Category: From the Desk of

From the Desk of is a POV written by Cancer Care’s staff, volunteers, donors, and board members.

From the Desk of Tracey Willingham

Tracey Willingham at the 11th Gynecological Oncology Symposium.

From the Desk of…

Tracey Willingham

Cancer Care Services’ Vice President of Client Programs

Happy New Year! I’m Tracey Willingham, Vice President of Client Programs, and my Cancer Care Services journey began in 2010 as a Licensed Master Social Worker (prior to being hired, I was an intern). Thirteen years later, I proudly experienced opportunities that will help position Cancer Care as a leader in providing holistic cancer support services.

In 2023, I returned as a speaker for the annual Gynecological Oncology Symposium. I led an educational session for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. We delved into post-cancer life by discussing ways to embrace the “new normal,” effective communication tools, and normalizing physical and emotional changes after cancer. The “Caring for the New You” presentation included practical tools that Cancer Care’s social worker team uses to provide help and hope for our clients every day!

Tracey Willingham at the 11th Gynecological Oncology Symposium.
Tracey at the 11th Gynecological Oncology Symposium.

At the Future of Cancer Care Summit, held in Tampa, I was asked to moderate a panel on the CancerX/Moonshot initiative’s progress toward reducing financial distress caused by cancer treatment. Additionally, I was asked to speak as a subject matter expert on digital innovation in cancer care. I shared technology solutions and collaborative strategies that have led to Cancer Care’s success in improving oncology health challenges in Tarrant County.

Tracey Willingham at the Future of Cancer Care Summit.         Tracey Willingham moderating at the Future of Cancer Care Summit.

October marked the launch of Ignite Inner Wellness, my new business, which addresses frustrations expressed by women regarding overall health concerns in the community. As a certified women’s coach and menopause specialist, I’ll become a Women’s Health Hormone Coach in May 2024. Cancer Care is leveraging this knowledge to drive change in the healthcare system by focusing on cancer treatment’s impact on hormones, body image, and intimacy.

Cancer Care Services has earned its reputation as a pioneering community-led organization through substantial efforts. Our unique expertise is not just a label; it’s reflected in the countless lives we’ve touched and stories of impact we’ve witnessed. As we continue to teach, we also continue to learn—drawing inspiration and insights from the very community we serve.

The Impact of a Social Worker

A Jenga tower with missing pieces represents the impact of a social worker.

The Impact of a Social Worker Transcript:

I am Tracey Willingham, Vice President of Client Programs at Cancer Care. I am a licensed master social worker, and I am proud to lead our social work team, who are committed to meeting basic and complex needs of thousands of people impacted by cancer in our community.

I became a social worker because I believe everyone deserves an advocate to stand with them, and I get to do that every day here at Cancer Care Services.

So what does a social worker actually do, and why does it matter? By definition, a social worker is a licensed professional who is trained in theories, boundaries, and human behavior. This specialized training matters because our social workers are the foundation of our mission, ensuring that no one has to cope with cancer alone.

If you’ve ever played a game of Jenga, you know that every move has potential consequences and that the bottom blocks are the foundation blocks. With a cancer diagnosis, you constantly feel like things are getting pulled out from under you, and unexpected stressors are constantly getting stacked on top. Much like the challenges of playing Jenga, a cancer diagnosis can cause emotional and financial instability to families, from those first three words that start it all– “You have cancer.”

Our social workers are the stabilizing blocks for cancer patients and their families as we help them navigate the uncertain balance of emotions, financial stress, and fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. So, the sooner we can connect with a client, the sooner we can begin working to reduce their distress.

But right now, we don’t have the financial resources to enhance our social work team to keep up with our increase in clients, making me deeply concerned about our ability to effectively provide the individualized care we know is vital. Our current social workers can handle 200 new referrals in a month. Right now, they’re receiving almost 300 new referrals per month. Simply put, we do not have enough social workers to serve all seeking our programs and services.

