“I was 6 years old when cancer consumed my life.
My mother was brushing my hair for my first day of first grade. I was excited to start school and I overlooked her concern. I told her I felt fine and she sent me off to school. When I returned from school, the lump had doubled in size. She brought me to the pediatrician, he checked me out and ran some tests, concluding there was nothing wrong with me. My mom pushed for a referral to a specialist and I was seen for a bone marrow aspiration and spinal tap. My diagnosis came quickly: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I was given a 50% chance of surviving 12 months with treatment. As a 6-year-old, your days should be filled with play. Instead, my days were filled with surgery, hospital stays, chemotherapy and more. I was not alone though, cancer hits the entire family. So we all fought together.
I was in treatment for 3 full years. My treatment consisted of daily chemo pills, monthly hospital stays with chemo cocktails, many bone marrow aspirations, chemotherapy in my spine and countless blood tests. I fought pneumonia multiple times, was forced to drink my nutrition and lost my long, thick hair. The hospital became a second home, the staff became family and my cancer fighting friends became my classmates. My world was upside down, but I often did not even notice.
My family was a huge part of my ability to handle the challenges of fighting cancer as a child. I am the youngest of 5 children and my parents were able to juggle the responsibilities of family life, work, and caring for a sick child. Now that I am a parent myself, it breaks my heart to think about what they went through. Being a parent really is watching your heart live outside of your body, and when your child is sick, it engulfs your world. My parents made sure I never spent a night in the hospital alone. Everyone chipped in, my big sister Linda was and is one of my biggest supporters. Physically having family with me constantly was a huge part of recovery. Everyone needs a support team and a community and I was blessed to be born into a large, loving family.
Cancer has molded into who I am. Without me even knowing it, everything I have done can be traced back to being a fighter. When I was undergoing treatment, my parents wanted me to have some normalcy. So when I could, I attended school with my friends and I also continued my activities. I loved being a part of the local swim team and I continued to swim competitively throughout my treatment and beyond. I went on to swim competitively in club swim teams. I graduated from high school and received a scholarship to swim at UC Irvine. I’m not sure I would have continued to swim all of those years had it not been my respite from cancer treatment at such a young age. I used swimming as my meditation and it helped ground me when my anxiety was high – it still does.
As an adult survivor of childhood cancer in remission for 37 years, I am happy to share my story with others. I hope newly diagnosed patients can see there can be a good life after cancer. I always wanted to give back to the cancer community, and together with my niece, Gracelyn Bateman, we pursued my dream and founded Luna Peak Foundation. Luna Peak Foundation supports the grief and cancer communities. We spent 2 years taking photos of cancer survivors and interviewing them to create our newly launched book ‘Beyond Remission: Words of Advice for Thriving.’ This is a book of hope meant to inspire newly diagnosed patients, and it also provides a sense of community for survivors, thrivers, and caretakers. This book is filled with survivors reaching out to fighters to help them in their fight. Every fighter can benefit from positivity and hope.
In December, we were able to donate a book to every new oncology patient at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, Hunt Cancer Center. Our hope is to be able to share this collection of survivors with more patients that need some hope. We have built a community on Instagram of those touched by cancer as well and we are constantly amazed by how people handle their diagnosis. I love watching them grow from newly diagnosed to thriving. I look back at 6-year-old me and realize how much I would have benefited from ‘Beyond Remission: Words of Advice for Thriving’ and having the ability to see people thrive after their sickness.
Our mission at Luna Peak Foundation is to help people celebrate life. When I went into remission from leukemia, my parents decided to have a ‘celebration of life party.’ This annual party was not only to celebrate my triumph over leukemia, it was to give back and thank all of the people in my life who supported us during our collective experience with cancer. So we celebrated everyone, every family member that slept on the tiny couch next to me night after night when I was sick, we celebrated every friend that brought flowers or brought meals so my parents didn’t have to cook while I was undergoing treatment, we celebrated my friends and my doctor that always went above and beyond for my family. We celebrated everything and everyone. Fighting cancer is a collective effort of many people and I am so grateful to have had an amazing team behind me.
Life after cancer can be complicated. Some people try to erase their history of battling cancer; I choose to embrace it. I am many things – I am a mother, wife, sister, daughter, swimmer, business owner and also a cancer survivor. Being a cancer survivor is my badge of honor. I don’t live in the part of the cancer journey that gained people feeling sorry for me or taking pity on the 6-year-old with leukemia. I live in the part of being a survivor that fought a powerful battle against a disease that wanted to take my life. I married my high school sweetheart, Tom. We met when I was 16 and he was inspired by my cancer journey and became a Hematologist/Oncologist, treating cancer patients. We have 3 sons, which for a childhood cancer survivor is a miracle. I am extremely grateful for the life I have and I continue to celebrate life. I hope Luna Peak Foundation and our efforts will help others touched by cancer to celebrate life and find the beauty in each moment. It is easy to let cancer change who you are and diminish the person we were before cancer. My advice to cancer patients is your new normal does not have to be negative and to celebrate everything!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melody Lomboy-Lowe. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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