September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. While we wish this month didn’t have to exist, sadly, many children suffer from cancer every year. Kids Against Cancer is a growing not-for-profit organization that assists and supports children affected by cancer and their families.
Brianna Bove, a childhood cancer survivor whom Kids Against Cancer assisted throughout her journey, tells us her story.
Can you tell us about your journey?
I was 13 years old when I first got diagnosed with A.L.L leukemia. Halloween, October 31st 2012, is when it happened. I woke up not feeling good and coughing up blood, previous weeks before my father noticed various bruises on my arms and legs but I was a cheerleader and thought it was from that. I was very tired but thought cheer and school was just taking a toll on my body, however, little did I know it was the cancer. Being I was just 13, I wasn’t scared going into the emergency room because I thought nothing serious would happen. My parents were always with me and I knew they wouldn’t let anything or anyone hurt me. I remember sitting in the hospital stretcher getting told we’re transferring hospitals due to Hurricane Sandy’s effect on the machines and the power being out. I got transferred to Staten Island University Hospital on the North Shore. I remember seeing my mom and dad in the corner crying while I was waiting for the doctor and watching TV. About 15 minutes later I got told I had a common childhood cancer and that I would have to fight my hardest and get better. The first question I could think of when I was told I had cancer was my hair, was I going to lose my hair? I remember the doctor, who is still my doctor today, saying to me “Hair grows back and you are beautiful regardless.” I wasn’t having it. That’s when it hit me that my life was about to change.
A priority for me was to maintain my grades and stay in school since it was my graduating year. I was home-schooled in the hospital so I could graduate on time with my friends. Having my family, friends and doctors and nurses all by my side I knew I would have to fight my hardest. With numerous blood transfusions, chemo cycles, spinal taps and so much medicine I began to feel the true meaning of what cancer was doing to me but I didn’t give up. I remained positive for my family and for myself. Many complications occurred, such as one chemo drug was too harsh on my body and started to make my organs fail. It put me in a coma for a couple of days and they had to remove my pancreas. However, the little fight I had left in my body got me out and better than ever. Within a couple of months I was cancer free and completed all my cycles of chemotherapy. I was a survivor.
I resumed life. I walked on my graduation day with my friends. I joined the cheer team again and went back to school and felt myself again. At the end of the day I knew the positive attitude would help me.
Fast forward to three years later and waking up to get my regularly scheduled monthly blood test and being told the cancer was back. Then I was a senior in high school and more mature. I remember my doctor telling my dad and he and I broke down. All I could think about was I just fought cancer and now it’s back.
I quickly realized even though I was so angry that this couldn’t be the attitude I should have. I took all the anger in me and took it out on the cancer. I knew this was going to be my last fight with this disease and wanted it out of my body. With my family’s help I decided to do a bone marrow transplant. Even though it’s very rare to find a match, my older sister Taylor was a 9/10 match and donated her bone marrow to me. I had to stay four months in isolation locked in a hospital until it was deemed that my blood cell counts were at a level that would make me less susceptible to infections. Thankfully, my father stayed with me every minute and didn’t leave my side. Not many people can say this, but cancer has really affected me for the better showing me how strong I truly am.
I am now in college and I am going to become an oncology nurse practitioner because I saw how amazing nurses were towards me and I want to be that way towards someone going through this disease.
What age were you when you were first diagnosed?
The first time I was diagnosed was when I was 13. It was 2 days after my birthday. I was diagnosed the second time when I was 16.
How did it impact your years growing up?
Cancer definitely impacted my years growing up because I did not have a normal childhood. I was very restricted due to having Neutropenia which caused my blood cell counts to be low, making me very susceptible to any type of infection and because I was always taking extra precaution with my health. I was in the hospital the majority of the time getting chemo. However, I did have a lot of great friends who came and visited me in the hospital and who would wear the necessary masks and gowns so as not to expose me to germs.
What would you tell other patients who have been recently diagnosed?
What I would tell other patients who have recently been diagnosed is don’t let the term cancer get to you. Yes that’s what it is called but the term is scarier than you think. You need to remain positive and have a good attitude towards this whole thing. Yes there will be hard days. Yes there will be days you are in pain and may not want to fight but remember your life is worth the fight and you have to fight your hardest and never ever give up on yourself. The pain is temporary.
What is one piece of practical advice you would give other patients?
One piece of advice I would give to other patients is when doctors and nurses say your life is not going to change… It is. Yes your life will change but always reach out to friends and family during your process. A support system is one of the best things to have during this to give you a reason to fight your hardest.
What was your most memorable encounter during a stay at a hospital or during treatment?
One of the most memorable encounters when staying for treatment is seeing all the doctors and nurses and other people being so genuine and helping you and your family. Strangers I did not even know came and helped my family and me. One great example was that I met the people from Kids Against Cancer. They were brought into my life due to my being diagnosed.
Who did you rely on most – and how did he/she help?
My dad is one of the people I relied on the most. He was there for everything. From the second I was diagnosed to the second I was defined as a two time survivor. The days I wanted to give up I knew I had to continue to fight for him. He helped me by showing me how to remain positive when life throws curve balls at you. He showed me the true meaning of what is it to never give up. Yes, I fought for myself but truly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my father.
How did Kids Against Cancer help?
Kids Against Cancer helped by helping my family with many services including financial and emotional support. I remember Mark (Russo), a member of Kids Against Cancer, became like a family member to my family. He always checked up on us and was a friend to my dad and helped him get through the tough times of his daughter being sick. They never failed to amaze me on what they did for me and I continue to praise them to this day for helping my family and me.
What could a family member or loved one do to help a patient that they might not think of?
A family member or loved one can help a patient by just being positive and showing their support for them. Call the patient a couple of times a week to ask how they feel. Knowing that you have a support system really does have an effect on the process and how the patient goes about it.
What are you goals/dreams for the future? How has having had cancer impacted your goals?
My goals for the future are to become an oncology nurse practitioner. Cancer impacted me in a positive way because it helped me find my career. I am currently a student at Wagner College in the nursing program working towards this dream of mine. The nurses and doctors played a big role in my life by helping me live and I want to pay it back to them and help touch other patients who are diagnosed with cancer.
For more information on the organization and on how you can help, visit www.kidsagainstcancer.org/.