For my social work team, who I love working beside every day, a client is not just another name added to their caseload. Our next client could be your mom, dad, sibling, child, friend…or even you. No one should cope with cancer alone.

Transcription by: Kirbi T.

You can ensure the tower of social worker support stands strong with your one-time or monthly gift!

How does a financial advocate help cancer patients?

A woman stresses over medical bills of which a financial advocate can help her sort through.

From the Desk of our Financial Advocates

Did you know that cancer survivors reported spending more than 20% of their annual income on medical care? The financial distress from a cancer diagnosis is a heavy burden for many of our clients and their families. But there is hope! Our Financial Advocates answered a couple of questions on how they reduce financial distress for those impacted by cancer.

What is a financial advocate?

“A Financial Advocate provides guidance to help clients understand their insurance, medical bills, and financial situation and to alleviate or reduce their medical debt.”

How do you start the financial navigation process?

“The process begins with understanding the client’s backstory. Next, we gather all insurance information, go through the bills line by line, and create an action plan with the client. We will even step in as an authorized representative to talk to insurance companies on behalf of clients. We infuse financial literacy education throughout the process so that clients feel empowered to advocate for themselves.”

What does financial navigation look like for an uninsured client?

“First, we walk through their financial situation and look at alternative options for insurance, such as Medicaid. If they’re not eligible for insurance, we start applying for financial assistance and negotiating bills to reduce their financial burden.”


Financial distress from out-of-pocket cancer treatment costs increases the risk of death for individuals with cancer by 79%! Through our monthly giving club – The Hope Collective – you can support crucial programs like financial navigation that reduce the financial burden of cancer. Your help = hope!

When our Financial Advocates reduce the financial burden of cancer, they are reducing the overall trauma of cancer for patients, caregivers, and survivors. And like all of Cancer Care’s services, this personalized expertise is provided for FREE – because our donors care enough to make it FREE!

Cancer During COVID-19

Cancer during Covid-19

From the Desk of…

Erinn Anderson, LMSW

Cancer Care Services’ Clinic Social Worker

A Story of Cancer During Covid-19

My mom, who is also one of my best friends, a phenomenal grandmother to my children, and caregiver to her own 95-year-old mother was diagnosed with cancer in December 2019.  She had successful surgery in January and was encouraged to take chemo for long-term protection from recurrent cancer.

Her first chemo was a little bumpy, but we got through it. I had a plan for her to “do better” the next chemo, even though I didn’t verbally share that plan with her. I planned to provide all the cooked meals, housework, etc. so my mom could focus on recovering and return to “normal” as soon as possible.

She recently had chemo on a Tuesday, and she felt increasingly bad all the way up to Sunday night, despite my “plan” that was in action. Sunday night, she called me because her symptoms were becoming unbearable. We called her oncologist that same night, who advised she push a large amount of fluids because her symptoms sounded like significant dehydration.

Unfortunately, the next morning the symptoms (fast pulse, really low blood pressure, chest and arm pain) continued so we saw her oncologist who sent us across the street to the hospital emergency room. I drove my mom to the ER, dropped her at the curb, and proceeded to park the car. When I went to join her, I literally wasn’t allowed to go past the reception desk at the ER! The lobby had been converted to a COVID-19 triage area, there was a security guard stationed at the entrance, and a nurse shook her head in apology.

My mom and I looked at each other in disbelief. She gathered a few belongings and headed down the hall alone. I walked back to the parking lot and cried, my mind racing with all the “what ifs.” She was in the emergency department all day having multiple tests done. None of the staff could provide updates over the phone due to HIPAA, but one finally told my mother to call us on her cell phone which wasn’t receiving the signal from outside calls.

Ultimately, my mom was admitted to the hospital from Monday to Wednesday with NO VISITORS of any kind. Thankfully she was lucid, awake, and capable of advocating for herself – because she was alone the entire time. All of the updates on her test results and her status came from phone calls she made to me. Her doctor graciously took my mom an overnight bag with clothes, a phone charger, and some snacks we sent.

