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

Emely ~ Keaton’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month Ambassador

At just 16 years old, Emely’s whole world changed when she learned that she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a pediatric cancer that affects the body’s white blood cells, also known as lymphocytes. Her journey began during finals week at school. She noticed a lump on her throat and was having trouble breathing when leaning down to answer test questions. Out of concern, she informed her mom who immediately set up a doctor’s appointment for Emely. Initially, Emely’s doctor believed that the lump was a cyst and not anything to be concerned about. To be safe, they went ahead with further testing and just before Christmas, on December 23rd, 2020, Emely was admitted into the hospital for 10 days. On December 28th, 2020, just five days after being admitted, Emely and her family heard the devastating news that she has cancer. As you can imagine, this was shocking to the entire family and due to COVID, Emely’s family was not able to be by her at bedside. At a time when she needed them most, she was forced to see her family only through a hospital window, but is still fortunate she had that contact alone.

In the midst of COVID, Emely, like many other kiddos, had to transition to online learning and experienced more isolation than ever. As she and her family were experiencing these emotional hardships, Keaton’s Child Cancer Alliance received Emely’s referral from her hospital social worker and since then, has been honored to connect with her and her family. Upon the initial referral, a Keaton’s Family Navigator reached out to Emely’s mom to provide emotional support and get to know about Emely, her brother, and their family. Through joy-filled experiences like a personalized Hope Chest (family care package), a Keaton’s Family Navigator was able to meet Emely’s mom outside of her treatment facility during a clinic appointment and hand deliver the Hope Chest for Emely and her family. Following the delivery, Emely’s mom shared that Emely and her brother loved their Hope Chest!

Aside from the stress of treatment, Emely’s family would commute almost two hours, round trip, for clinic appointments. Fortunately, Keaton’s was able to alleviate some of this stress by providing a financial grant and gas cards to support Emely’s family as she went through treatment. In addition to the many changes, Emely struggled with her own challenges and expressed her troubles accepting her hair loss, a side effect of chemotherapy treatment.

“In all vulnerability, this is extremely hard for me to post, one thing that comes with chemo, as you know, is hair loss. I’m fighting for my life, and I’m worried about my hair. Being a teenage girl in a society that has set the bar high for the beauty standard makes this fight that much harder. One thing a lot of people say is “it will grow back”, and I know it will, but for some reason that does not make this easier. I’m almost done with my treatment, and I still haven’t gotten comfortable with many people seeing my head. It’s definitely a mindset that I haven’t reached yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. The bottom line is, as much as I preach self-love, I don’t always follow it, but I’m trying to learn how to. This journey has been one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to endure, and I never in a million years thought this would be me. This is the next step to me embracing what my body is going through. Hair or no hair, my heart is the same.” ~ Keaton Kiddo Emely

Emely’s experience battling against childhood cancer has caused her to grow in the most beautiful way. Currently, she has completed all of her treatments and is participating in competitive dance which she has been practicing for nearly 13 years! She continues to pursue her passion at Hawkins School of Performing Arts and is on their HCJC Pre-Professional Company! She has also received an early acceptance from a University in Arizona and if she accepts will begin in Fall 2022. Emely has amazing support from her family and friends who remain by her side. Her hard work, dedication and ongoing resiliency continue to give her the strength to persevere.

“I was 16 when I was diagnosed, and now I’m 17. It’s almost unreal that I spent most of the time between those ages balancing between life and death. I’ve always heard and even said myself that 17 sounds so much older than 16, and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I live by that sentence. Because of what I went through, being 17 feels so much older. I was challenged mentally and physically in ways I never thought I would’ve been challenged. As much as I want to say “I’m done with chemo so it’s not hard anymore,” I can’t. It’s still hard to manage the fact that I’m a teenage girl without much hair or I still get hot flashes and I have to work to gain back my muscle. As tough as it is, if I can’t find myself to say “it’s not hard anymore,” I can say “It’s still hard, but I’m learning how to make it easier.” Sure, I might not have much hair, but I’m thankful it’s coming back. I might get hot flashes still, but I’m thankful they’re not as frequent. I might have to work harder to gain back strength, but I’m thankful that each day I’m stronger than the day before. It’s the little things in life that make the hard things that much easier. To trust that this is not my forever, and one day it will be a memory, a story to tell. This is my story. My life. I can’t spend every second of it reminiscing in all the bad that’s happened, and as hard as it is, I’m alive. I get to laugh with my friends before school in the morning and dance my heart out with people I love.

Not everyone can, so in a way, I’m doing it for them. I’m living my life to the fullest for the people who can’t. Who are still restricted by their illness or couldn’t escape it. Every second I’m alive, I’m alive for THEM. Everything I have been through is for a reason, and that’s what’s keeping me going. This is my life. My story; and I will never let something bad control the way I live. You can’t grow a flower with bad soil.” ~ Keaton Kiddo Emely

Our team at Keaton’s has been extremely honored to be a part of Emely’s journey. Now that she has completed her treatments, Emely and her family have joined us at recent family events and have allowed us to highlight Emely’s beautiful journey on multiple occasions. Keeping in close touch, Emely has begun connecting with other Keaton kiddos in our program and provides support for other teens as they endure their battle against childhood cancer.

“We are so thankful for the support we’ve received through Keaton’s during such a hard time and love participating in the events that are put on for the kids and their families. We especially cherish the bonds that have and are being made. These events have been an amazing way to connect, support one another, and just give a safe space for kids to be kids! It’s needed more than I could ever possibly express… a breath of fresh air! Thank you!” ~ Emely’s Mom

Photos by Chris of CMYK Photography

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