April 6, 2009 was the day our life changed forever, the day we heard the words “Your daughter has leukemia.” At 21 months old, our sweet baby girl, Chelsea, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, which 1 in 500 children are diagnosed with each year. I remember standing by Chelsea’s crib a few days after diagnosis just looking at her as my knees were buckling, wondering how we were going to have the strength to get through this. But the answer was right in front of me. Chelsea. She got us all through her cancer treatment with dance parties and music and play, while her body was being torn down by toxic medicines and infections. After seven months of living in a hospital and 98 doses of chemotherapy, our baby girl returned home for good and enjoyed an amazing full year in remission.
Then in November 2010, three weeks after losing my father to the same cancer, our lives were turned upside down again and our worst fears were confirmed. Chelsea’s leukemia returned. We knew it but couldn’t face it until my husband finally said we have to take her to the ER to get checked out. After feeling our world crumble beneath us, we realized it was our turn to muster strength and get Chelsea through treatment. The plan was to wipe out her system through chemo and radiation, then give her a double cord blood transplant. This path was a very rough road for our girl to travel down. I’ll never forget as the doctor pushed the new donor cells into her body on March 7th, the nurse whispered “Happy Birthday Chelsea.” We celebrate that date every year, Chelsea’s REBIRTHday, the day that truly gave her life.
It is just in recent months that we’re seeing our girl truly back. They say it takes a full year to truly recover from transplant, but I’d say that number is probably closer to a year and a half, if not longer. I look at my sweet, caring, sassy little girl and thank God every day for the gift of her. I still get to see her play with her big brother, her family and friends, have dance parties, do gymnastics, play with her dollhouse, draw and color (she’s a future artist or fashion designer), and learn to read so she can be like her big brother. She loves her Movie Night with hot chocolate and popcorn, gives the greatest hugs in the whole world and has a belly laugh that will melt your heart. We count our blessings every day, but we are one of the lucky ones. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of the angels cancer has taken. Too many lives have been taken by this beast and I applaud and love the Stephens for their loving crusade to fight back and to make a true difference.
There’s always the fear of the cancer coming back. Or there’s so many problems Chelsea can or will face because of all the toxic treatment her body had to endure. But we live by the following Dr. Seuss motto, hung up outside Chelsea’s door during transplant:
“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind.
But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”
Thanks for taking the time to read Chelsea’s story and for joining Suzanne and Bob’s crusade to kick leuk!
Love, Liz and Brian Nodeland