And we talked on the phone. A lot. She spoke about getting herself out of bed to get snacks and water, a task caregivers eagerly jump up to do. She spoke to her cardiologist and every other specialist that visited with her alone, and miraculously remembered the important points of the conversations.

I feel so awful for all of the patients and caregivers who didn’t have the advantages we did. As my husband said, this virus is getting into all the nooks and crannies.

Tell us how COVID-19 is impacting you or someone you love who has cancer by clicking on this link: Share Your Cancer During Covid-19 Story

From the Desk of Tamika Chambers

Financial Advocates such as Tamika Chambers go over medical bills and insurance to help clients.

From the Desk of…

Tamika Chambers

Cancer Care Services’ Financial Advocate

Human error happens all the time. We know that. But it can seem to occur frequently within the context of medical billing and coding, and when it does, knowing the appropriate questions to ask insurance providers is key. Just consider this example from a few months ago, when a local cancer survivor became the first client to utilize Cancer Care Services’ new Financial Navigation program.

Like many others, this client’s medical expenses had piled up quickly, creating too much of a burden to juggle single-handedly. We sat down together and, after some work, devised a comprehensive path to get them over the top and on the other side of this mountain of financial stress. Together, we labored through more than 200 medical claims. Among them, we identified 67 denied claims that we thought warranted a closer look.

Over the course of two weeks and countless calls to insurance representatives, we worked to understand the client’s insurance company’s Explanation of Benefits statements. I asked why each claim was processed in the manner it was, and I shared the answers with the client, to give them a clearer understanding of their insurance coverage.

During this extensive evaluation period, we discovered one $1,000 claim that had been denied as “not medically necessary”.  But in fact, an identical claim had been processed – and paid – weeks later by the same insurance company. Investigation into the initial, denied claim revealed that it had simply been coded incorrectly and was, after all, a covered benefit under the client’s policy. The claim was reprocessed and the client’s bill was adjusted accordingly.

In addition to reviewing current insurance claims, the financial navigation process dealt with older medical debt that had already been sent to collections, too. Debt validation letters were sent (to verify the details of what is owed) and, as a variety of disputed debts were resolved, the client’s FICO score improved. What’s more: two medical debts tallying greater than $800 were wiped clean!

Currently, work continues to reduce their residual debt, creating the opportunity for them to look toward and begin the next phase of our plan: saving for the future. This is a huge victory for our client! 

An improved credit score, deletion of two medical debts, and getting a claim reprocessed by her insurance carrier represent so much more than an umbrella, giving them shelter from the downpour of financial toxicity, it’s more like the sun has come out on a brighter day. Together, we weathered the storm.

From the Desk of Annie Presley

Annie Presley - Cancer Care Services' Adult Counselor

From the Desk of…

Annie Presley, LCSW, OSW-C

Cancer Care Services’ Adult Counselor and a Cancer Survivor

How do I begin to describe what Cancer Care Services means to me? Please allow me to start from the beginning.  My journey with Cancer Care started when I was a Master of Social Work Intern, 15 years ago. After graduating and obtaining my Master’s level license, I was offered a position.

I was thrilled to begin working with cancer patients, survivors, and their families as a cancer navigator – especially because I was working in a field very close to my heart. Not only did I have a brother who died from esophageal cancer in 1999, but I had battled breast cancer just two years prior to being hired at Cancer Care Services.

Then, during my first two months at Cancer Care, I started experiencing physical issues that were troubling. I went to my oncologist, and tests revealed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was hospitalized and began chemo right away. My supervisor kindly advocated for me to remain employed at Cancer Care Services, and even hired a social worker on a temporary basis to hold my position while I received treatment.

As someone who has experienced multiple cancer diagnoses, and who is now a survivor, I know all too well the financial burdens and family stressors that cancer causes. Despite cancer, I was able to continue my education and am now the full-time counselor for Cancer Care! Working here has been a calling since the beginning.

