August 17th of 2014 changed my life forever. Before then I was a normal 17-year-old young adult looking forward to entering senior year and leaving it behind with a bang. Boy, will I sure leave it behind me with a bang! Who would have thought that today I'd be fighting for my life?
I had been working in Dunkin' Donuts since the end of last school year. I was excited that I finally had a paying job. I always imagined that young adulthood entailed a world filled with new friendships, gaining independence, accomplishments and, of course, experimenting and fun.
In mid-July some of my co-workers called in sick with a throat infection. My mom warned me to be careful, given my history of throat infections. It wasn't long after that that my throat began to bother me again. I could not eat because of the pain, and it was painful to speak. There was some weakness and exhaustion. I thought it was related to my busy schedule. I made nothing of it.
Then I started having problems breathing during bedtime. A few days after a visit to Dr. D we were back because I half scared the pants off my mother after practically choking myself to death while sleeping. The doctor conducted an examination, reviewed prior lab work, and said that everything pointed to Mononucleosis. What a relief, I thought, we put this past us and move on to a healthier time.
And then it happened. Day 8 of antibiotics. I woke up in pain with some dizziness and nausea. I could not believe I was sick after I'd started to feel better. It was like a waste of time. I was not scared. I was angry.
The next morning we were back in Dr. D's office. She said that my liver and spleen were slightly enlarged, and it would be best to seek emergency treatment for my symptoms. My parents couldn't agree more.
I walked into the emergency room expecting to see the outside world shortly. Now, after months of being hospitalized, I think we could say I was completely and utterly mistaken. How can life be so damaging, so cruel and bitter?
Just the day before my hospital admission I had been on the warm sandy beach that my mother once played on as a child. It was my first and last visit there. I lay there with my boyfriend, catching some sun, taking in nature's beauty, admiring the blue sky. The ills conquering my body for the past six weeks disappeared, and for that one moment I felt nothing but peace and tranquility. The earth stood still and I was able to exhale. Everything about that moment was perfect.
Dr. N arrived, the bearer of bad news, but the most dedicated and loving person I've ever met. The truth is I really did not know what leukemia was, although I knew it was a serious illness. So when Dr. N told me I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the word finally started to kick in. My parents were faced with the most devastating news any parent can receive: "Your daughter has cancer all over her body."
Where to go from here? How to pick up the pieces? What did we do? How do we fix it? I can go on and on and on about the millions of questions that popped up in my head at that moment. Not an ounce of fear, for I did not know the ramifications of this disease, I was only curious about leukemia and, yes, I have finally spoken the word that I once denied to see as the thing that could destroy my ever being. Yes, I have cancer, but even after six months, I cannot believe that cancer has happened to me.
My journey has not been easy at all. I have been through pain you could never imagine, I have held myself strong for six months, enduring treatment no child should endure. I have lost pieces of myself that I cannot imagine to start picking up. I no longer run, jump, smile, drive, work, talk to my friends, go outside, shop in stores, attend school. I no longer dream. I no longer laugh. I am simply a memory of the person I used to be.
Watch how quickly I'm forgotten only to forget myself...my journey has just started.
Sara wrote this in February 2015. She relapsed and died in May, shortly after her 18th birthday. Thanks to donations from supporters like you, Friends of Karen assisted her family throughout her treatment by providing social work and child life services to help Sara's mother, stepfather, brother and grandmother cope with her illness; paying household bills so her mother could take an unpaid leave of absence from her job; paying travel expenses that enabled her mother to return home to be with Sara's brother while Sara remained in the hospital; and covering funeral expenses. Thank you to Sara's family for letting us share her story.