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My cancer diagnosis at 13 years old

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September is Childhood Cancer month. Last week, I shared a bit about my conversation with my friend Stacie whose daughter, Carina, is a cancer survivor. This made me wonder what it looks like from the other side. What is it like for a childhood cancer patient – the kid’s view? Heidi is a cancer survivor with a full life as a mom, wife of four kids, and sister. 
Gretchen: Can you tell me a little bit about your story?
Heidi: I was in dance. I was active in student body at school. I was even in cheer and I was a flyer. There were some lumps on the left side of my neck that we noticed the summer between my eighth and ninth grade year–I was 13 years old. Luckily I have an uncle who is a doctor who pushed us to get it looked at. I remember the family meeting – my family telling me it was cancer.  It was December 29 and I remember the day very distinctly. I remember the green leather couch, my sisters in tears and very emotional. I remember feeling like I was watching a scene from the outside – everything was slow motion and out of body. I was thinking surely they are wrong. I can’t have cancer
Gretchen: What is one of the best things that someone did for you? (How could a person support you)?
Heidi: When I was going through it I had lost a lot of muscle mass and couldn’t walk well. I had friends and church members visit. They sent flowers to the house. Movies and treats were great. I also had an aunt who would send me great great cards. But, most people couldn’t come in because of germs – so they would drop off or mail things.   
Gretchen: Were there some negative things that people did? 
Heidi: There were people, especially at school, who were all of a sudden nice to me. I was thinking, “oh, no you don’t get to be nice to me now.” 
Gretchen:  Do you talk about having cancer of do you try to bury it in your past? 
Heidi: I didn’t want any pictures taken of me at that time. I sort of didn’t want to remember it. When I was going through it – I just wanted to get past it [and be normal again]. I wouldn’t let people take pictures, because pictures are for remembering but now, looking back on it, I was naive to think that it wouldn’t shape me. Now, it is a point of pride. I survived this. 
Gretchen:  Was there something interesting that you look back on now and see differently? 
Heidi: I remember going into the hospital for the first time. Looking around at the happy kids (who had cancer!) and parents conversing. I remember thinking, “Are you dumb? You’re dying!” But really these kids din’t know. I decided I had a choice to be bitter and angry or hopeful. I chose hopeful. There was nothing I could do to make the cancer go away. I could choose hope, though.
Gretchen: Now as a mom, do you think childhood cancer is more difficult on the kids or on the parents?
Stacie: The parents for sure. I’d rather be going through it than have my kids have to go through it. When they are fighting for their life – you just need to keep the faith. Your child is still who they were. Change is there and it is OK but they are still your kids. 
Gretchen: What is something you feel like anyone can do to help you and/or someone they may know with childhood cancer – or the research efforts?
Stacie: Childhood cancer is treated different from other kinds of cancer (like breast cancer)–it is one of the lowest funded. We need to get them funding! But for an every day person, be positive and hopeful. More importantly, use your gifts. Just like the boys that helped carry me – they used what they had. Reach inside and find what you have to give. Be who you are. 
How You Can Help:
St. Jude Walk/Run to end Childhood Cancer at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on September 23.  Register, form a team, invite your friends and family to join. Or join an existing team. Then be a fearless fundraiser for the kids of St. Jude.
Kneaders is proud to be part of the pioneering research  of Dr. Joshua Schiffman at Huntsman Cancer Institute, his research on elephant DNA might hold the key to ending childhood cancer. They Knead your help in this effort. All month long Kneaders will sell elephant-themed items including a delicious cookie where proceeds benefit childhood cancer research. A little hope can have a big impact. For more information go to
American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is the largest and oldest grassroots childhood cancer organization in the United States, and the only member of Childhood Cancer International. Find out how you can donate directly. 
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