Today, we would like to share the story of Michele, who received her cancer diagnosis in July 2013, only two weeks before her 21st birthday and just a month before beginning her senior year of college. Although treatment for her rare form of cancer may have slowed her down a bit, it didn’t stop her: she graduated from college in 2015, began taking graduate classes part-time, and in April (2016) was accepted to a Master’s program in Social Work. Says her mother,
She continues to keep a positive outlook on life, her goals motivate her and she takes nothing for granted. She is my hero and I’m extremely proud to call her my daughter. She deserves a huge acknowledgement for her perseverance in consistently moving forward even with her medical challenges.
Today, Michele continues both her studies and her ongoing fight against childhood cancer and we are certain that whatever the next months and years hold in store for her, she will meet it with the same courage and determination. Thank you, Michele, for showing us what it really means to be a Gold Ribbon Hero!
The Diagnosis: Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma
Michele’s cancer journey began on July 26, 2013, the day she was diagnosed with a rare type of pediatric cancer called alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS for short. This form of cancer usually starts its growth in the muscles (sarcoma in general forms in any soft tissue, including muscle, tendons, cartilage, fat, or bone). Alveolar RMS in particular usually occurs in the arms, legs, chest, abdomen, or genital organs, and grows more quickly than other forms of RMS. Treatment for alveolar RMS involves intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments; Michele’s oncology team wanted to begin treatments immediately.
Michele, however, was concerned about the potential impact of her cancer treatment on her ability to have a family of her own in the future. Because childhood cancer (by definition) affects children, the child’s future fertility is usually not something that parents are ready to think about, especially when facing the immediate problem of fighting the cancer itself. Yet many types of chemotherapy, as well as radiation, can be extremely harmful to the reproductive system, even for children who have not yet gone through puberty, and in some cases many permanently impact the ability to have children in the future. Because of her age and type of cancer, taking steps to protect her future fertility seemed obvious, so before starting treatment, Michele had fertility shots in order for her eggs to be extracted and frozen.
Her first chemotherapy regime lasted for ten-and-a-half months, and despite her desire to stay in school, the aggressive treatments, coupled with six weeks of daily radiation, forced her to cut back her studies to part-time and postpone her expected graduation. Yet despite not being able to graduate with her classmates in May 2014 as she had originally anticipated, the future seemed bright; the treatments appeared to work and she was declared cancer-free! The celebration, however, was short-lived. Just three months later, scans showed the cancer had returned and metastasized to both lungs. The second regime of chemotherapy lasted another eight-and-a-half months, during which she continued to work part-time through the remaining classes she needed to graduate. In May 2015, Michele graduated with Magna Cun Laude honors and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, with a minor in Women’s Studies!
Unfortunately, the tumors in her lungs did not respond to the second round of treatment. A third round was begun in September 2015 to no avail, and abandoned after only eight weeks. In November, she started a fourth round of chemo, all while taking part-time graduate courses and applying for a Master’s program in Social Work. More radiation and another round of chemotherapy began in January of this year. Yet throughout this entire journey, with its bright spots and set-backs, Michele has remained focused on her twin goals of completing her education and beating cancer: the two weeks of daily radiation and the latest round of chemotherapy have finally begun to shrink the tumors in her lungs, and in April, she was accepted to graduate school to officially begin next year.
We are honored to share Michele’s story of optimism, determination, and courage, and hope that you find it as inspiring as we do!
About the American Childhood Cancer Organization
The American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, the ACCO is the sole US member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, the ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer. And most importantly, the ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.
For additional information on our resources or information on how to obtain our resources free of charge, please visit our website at www.acco.org.
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