I have been blessed to know so many wonderful clients and friends throughout my 15-year career. I am proud to work for an agency that has been a part of Fort Worth for 73 years, and I know Cancer Care Services will continue this awesome work in Tarrant County for many years to come.

Yarn Heals

Knitted socks by JuJu Knits

From the Desk of…

Julie Hatch Fairley

Cancer Care Services’ Donor & Founder of JuJu Knits


My 54-year-old seemingly healthy mom who never smoked a day in her life died of cancer of undiagnosed origin in only 18 weeks. I was only 30 years old, and I was broken.

Mom used to say “Pick yourself up by your bra straps, JulieSue.”

So I did, and I tried to move on.

I bought a house.

I advanced my career.

Over time, life got better, and I was living the dream once again.

So why did my heart feel so very heavy?

A counselor soon asked – “What did I use to do as a child that brought me joy?”

The answer was easy – “Dig in the dirt and play with yarn.”

On the spot, I received a written “prescription” to garden or knit one hour a day. I took my homework seriously and jumped in with both feet with a lofty goal to immediately make socks. Now for knitters, that’s not necessarily a starter project – hence the pointy toes pictured here.

Knitted socks by Julie
Knitted socks by Julie

I began to knit … and knit … and knit … and slowly I began to heal.

After miles and miles of yarn, my soul began to breathe.

Today, I am fortunate to be able to share the healing power of yarn with others.

In January, we began “Healing Hands” at Cancer Care Services – a monthly meet-up where cancer patients, clients, and caregivers can join me & other fiber friends for fellowship (and free instruction as needed) over yarn. Our group has varied in size each month, but one thing remains constant: when picking up yarn, people put down their phones … and their guard.

Patients set aside their treatment side effects.

Survivors feel hopeful.

Caregivers slowly unwind.

We all begin to think of something other than cancer for a few sacred hours.

It is now my honor to welcome this community to JuJu Knits, a new, local yarn store located at 552 Lipscomb, just a few blocks northeast of Cancer Care Services’ location on Henderson near Pennsylvania.

Every Wednesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. JuJu Knits hosts a fiber fellowship. While the first Wednesday of each month is designated especially for Cancer Care clients and their friends or family, any Cancer Care client is always welcome to join me for fiber fun. We keep at the ready an ongoing stash of donated yarn, needles, hooks, and other supplies for those who wish to learn knitting or crochet but may not have the materials to get started.

The binding community of JuJu Knits is also raising funds for the Cancer Care Services Holiday Gas Card Drive through the sale of handmade ornaments & our yarn winding station.

I believe down to the toes of my pointy socks that yarn really can help one heal.

Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to share my love of yarn with Cancer Care.

With peace, love & yarn,






Cancer is a Thief

Firefighters and Cancer

From the Desk of…

Cameron Brown

Cancer Care Services’ Board Member, Volunteer, & Donor

A Story of Firefighters and Cancer

Cancer is a thief. It sneaks up on us and steals our loved ones, friends, and coworkers. For firefighters, it robs us of our dignity, strength, identity, careers, and lives. The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) says that cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters.

Firefighters are typically mentally, emotionally, and physically strong. They are often identified as tactical athletes whose profession demands stamina, ruggedness, and grit. So what happens when one is diagnosed with cancer? The “C” word is a direct blow to one’s ego and sense of control. Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness come flooding into one’s life. The roles shift from first responder, primary provider, and caregiver to the one needing help.

One retired firefighter recently told me that he was so traumatized by his cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen that he feels like he has post-traumatic stress disorder. Before diagnosis, he worked at a very busy fire station, was confident in his competence, and took great pride in his work. He described the firefighters at his station as “family” because together they prepared and ate meals, worked out, and responded to emergency medical calls and fires.

When he was diagnosed, he was embarrassed and did not want to tell anyone. He feared being perceived as weak, vulnerable, and unable to perform his job. Consequently, he suffered in silence, isolated himself while this disease robbed him of his relationships, health, confidence, and career.

