Meet Diana, an amazing and bright teen in our program.
Diana’s journey with Keaton’s began five years ago, when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, at the young age of 13. Since then, our team has built a great relationship with her and her family, seeing them often at our joy-filled family events. Although our team strives to provide memorable experiences and a variety of supports to alleviate stressors that come with childhood cancer, being a teen at the time of her diagnosis, Diana still faced emotional trials throughout her journey. With poise, strength, and resiliency, she’s managed to persevere and is now open to sharing her journey with cancer in her own words.
“At 13 years old, I was diagnosed with leukemia, specifically acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This cancer develops when the bone marrow produces a more significant amount of white blood cells than red blood cells. This occurred at the beginning of eighth grade. While there were a couple of symptoms by the time I was diagnosed, the most prominent one was the petechia that covered a considerable amount of my skin. For those that don’t know, petechiae are little round spots that develop due to bleeding under the skin. Eventually, I went to an emergency room where various tests were done. The doctor in charge decided to do further testing because there were some results that didn’t sit well with him. This later caused a chain reaction where I was sent to Sutter Hospital where I was eventually told that I had cancer.
The beginning of the long road was difficult, especially since there was a constant back and forth concerning my parents due to my younger siblings. They were constantly being pulled in two different directions which took a toll on everyone. What did help however were not only extended family and family friends, but the staff itself and all the different resources that the hospital provided. There was always someone to lend a helping hand to everyone in my family. It was through my social worker that we were introduced to Keaton’s present-day Executive Director, Jessica Alonso. With aid, the process of my treatment became easier because this organization was the breath of fresh air that we desperately needed. Especially with the added stress of going to school in person while simultaneously undergoing treatment. You see, after my diagnosis, I was home-schooled during that school year, and starting high school while still being treated caused unease in everyone.
There were personal challenges that I faced as I got further into my treatment, including my mental health and the side effects of the chemotherapy. Mentally, I was always drained, trying to keep up with everything on my plate from school, to my social life, to how cancer was affecting me, internally and physically. The most obvious side effect of cancer is hair loss. For me, it was especially hard because I used my hair as a physical shield due to my introverted nature. Without it, I couldn’t hide away like I used to whenever things got too much for me. I was vulnerable in a way that I hadn’t yet felt before and I tried to overcompensate this by trying different “shields”. I was eventually able to come to terms with the hair loss, but it took a while. Something that was difficult to do was connect with people because of my treatment. I felt that if someone didn’t know about my treatment, I was deceiving them because I didn’t know how to tell those I wanted to know about my treatment. However, this has gotten better because thanks to Keaton’s I’m able to connect to others that have gone through a similar journey as me, which in turn has helped when approaching the subject with friends.
I have currently finished all the treatments and am focusing on starting college this fall, which seems like a dream to me. When dealing with cancer there is always the probability that someone might not make it since our lives are on the line. It has been close to 4 years since I was first diagnosed at the start of my teenage years and now I’m nearing early adulthood. I’m looking forward to further finding who I am as a person and childhood cancer survivor.”
Now, at 18 years old, we are happy to share that Diana is still active in our Program and has joined our Keaton’s Teen Alliance (KTA) Program as a Teen Ambassador. Knowing what a toll cancer can take on mental health, she uses her experience to connect with other teens who have gone through or are going through their own cancer journey and supports our team at Keaton’s with planning KTA Teen events. Recently, Diana also graduated from high school and was a recipient of our annual John McLean Hero Scholarship Award. She will be attending Sacramento State University in the Fall and would like to one day become a therapist.
“Although having cancer is never something that anyone wants to endure, some of us in life aren’t that lucky. Since I was thirteen, I wasn’t a kid anymore; I’d gone through experiences that no one should endure but, through said experience, I have learned to look at the bright side and have become a better person. By surviving my treatment, I’ve realized all that I have taken for granted, even if it was unintentional, and decided that I needed to do something that displayed how I won’t take this second chance for granted. This has led me to decide that I would become a therapist to help the individuals that want it.” – Diana
We are so proud of Diana and the beautiful young lady she is becoming. We look forward to continuing to offer our support as she pursues her future endeavors and connecting with her and her family as they step into this exciting new chapter.