Surviving Childhood Leukemia
How experiencing childhood cancer gave me a greater sense of hope and joy in my life.
I was only 12 years old when the doctors told me I had childhood leukemia.
While most of my friends were interested in clothes, boys and popularity, I was getting two kinds of chemo each week and fighting for my life.
Here’s my story.
While we were on vacation one summer, my mom and I noticed I was experiencing some strange symptoms: bruising, fatigue and purple dots under my skin.
My mom took me to see a doctor, who said I had mono. I remember feeling so discouraged, thinking that my summer was ruined.
Meanwhile my mom pushed for further testing. After getting blood work, they called us back and said I had leukemia—and that I needed to go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as soon as possible.
Specifically, the doctor diagnosed me with a childhood leukemia called Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. It was scary and unreal.
My only frame of reference for cancer was my grandfather, who had passed away from the disease when I was in the fourth grade.
Facing treatment and an uncertain future
They soon admitted me to St. Jude and suggested I begin intense rounds of chemotherapy to get me to remission. If it didn’t work, I would only have about three or four months to live.
I was going into the 7th grade when I began treatment and still tried to attend school several days or more each week—when I had enough energy and high enough blood counts.
Socially, it was also challenging. I lost all of my hair and realized it was hard for many kids to talk about cancer. I went to a Christian school and was encouraged as the students rallied around me, but at the same time I wanted to be normal. And my reality was anything but normal.
When kids stared at the colorful scarves I wore covering my bald head, I would wave and smile.
After two and a half years of weekly treatment, I was thankful to be finished and looked forward to a much-needed break from chemo.
A short-lived celebration
My family and I held a big celebration party, but then just a month later we learned I had relapsed.
My cancer had come back.
The news was crushing and I was absolutely mentally and physically exhausted from my years of treatment.
Doctors said I could try a bone marrow transplant, but I’d only have a 20 percent chance of survival. I was now 14 years old and my parents let me decide whether to try the treatment or not.
It was a lot to decide. It’s like I had to become an adult at an early age.
I spent time praying about the decision, as my relationship with God has always been important to me. I had a sense of peace from the Lord and I decided to move forward with treatment.
While so much uncertainty lay ahead, the past few years were teaching me that I could trust God for my future.
I endured more months of treatment to prepare me for the transplant as my doctors searched the worldwide registry for a bone marrow donor. I faced many complications along the way, including a scary week of my organs shutting down while on a ventilator. Thankfully my new bone marrow, donated by my sister, began to graft and I was able to go home after spending eight weeks in the hospital.
After three years of fighting cancer, I was grateful to be alive, but still sorting through all that happened and what lay ahead.
How I found hope, strength and peace
My family was a great source of hope for me. One of my parents was always with me during treatment, and my brother and sister helped lighten the mood about cancer through humor. When I was stuck at home with a compromised immune system, they helped me stay connected to everything going on around me.
My relationship with God has also proved critical to my hope. And that really grew during my years of childhood leukemia.
Nobody wants to get cancer, but I’ve seen how God can use it for good. He used it to deepen my faith and trust in him.
Coming to the end of my own strength, like I did before my bone marrow transplant and at many other points, helped me see my need for him.
And through being dependent on him, I experienced such great hope and joy.
Cancer helped me understand the difference between happiness and joy. It was easy to be happy when I was healthy, but I was learning to find joy in Christ, which I could experience even while feeling sick or after getting difficult news at the hospital.
One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God has continued to show me his love and faithfulness through my weakness, and cancer has given me that opportunity.
Recently, I had another opportunity to put this into practice.
Now a few decades after childhood leukemia, dependence on God comes a lot more naturally.
My oncologist had warned me that I would have a high risk of developing breast cancer because of all of the treatment I had had as a kid. And so, in 2017, after a routine scan caused concern, they ordered a biopsy.
Sitting at the hospital, waiting for the biopsy, I found great comfort and peace through these words: “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says, do not fear (Isaiah 41:13 NIV).”
I knew that regardless of the results, God was with me and he would take care of me.
The test revealed I did have breast cancer, but they caught it early. They were able to remove it through surgery, and my doctors say it’s unlikely to come back, which is very encouraging!
As to my leukemia, I’ve been in remission for 25 years—I’m very thankful.
Regardless of my future, I don’t want to worry. God is in control.
God is so faithful and his grace is truly sufficient for me to get through whatever I face.
Would you like to discover God’s Help in Cancer?
Or here is how you can find Restoration from Cancer.