City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Carley’s Compassion

The Legacy of Carley’s Closet & The Rutledge Cancer Foundation

Article by Kailey Beuerlein

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Cherry Creek Lifestyle

The news traveled fast. 15-year-old Carley Rutledge had stage IV Ewing sarcoma, an aggressive bone and tissue cancer. How could they have missed it, coming from a family of doctors? Carley was a healthy, happy, soccer-loving teenager with what doctors thought was a sports injury. She was prescribed multiple rounds of physical therapy, a lift in her shoe and medication, but nothing seemed to help—her pain would not go away. Almost a year after her first doctor visit, a family member suggested an MRI, where Carley’s cancer was discovered. By then, it had advanced to Stage 4 and she was given a less than 20% chance of survival. 

The Rutledge family and their friends soon learned that this devastating path to diagnosis was all too common. For the 89,500 teens, adolescents, and young adults (AYAs) who are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. each year, this is a familiar chain of events. Oftentimes no one, not even doctors, suspects cancer—and that’s exactly why the Rutledge Cancer Foundation (RCF) was founded in 2011. 

When Carley’s friends and family learned that teens and young adults had the lowest survival rates among all cancer groups, they decided to create change for Carley and the others who fight cancer at such a pivotal time in life. Early detection of cancer in all ages is crucial, but especially in children, teens and young adults. When cancer is caught in the early stages, survival and long-term health are achievable. RCF is proud to be the first organization in Texas to recognize and assist the AYA cancer population, and now they’re coming to Colorado.

Carley called Colorado her home after spending six years at the University of Colorado Boulder, getting an undergrad and master's degree, before moving to work in Denver. She loved everything about Colorado and Denver; her job, her friends and especially the parks; she and her beloved dog, Juno, were regulars at Sloan’s Lake, Cheesman and City Park, most likely training for her next half marathon. Friends and family share stories of the light that Carley held, lighting up themselves when they talk about her. To the residents of Cherry Creek and Denver, Rutledge Cancer Foundation’s mission is personal: easing cancer’s impact, raising survival rates and finding a cure for teens and young adults with cancer. 

RCF supporters, friends and family are a Charity Partner at the Denver Colfax Marathon, their 2024 goal being to raise enough donations to fund the opening of the first Carley’s Closet at the Colorado Children’s Hospital. Born from Carley’s enthusiasm and passion for making the lives of other young cancer patients better, the Carley’s Closet program aims to provide new diagnosis resources and comfort items for teens and young adult cancer patients. “No one should fight cancer alone,” says Laura Rutledge, executive director of RCF, and Carley’s mom. “Especially a teen or young adult.”

Carley’s Closet focuses on the AYA cancer population (ages 11-39) and Pediatric Sarcoma families in both children’s and adult medical centers. The new diagnosis bags for patients include important resources and care items that help them navigate their cancer journey. They also include items like beanies, games, headphones, Bluetooth speakers, journals, gift cards, and other age-appropriate items. Soft blankets, coloring books, and other items make their stay in the hospital as comfortable and home-like as possible. In ten Texas Medical Centers and soon to be in Denver, Carley’s Closet is a unique program that helps young patients know, and hopefully feel, that they are not alone. 

Abby Anderson, an inpatient occupational therapist at Children's Hospital Colorado and a close friend of Carley, saw how Carley's story impacted other young cancer patients without her ever even meeting them. 

"Not only was Carley a close personal friend, but I was able to use her story to inspire the oncology patients I work with on a regular basis," says Abby. "Without having ever met Carley, one young patient was so moved by her story that she felt compelled to create something for Carley; a beautiful necklace made from assorted beads to represent Carley’s interests and life journey…threaded together as a symbol of solidarity. This patient, amid her own cancer journey, gained a sense of hope and connection through Carley. In stringing together symbols of Carley, I was able to ground into my own grief, seeing yet another way that Carley, in who she was and how she lived, impacted someone for the better." 

For over 13 years, RCF has served young cancer patients and their family members through Carley’s Closet's new diagnosis bags, RCF patient outings, oncofertility preservation programs, therapeutic exercise and most importantly, research for more effective, less toxic therapies that allow young patients to live longer, healthier lives after cancer. Since 2011, RCF has served over 15,700 AYA cancer patients and their family members and has donated over $1,700,000 to pediatric cancer research. 

“Because of RCF’s generous donors, more and more of our children and young adults will have a healthier future,” says Laura.

Tragically, Carley died from her cancer in 2021 at age 27, from relapsing after eight years of being cancer-free and waiting to join a promising clinical trial. Carley’s legacy is felt every day through her friends and family’s efforts to increase awareness and cancer survival for the vulnerable AYA patient population. Beyond that, Carley’s passion for life and the people she experienced it with is a testament to the miracle of the human spirit - something that continues to leave us all in awe. 

Join the Rutledge Cancer Foundation in Denver on May 18-19 and Raise The Survival Rate for teens and young adults with cancer at the Colfax Marathon & Races. Rutledge Cancer Foundation is proud to be returning for a 3rd year as a participating charity. Once registered, become a sponsor or make a donation to help support RCF’s mission.

To learn more about Rutledge Cancer Foundation’s patient programs, research and cancer awareness or to donate, visit