30 DAYS/30 STORIES® 2020
It was 2007, I was nine years old, and I had been getting sick constantly with fevers, aches, and pains. Every time I went to the doctor, they told my mom that it was just a virus, or that I had Achille’s heel problems, shin splints, or growing pains. By November, I had gotten extremely pale, was missing school at least once every week, and had completely lost my appetite. My mom and I visited family in New York, and I slept most of the time. A family member told my mom, “Millie, something’s wrong with her. She isn’t normal.” Once we were back in PA, my mom took me to the doctor again, but they still said it was just a virus.
Almost a month had gone by, and I had gotten even paler. One day, I didn’t want to go to school. I did not feel well at all, but my parents said to just try and go. And that if I still didn’t feel well throughout the day, to go to the office so they could send me home. I was sitting in my fourth grade classroom, extremely tired and completely out of it. My teacher sent me to the office to get my temperature checked and to send me home. I got to the office and the secretary (that doubled as the temperature checker) said to blow my nose and go back to class, I’d be fine. So I went back to class, and my teacher sent me to the back of the room to sleep for the rest of the day. My dad picked me up from school that day, and as soon as I got home, I laid down on the couch and fell asleep. He was worried about me, so he took my temperature and it was at 103.5ºF. He immediately called my mom, and she came home and took me to the doctor’s. The doctor decided to send me for bloodwork, and as soon as that came back, we knew something was very wrong.
On December 21st, the doctor called my parents and told them to come straight to the office and to bring me with them. The whole time we were there, they did not mention the word ‘cancer’ once - mostly because I refused to sit in the hallway while they talked to my parents. I told my mom, “If this is about me, I want to know.” They just said that it could be a virus suppressing my immune system. They already had a room ready for me at LVH-Cedar Crest (Room 4B13). So we went home, packed our bags and headed for the hospital. The doctor on the floor that night told my parents that I most likely had leukemia. Since this was a Friday night, I had to wait until Monday to get my bone marrow aspiration and spinal tap done. December 24th, Christmas Eve, was when Dr. Phil came and told my parents that I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My bone marrow came back with 92% leukemic cells, and my spinal fluid was clear. This is the day where I received my first dose of chemo. I was in the hospital for 3 weeks and continued chemo for 26 months (February 27, 2010 was when I took my last dose of chemo).
I still remember walking into the clinic on PCFLV’s Chemo Circus Days while I was going through treatment. I would purposely have my mom schedule my appointments when I knew it would be a Chemo Circus Day because it always made my chemo days seem not too bad. Not only did PCFLV make me happy in what was a grim point in my life, but they bring that happiness to others, for which I am extremely grateful. Now that I’m a survivor, I love volunteering as a counselor for Camp Smile and running a toy drive around the holidays to donate to PCFLV.
Life after cancer is not a walk in the park, and yet I am still thriving. I developed avascular necrosis in my left ankle due to the steroids, so I basically only have half an ankle there. I also struggle with anxiety and depression. However, I surround myself with love and support, and I try to take care of myself mentally and physically. I attend conferences and support groups for survivors to help me cope with feelings that I still have about what I went through, and to gain skills to help me maintain my mental and physical health. I am now 22 years old and have graduated from Moravian College in the middle of a pandemic with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. I graduated with Honors in Biochemistry, Summa Cum Laude (GPA 3.83), received the Biochemistry Prize at Moravian, conducted research with possible chemotherapeutic drugs, and am now looking into PhD programs in Cancer Biology. I want to dedicate my life to researching cancer, understanding it, and finding ways to beat it.
Written by Megan