Thanks to Jennifer Bell, our guest contributor, for sharing a mother’s perspective on her child’s diagnosis with cancer.
It was the summer before my daughter Samantha’s freshman year. Like most teenagers approaching high school, she was entering a new and exciting phase in her life. She was social, always planning fun activities with her friends. She was also athletic. She played softball and soccer and had just made the cheer team for Gulfport High.
On June 28, 2016, our lives changed forever.
Sam had just come back from a week of fun at Disney World with her father. The next day she was struggling with strength training at softball practice. We knew something wasn’t right because she was in tears when she got in the car after practice. We were supposed to have lunch that day but made the decision that she needed to see her doctor right away. We were thinking maybe she was anemic.
We were not prepared for what we were about to hear. The doctor ordered blood work and a CT scan. An hour later, the doctor told her to go to the ER immediately. I was scared, and so was she. We didn’t know what was going on. So, we prayed. I distinctly remember asking God for his blessing of wisdom and discernment over the doctors and nurses so that they would be able to quickly diagnose her and get her the best treatment.
The ER doctor came into the room where Sam, her father and I were waiting and said,
I’ve got to tell you what I think is going on with Samantha. I think she has leukemia. But more tests will have to be performed to know for sure.
In that moment, her life, and ours, changed. This was not a part of the plan she had for her life. Without time to process my feelings, I immediately asked the doctor, “If she were your child, where would you take her?” He quickly responded, “Children’s Hospital in New Orleans.” Less than an hour later, the three of us were in an ambulance headed to New Orleans.
We received news that Sam had T-ALL leukemia, which is an aggressive type.
The doctors and caregivers at Children’s Hospital were our first answered prayer. Sam quickly bonded with her oncologist and the nurses.
At the time Sam was diagnosed, she was 14. Her father and I felt that she was old enough and mature enough to hear what the doctor had to say and to take an active part in the decisions regarding her treatment. At first, she was scared and unsure that she even wanted to do treatment. But I told her that was not an option — she would have chemotherapy as the doctor recommended.
I was amazed by my daughter’s resolve during those early days and on the toughest days of treatment.
After the shock of the news sank in, Sam was determined to be upbeat and positive. She relied heavily on her faith in God. We lived life one day at a time. It was amazing to see God’s grace through the journey, especially as people — strangers —showed so much love and compassion to us.
Sam’s first stay in the hospital was about three weeks. We would go back and forth to New Orleans for treatment every few days or sometimes weeks, depending on her treatment cycle.
After missing her Freshman year of high school, Sam, finally in remission,was able to rejoin her friends and return to school! She continues to excel in her studies, always raising the bar. She now works out at the gym again and is very conscientious of her diet as well, with meal preps. She has truly been an inspiration to watch. She is my hero.
I believe there are two things that helped Samantha fight cancer: the advancement of medicine in today’s treatment for leukemia and her faith in God’s grace.
The treatment for leukemia today and the chance of survival are so much more advanced than they were 20 years ago. My wish and prayer is that no one has to go through this awful disease ever again. And with continued funding, the advancements will allow survival rates to reach 100 percent.
Try as best you can to remain positive and hopeful, even during the darkest times.
Having a positive, hopeful outlook is essential. Pray, pray and pray some more. Keep your eyes focused on God.
Listen to the doctors and nurses. Ask questions if you are not sure about a recommendation or course of treatment. Feel free to speak openly with them about your feelings and frustrations and any other concerns about the course of treatment, side effects or any other issues that arise.
Reach out to people for help. Many people want to help but just do not know how or what may be needed. The help that they provide, no matter how big or small, will free up your time and energy to focus on your child.
Many on the Gulf Coast have been touched and inspired by Samantha’s fight, which is why she was nominated to serve as the Honored Hero for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk in Jones Park this October. For more information about this event visit lightthenight.org/msla or the event Facebook page Light the Night.