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The diagnosis that changed my life

The diagnosis that changed my life

On Halloween night 2012, I was suffering from an awful ear infection, and I couldn’t handle the pain any longer, so my mom took me to the emergency room to hopefully get some antibiotics. Upon entering the emergency room, one of the nurses politely asked me to take off my Halloween makeup. I thought he was joking, because I didn’t have any on. That’s when I realized just how flushed and discolored my skin really was. After some pain medicine and a blood test, a diagnosis came back–I was anemic. The doctor sent me on my way, and with antibiotics in hand, I went home to rest.

The next morning, we received a phone call. After looking at my blood tests, I was instructed to head straight to Advocate Children’s Hospital. My grandma, aunt, mom and I made the trip together, thinking the appointment would be about my anemia. When the doctor and nurse entered the room, I heard my diagnosis for the first time: T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL. My family was crying, but I was in complete shock. I couldn’t feel any emotion.

The diagnosis completely surprised me–this wasn’t supposed to happen. I had just started my sophomore year of high school. Within the blink of an eye, I was wheeled up to the surgical unit where I had my port inserted, and the following day, I started chemotherapy–treatment I would undergo for about two and a half years. The first month was intense, and then came regular IV chemo and spinal taps. I think I had more spinal taps than I can count. Chemotherapy was difficult on my body, but I knew I needed to keep pushing through no matter what.

Going through treatment in high school was rough, but I managed to graduate with my class, and with honors. Besides my health, school was always my main focus, so I was determined to finish no matter what it took. Because of the germs, I wasn’t allowed to actually attend school, so I completed online schooling and had an at-home tutor. By my junior year, I was finally able to attend school full-time again, and it felt great to be back. I still had to be careful of germs and leave early often for chemo appointments, but my school was incredibly supportive.

Enduring a cancer diagnosis and intense chemotherapy treatment at a young age gave me a completely different outlook on life. I am so thankful that I was able to learn from my experience, and to make light from something that was so difficult. As cliché as this sounds, I truly appreciate the world more. I have learned how to live in the moment, and how important it is to express to people how you feel. I’ve learned that life throws major curveballs–so hug your Grandma, tell your siblings you love them, thank your favorite teacher and be kind, because you never know what tomorrow may bring.

Today, I am a sophomore in college, and I am studying to be a nurse. My Advocate nurses are truly one-of-a-kind, and I aspire to be just like them. I’m excited to have the knowledge of a nurse, and I am also excited to empathize with my patients on a more personal level. I’m currently in remission, but I still go to Advocate Children Hospital every couple of months for blood work. I truly enjoy seeing my oncologists and all of my favorite nurses. It’s something I look forward to, and it is because of them I am on this path.

All in all, my cancer journey has been super crazy. That chapter in my book of life is now closed, and I gladly welcome whatever comes next.

Advocate Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Division is generously supported through philanthropy.


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One Comment

  1. Amy Seratt, RN, BSN

    Hi Kaitlyn-
    What a great story. One does look at life in a whole new light when diagnosed with Cancer at any age, that’s for sure. I was actually diagnosed with T-Cell A.L.L the summer before my senior year of high school (1987-I’m old :>)) and subsequently missed my whole senior year. I spent nearly 6 months straight in the hospital due to complications and the inability to find a treatment protocol that could get me into remission. I became a nurse in large part because my nurses truly helped me beat something that was incredibly hard to overcome. I still see many of them today and always remind them that they were truly sent from God. I absolutely love people and I am so proud to let anyone who will listen know, that when you put your mind to it, you can beat anything; I not only had Leukemia at 17, but Skin Cancer and Triple Negative Breast Cancer to boot. You only go around once Kaitlyn so imagine the best possible life and go get it. Congrats fellow survivor- Good Luck in all you do.

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Kaitlyn Richards
Kaitlyn Richards