acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on December 4, 2003, at the age of five. As a young child, I was very energetic and loved to do anything outdoors and active, and I especially loved a good competition with my older brother Harrison. My parents began noticing that something was off when I started complaining about not being able to walk up the big hills in San Francisco where we lived. This was very uncharacteristic of me as I loved to race my brother to the top. They also started noticing large bruises on my arms and legs, along with severe night sweats, and complaints of pain in my hips. Something was not right. My parents called my pediatrician and told him of their concerns, and he requested to see me immediately. I clearly remember him asking me if I had been running around the parking lot before coming in because my heart rate was erratic. He took one look at the bruises and told my parents I needed to get bloodwork done immediately. We received a call not long after, and we were told that I needed to go to UCSF Hospital as quickly as possible; there was a bed waiting for me. That night my life changed forever. I remember my new oncologist looking me in the eyes as I sat on the bed and telling me that I had cancer and was very sick, but they were going to do everything they could to make me better. I remember immediately looking at my mom and asking her if I was going to die. She took my hands in hers and made me repeat back to her over and over, “I am not going to die, I am not going to die.”
We started treatment immediately. I went into surgery and had my central line placed in my chest, and there began the next three years of intensive chemotherapy. I would be lying if I said those three years weren’t hell. I spent days and weeks in the hospital, hooked up to tubes and bags and constantly being stuck by needles, countless hours being pumped full of fluids of strange colors in bags labeled “Biohazard.” I remember some days were so hard and I was so sick that I asked my mom if I could just be done because I was in so much pain. She would look at me and hold me in her arms and say that she wished she could switch places with me and take all the pain away. I think the biggest reason I stayed strong through those three years was because of the love of my amazing family. Their faith never wavered, and they never once gave up hope that I would beat the cancer.
My dad was a dental student at UOP in San Francisco during the time I was diagnosed, and to this day, I have so much love and admiration for him and how he was able to care for me all while spending long hours studying and working at the dental school. My mom never left my side once and is the reason we found the best treatment team I could have ever wished for. My older brother was my best friend through it all and still is to this day. He did everything he could to try to distract me from the pain and constant nausea, playing with me and building me forts to hide in. Even on the scariest of days when my kidneys were failing and I had to be taken off of all chemotherapy, or I was throwing up blood from bleeding ulcers or mucositis, neither my family nor my treatment team let up the fight.
My parents became involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and Team In Training (TNT) not long after my diagnosis. This involvement became a bright spot in my life, and the people that I met became some of my favorite people. I loved being an honoree for TNT and cheering on the runners at all the races. These incredible people constantly lifted my spirits and made me feel loved and hopeful. I loved feeling like we were all joined together in a big battle against cancer. I remember when my oncologist told me that I had made it through the most intensive part of my treatment, and I felt like I could do anything. My hair had begun to grow back, and I was starting to feel stronger. I reached remission on January 29, 2006. This will forever be one of the happiest days of my life. We had done it, we had beat cancer. I say “we” because I did not in any way do it on my own. Not for one second. I would not still be here today if it weren’t for all the amazing doctors, nurses, specialists, my LLS and TNT friends, and my family.
What most people don’t know about cancer is that even after the cancer is gone, the scars and memories still remain. I have battled with severe PTSD and anxiety for years since being in remission. The thing that has helped me with this battle besides my family, of course, is my love for the outdoors and adventure. I love the feeling of reaching the top of a mountain and thinking about how much my body is capable of now and how I’ve been given another chance at life. I continue to make the most out of every day by rock climbing, hiking, skiing, canyoneering, surfing, you name it. But I also find so much fulfillment in my work. Because of what I went through as a child, I am now working in the medical field and working towards becoming a nurse. My dream is to help save lives and give people the hope and joy that was given to me by so many healthcare workers. I am so grateful to be where I am today.