Hope, Strength, and Healing for families coping with a child cancer diagnosis

Mahalia ~ Keaton’s Child Cancer Alliance Childhood Cancer Awareness Ambassador

Meet Mahalia, Keaton’s Child Cancer Alliance Childhood Cancer Awareness Ambassador.  Mahalia is currently a sophomore at UC Davis and a member of the UC Davis Women’s Volleyball Team. During her Freshman Volleyball season, her consistent performance earned her Big West Conference Freshman of the Week six times during the season, but the biggest accomplishment was earning the conference’s Freshman of the Year honor, becoming the first Aggie to win the accolade. Mahalia also made UC Davis history by becoming the first freshman to make the all conference first team.  During this stellar first year playing at the collegiate level, Mahalia would have never imagined being diagnosed with cancer, let alone playing with it, but this inspiring young woman did just that.  Here is her story…

It was amazing how much support I had throughout the UC Davis community. My team would always hangout with me even though I was too sick to go out and do anything. They would drive me to my doctor appointments and bring me food even though I couldn’t eat that much. I really loved how much they cared for me and treated me like family. One of my teammates, Jackie Graves, created these supportive bracelets that said ma-HELLYEAH 🎗on it and she surprised me with like 1000 of them.  I didn’t think that a lot of people would wear them outside of my team. Little did I know, so many people in the UC Davis community wore them. I remember walking and biking around campus when I was sick and I saw so many of the white and purple bands with my name on them and it made me feel like I was not alone.

Having cancer is definitely a battle, but the fight is easier when you have so many people in your corner. Not only did I face the physical consequences of it, like feeling nauseous all the time, faint, and losing my hair, but I lost my confidence and my sense of self. I was so grateful to have so many people who helped my keep my mind off of it and treat me so well during this time. And not only did they treat me well, they treated me like I was still a person. Even though, I was so embarrassed that whenever I hung out with my friends I was always sick or very tired, they were still so nice to me and still treated like the person I was before I was sick.

Watch Mahalia's Interview on Sacramento & Company

August of 2017, I started my first couple of practices for my first season of collegiate volleyball for UC Davis. I remember after the first couple of days, I was woken up in the middle of night by extremely sharp back pain. It was very painful but I thought that it was from all the extensive practicing and I slept wrong that night. That kind of pain didn’t occur again for about 3 weeks. Half way through the volleyball season, that same throbbing and burning pain began to occur very often and at random times throughout the day. I was too nervous to admit how bad my pain was because I didn’t want to stop playing volleyball especially because I was a starter on our team. Right after season, I rested from all physical activity and the pain escalated even further. I had an MRI and on December 4, the day right after my 19 birthday, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma and I then realized that I was playing with cancer for four months and I never knew.

It was definitely tough on our family, but this experience brought us closer. My mom had just finished her battle with breast cancer 5 months prior, so my family already had a close support system and a lot of positivity. I remember when I first called my mom to tell her about my diagnosis.  I was already crying, but her and my brothers was reassuring that I was gonna make it out okay. I remember my dad had a long conversation with me about how he knows that I have the strength and optimism to get through this. During my chemotherapy, my mom visited me regularly to support me during my 3 day treatment. On top of that, all my family and extended family called me, and sent me cards and did everything to help me know that they had my back.

I think for awareness, it’s personally better to show physical support or if you know somebody who is going through it, show that you support them. Even though, I was very vocal and public about my experience not everybody is comfortable with it, but just to have people reach out to them or seeing people wear ribbons that support the cause because it made me feel good to know that people were there for me and had my back.

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