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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 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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  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story Kaitlyn! You are such an inspiration and I am excited for your future!!

  2. I’m so happy for you and your family it is so go to here good stories enjoy your life now and keep trucking

  3. What a wonderful thing to read this morning. I’m so happy for you, Kaitlyn!! You are beautiful and inspiring. Thanks for sharing and for bringing love & light into the world 🙂

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About the Author

Kaitlyn Richards
Kaitlyn Richards