Kathleen, or “Kate”, then a high school student, was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma in October 2019 after she came down with a cough and itchy hives that lasted more than a year and would not heal on their own.
She immediately began treatment at Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio where a team of certified child life specialists (CLS) not only guided her through her cancer care, but supported and encouraged her through her long journey of treatment and surgeries. Child life specialists are healthcare professionals who help children and families navigate the process of illness, injury, disability, trauma and hospitalization.
“My child life specialists were a big motivator throughout my treatment,” Kate said.
Unfortunately, Kate’s diagnosis put a pause on many significant life events that teenagers look forward to. When her first hospitalization prevented her from attending her homecoming dance, her cancer care team organized a surprise homecoming in the hospital.
Treatments were showing promising results, and Kate thought that she may be close to being cancer-free. She was preparing to earn her driver’s license, but cancer put a hold on that milestone as well. She began having symptoms again in May 2020, and her scans showed that her cancer had come back. Her treatment plan consisted of two to three rounds of chemotherapy followed by a blood and marrow transplant at the Sarah Cannon Pediatric Transplant & Cellular Therapy Program at Methodist Hospital, San Antonio.
Her family, friends, nurses and the child life specialists were with her every step of the way helping her to push through. Her support system, combined with her own determination, allowed Kate to excel in school completely remotely from her hospital room.
In November 2020, Kate contracted pneumonia and was admitted back into the hospital. During this stay, she powered through a lot of school work, finishing her junior year several months early. Motivated by this, Kate set out to graduate early.
On an expedited timeline for graduation, Kate planned to take a gap year before attending college. However, only a few weeks into completing coursework for her senior year, Kate scheduled a last-minute tour of Abilene Christian University, one of the few universities in Texas with a child life specialist program.
“I loved it so much that I went home and completed my application that night,” she said.
Kate was accepted to Abilene Christian University where she is currently pursuing her newfound dream of becoming a certified child life specialist so that she can help children in the same way that she was supported.
Kate will return to the Sarah Cannon Transplant & Cellular Therapy Program at Methodist Hospital, San Antonio for follow-up care during college, and she looks forward to the day when she can walk through the hospital doors as an employee, and not a patient.
If you would like to find out how you could be an anonymous donor for someone who needs a blood and marrow transplant, sign up to save a life through the Be The Match donor program.