In June 2009, Chelsea had one more year of High School to complete. She was involved in her school’s musical production, played soccer and enjoyed hiking and camping. She had run for Head Girl, and was a regular volunteer at a Children’s Home and a Home for the Aged. The biggest challenge facing her was how to juggle two important events taking place that summer – the Global Young Leaders Conference in the USA, Europe or China, and the Caribbean Award Sub-Regional Conference taking place in Jamaica. Of course, she wanted to do it all. She was giddy with the thought of going off to college in the next year.
Everything was coming together as it should, but less than two weeks into June, her world turned upside down.
For more than a year, her doctor had examined the small lump on her leg and diagnosed it as a harmless lipoma. It was never painful and though it had grown bigger, it was still barely noticeable. He advised that surgical removal was entirely optional. As school broke for the holidays, her family contemplated surgery and sought a second opinion. The specialist immediately ordered an MRI of her thigh. The results raised enough red flags to warrant an immediate referral to an orthopaedic surgeon in Miami.
The first day they met, he did a biopsy and gave the devastating news –the tumor was malignant. Within a week she had the diagnosis-Ewing’s Sarcoma. She had come for two weeks and ended up having to stay for almost a year. Her family had to be split, with her mother staying with her in Miami as she underwent treatment and her dad and brother returning to their native Trinidad. She had to take a year off school and put everything on hold. An aggressive treatment protocol involving chemotherapy, radiation and surgery was prescribed and began almost immediately. Ewing’s Sarcoma is very rare, very aggressive and very lethal. Fortunately for Chelsea, her tumor was lodged between the soft tissues of her thigh and had not spread to the bone.
Her treatment has not been without setbacks. She woke up one morning with her hands and feet swollen and inflamed. She couldn’t walk without the aid of crutches at one point. It was a side effect the doctors had read about but never actually seen. She also developed infections which affected the progress of her treatments.
Through it all – the hair loss, the vomiting, the nausea, the fatigue, she has kept her positive attitude and her beautiful smile. She has faced this challenge head-on and characteristically opted not to cover up her newly bald pate.
Cancer has changed her life and that of her family in many ways but it has also channeled many angels to come into their lives. Healing involves so much more than medicine and the compassion and supp ort from the nurses, doctors and other care-givers have been truly overwhelming. There are so many good people doing good work every single day in the fight against pediatric cancer. Having the opportunity to meet some of them and have them in her life has been a constant source of strength. They have all become part of her extended family.
As her planned treatment protocol comes to end, Chelsea is ecstatic about taking up where she left off. Of course, there will be many more tests, surgery to remove her port-a-cath and close monitoring over the months ahead. She is giddy again, preparing for the SATs and once again looking at college options.