 16th year.  The Andre Sobel Award is a forum for teen survivors to reflect on their illness and share their powerful messages of hope and survival. 

Click on each name to read the winning essays — full of wisdom and pragmatic advice for newly diagnosed patients and their families — on our new website at


First Place:  Taylor Dawson, Carrollton, TX
Second  Place (Tie): Kellen Jones, Somerset, KY 
Second Place (Tie): Burke Tinsley, Louisville, KY 
Third Place:  Mary Kaitlyn Wheeler, Adrian, GA 
Honorable Mention:  Cameron McKinnon, Jenison, MI
Honorable Mention: Lexi Slagter, Wyoming, MI 
Honorable Mention: Aaryn Zimmerman, Silver Spring, MD 
Honorable Mention: Sara Meza, Chula Vista, CA 

This year's winners were selected from a large field of entrants from across the country who wrote in response to the prompt, "The Letter I Wish I had Received from a Friend or Relative When I Was Ill."  In deeply thoughtful, wise, humorous and sometimes searing letters, teens reflect on how illness has changed their relationships and their lives, and offer their best advice in messages of hope for newly diagnosed patients.  

The Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation recognizes each winner with an award that many be used to fulfill a cherished dream. The Foundation wishes to thank each entrant for their thoughtfully written letters, and to recognize the readers and judges for their great care in reviewing each application and selecting the winners. 

Click here to make a contribution to celebrate the winners and help fund next year's Andre Sobel Award. 

Meet First Place Winner Taylor Dawson

Six years after her illness, Taylor discovered the warrior within, and the joy in fighting the battle. 

Third Place Won by Mary Kaitlyn Wheeler 

Mary Kaitlin knows what it means to face challenges and prevail. She offers thoughtful and hard-earned advice for newly diagnosed patients.  

Meet Honorable Mention Winner Lexi Slagter

Lexi's best friend suffered more than Lexi knew, but didn't think she could share how scared she was.  
Second Place Winner, "Just Kellan" 

Kellan Jones had a "positive posse" of friends that treated him just as he wanted — as the same person they always knew. 
Cameron McKinnon, Honorable Mention Winner 

"Everyone needs a father or a father figure:" Cameron wishes his dad had understood what he needed most. 

Honorable Mention Winner Aaryn Zimmerman

Aaryn knows what it means to be a best friend…and tells it like she wishes her friend could have done. 
Meet Burke Tinsley, Second Place Award 

The poem "Invictus" grounded Burke during a lengthy battle with a brain tumor. He offers straightforward advice for newly diagnosed patients. 
Meet Sara Meza, Honorable Mention Winner

Sara knows from her own experience that you, the patient, hold boundless power to bring life and light to the world, and also that "you are enough." 
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