He described many losses in his life such as loss of physical ability to do his job, loss of relationship with his fellow firefighters, and loss of identity as a rescuer. He identifies himself as someone who was born to do this job and this is the only profession he ever wanted to do. During and after treatment, he felt like a “has been” because physically he could no longer fight fires.

Ironically, fighting fires (the thing he loved to do) is probably the culprit for his cancer due to exposure to the products of combustion. (Firefighters have a greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer and an even greater risk of dying from the disease compared to the general populations of the US, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH.)

The late Stuart Scott (ESPN sportscaster and often-quoted recipient of the Jimmy V Award at the 2014 ESPY Awards) said, “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”

Like many, this firefighter openly questioned why he got cancer: he ate a healthy diet, worked out, was kind, and was always willing to help others. His course of therapy included many months of surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. He described living in a lonely world void of companionship.

For a while, he lost his purpose in life because he was no longer a physically fit firefighter. His drive to help others was significantly diminished and although he had many family members, friends, and co-workers willing to help, he was unable to accept support. The thoughts about his cancer and the end of his firefighting career became all-consuming. Fortunately, a turning point came.

The turning point for him was the day when he was no longer embarrassed to ask for help. He realized his life was spinning out of control and he sought counseling.

Because of the nature of the work: providing help in times of crisis, the fire service is a sub-culture with a unique perspective and unfamiliar needs. I am proud that Cancer Care Services has chosen to partner with local fire departments to help firefighters and their families navigate the complex system of care called into action after diagnosis.

As part of the Fort Worth Firefighters Cancer Focus Group (FWFF), Cancer Care has helped coordinate a symposium planned for September 6, 2019. Understanding that the fire service is a unique community that wants to take care of itself so it can care for others, the symposium will bring community resources together to educate members of the fire service family on the latest developments in prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment.

Further, Cancer Care Services provides professional counseling and cancer case management to firefighters and their families. It is my hope, and Cancer Care’s, that one day soon Cancer Care’s professional team will include a Cancer Navigator specializing in helping first responders and their families answer a different type of emergency call.

Today, the retired firefighter I described earlier is a courageous cancer warrior and survivor. For him, what matters is not what he lost but what he has gained. Firefighters – like so many going through cancer treatment – are brave and resilient, often because of support and insight gained from organizations like Cancer Care Services.

Cancer Care Services empowers clients to regain their dignity, sense of identity, and control. When they feel supported, cancer can’t define nor steal an individual’s strength of character. Cancer may be a thief but it cannot “cripple love, shatter hope . . . [or] steal eternal life.”

From the Desk of Reception Volunteers

Reception Volunteers

From the Desk of…

Cancer Care Service’s Reception Volunteers

There’s no way to know exactly what brings a person to our door before they arrive. But there is one way to let anyone struggling with cancer know they’ve come to a place where they will be welcomed and respected, and that is to greet them with a smile.

Without necessarily instructing them to do so, the many volunteers who staff our reception desk throughout the week each have developed this same standard procedure – and while it may seem common sense, the satisfaction they derive from the simplest of gestures is immense.

“In the world we live in, too many people are plugged into their phone, tablet, and themselves. Less and less are people plugged into others and what is going on around them. When clients come in I always greet them with a smile and make a personal comment to them. I try to make them feel special and important when they walk in the door at Cancer Care Services.”

