Surrounded by a sea of dancers, listening to story after story from patient after patient of their journeys with cancer, legs weak, eyelids heavy, I stood and wept after more than 20 hours of DanceBlue 2017. Suddenly, the past 8 years of my life flashed through my mind all at once, and the question, “how did I get here?” was asked and answered in a moment. Hope, I thought. I’m here to bring hope.
My own journey with cancer began in earnest on August 29, 2009. Up to that point, my life was, to me at least, utterly normal. I went to school, had friends, played sports, and life was easy. But shortly after turning 13 and going into the 8th grade, my life took a turn that I could have never expected.
One week, I began to feel ill, worse than a typical start-of-school fever. I went to the doctor to try and find out the problem, but was told that it was likely a virus and that I should just wait it out. So, I waited a few days, hoping for improvement. Throughout the night of that Friday, I felt more terrible than I ever had in my entire life. I tried everything I knew to get some relief, but even through my exhaustion I couldn’t seem to find sleep. The next morning, my parents could tell that something was wrong. We decided to go back to the doctor, but as I went to put on my clothes, I collapsed on the floor, unable to stand.
Realizing that something was very wrong, my parents loaded me up in the back seat of the minivan and started toward the hospital. The more time went on, the worse I got. I started shaking. My skin turned gray. My eyes rolled back in my head as I drifted through a state of partial consciousness. Eventually, we made it to Kosair Children’s Hospital, and my dad carried me inside, telling the desk that I needed serious help right that moment. Doctors rushed me back to a treatment room, and as they started to work on me everything faded to black.
What none of us knew at the time was that I was walking around with leukemia. Because of that, my immune system had essentially no function. I contracted a staph infection that moved into my bloodstream, spreading throughout my body and attacking all my organs and tissues. As the doctors had begun to work, I entered into septic shock. I quit breathing. I had no heartbeat.
The staff began to do CPR to try and bring me back. They pounded and pounded on my chest as my family waited outside and prayed. Through all this, in what I know to be a genuine miracle, the attending doctor felt that they needed to keep doing CPR, and after more than 20 minutes without a heartbeat, they got me stabilized.
I spent the next ten days in a coma, then two more weeks in intensive care then three months on the cancer floor of the hospital. I spent my entire school year at home getting chemo and learning to walk again, struggling everyday to survive. But I was alive when I never should have been, with no brain damage and given a chance to get back to normal.
Over the next several years, life continued to hold challenges and joys. My senior year of high school, nine months after completing my chemotherapy regimen, my cancer relapsed in my spinal column. I started treatment for another three years, and with it faced struggles in ways completely different from my first battle. But with my faith, family, and friends, I never lost hope.
Taking a year after graduating high school to get treatments, I came to UK in Fall 2015. As I transitioned the treatments remaining to the UK clinic, I was met by the incredible support of some students who were a part of DanceBlue. Every time I was in the clinic, someone was there to chat, encourage me, and make treatments easier. Seeing the incredible hearts of those students and the level of difference that they made in my own life, I knew that I had to get as involved as I could. I was blessed with opportunity after opportunity to use my experience to give back to those facing similar circumstances. I got to volunteer at the 2016 marathon, became a part of Family Relations Committee for DB17, and am now the chair of Family Relations Committee, all with one goal in mind: Hope.
I want to be the same hope that I saw from the DanceBlue volunteers in the clinic. I want to give the same support that I have felt from a mob of compassionate, relentless students standing together at the DanceBlue marathon. I want to fund the research that will ultimately put an end to the monster of cancer all together.
No family gets to choose if their child has cancer. As part of DanceBlue, I want to give them a reason to choose to hope.