“I was in the same boat in 2013-14, going through cancer myself, and can relate to much of what the clients I see coming in are dealing with. You never know when just a simple thing like that can brighten someone’s otherwise dark day. Sometimes people just need someone to take the time to look up, see them, and listen for a minute.” – Nancy

Or, when the phone rings, “I am the first voice that a client will hear when they finally have time to pick up the phone and call. I want to make sure that I am as helpful and happy for them, to make their experience at Cancer Care Services as positive as possible from the very first contact.” – Jackie

These volunteers don’t take anything for granted. Some even tailor their wardrobe to suit the occasion, “I try to present a cheerful welcome as people come in the door because I know from experience that sometimes it can be little things like bright colors (rather than medical scrubs) that can add up to make a big difference in someone’s otherwise difficult day.” – Gena

Of course, Cancer Care clients come in all ages, ethnicities, and genders – from many different backgrounds but all with cancer in common. Just like our clients, our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Many are cancer survivors or caregivers; others are former healthcare professionals. Not all of them, however, understood the breadth and depth of what Cancer Care Services makes available to our community until they started spending time in the building.

“Cancer Care Services provides such a variety of support – for all. Cancer Care fills in some of the gaps that are lacking in our healthcare system.” – Marilyn

“I learned that the organization supports caregivers and survivors as well as patients. I don’t think caregivers always know that they need support too so the fact that Cancer Care Services works to make people aware of their programs is so important.”

“I was really touched to learn how Cancer Care supports children who are dealing with cancer in their lives with play therapy and other events specifically geared toward children and their family units.” – Gena

“Cancer can strike anyone, in any walk of life, at any time in their life. I have learned that once you “beat” cancer, there are still so many mental, physical, and financial challenges that need to be dealt with for many years after. I am so grateful to be able to share the knowledge that Cancer Care exists and is here to help people of all types.” – Jackie

“As a volunteer, I have learned a lot more about how Cancer Care Services works – more than I knew when I was working as an RN Case Manager making referrals for my patients. I wish more local Case Managers and Social Workers could spend just a few hours in the Cancer Care building to better understand how the agency can help lighten the load for many; it really is an oasis in the midst of dysfunction in the healthcare system.” – Marilyn

In some instances, laughter may be the best medicine, but around the offices of Cancer Care Services, a smile is a powerful tool we use on a daily basis. It’s part of our culture because it serves as an outward expression of hope, comfort, and connection between human beings finding their way.

“I love helping connect clients to resources they need through our social work team, but I also really love my one on one time with them at the desk, too. I was lucky one day to have a set of donated Texas Rangers baseball tickets to give to a family for free; they were so surprised and cried tears of happiness at the opportunity to spend some time away from doctors and simply focus on being a family and having fun. I still smile when I think about it.” – Jocelyn

If you would like to become one of our reception volunteers, fill out our online volunteer form today to get started.

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.
– Mother Teresa

From the Desk of Megan Clifton

Megan Clifton - Client Connection Manager and Survivorship Navigator

From the Desk of…

Megan Clifton

Cancer Care Services’ Client Connection Manager, Survivorship Navigator and a Cancer Survivor

When you are a small-town coach’s kid, well, you are viewed just a little bit differently. Sometimes in a good light, but if the team’s not having a winning football season, you may be seen in a not-so-good light! This is how I grew up: with the small-town spotlight always on my family, so when my family got THAT call from the doctor… not only did our lives change forever, but the spotlight was there again, too. But this time in a much different form.

When I was just 13 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. When the doctors “caught it”, the odds were stacked against me. The tumor was big, and time was of the essence. Diagnosis on a Friday, in the operating room on a Monday. It was scary. It was emotional. It was real.

Once the news spread, in my tiny hometown of Comanche, Texas, the LOVE poured in. That same spotlight that once shined on my dad’s wins and losses, now shined on his 13-year-old daughter. It felt like every inch of Texas was praying for me, and it was so overwhelmingly amazing!

I’ll never forget my first thoughts when my parents and I received that dreaded phone call that no one wants to hear. When my parents sat me down to say, “the tumor is malignant”, I jumped up from my seat and ran outside to the backyard. My dad, trailing behind me, scooped me up in his arms and said it’s going to be ok, and we are going to get through this. My response to that took him by surprise.

I looked up at my dad and asked, “Does this mean I won’t get to run track this season?” You see, when you are 13, you aren’t thinking about life or death. You’re simply thinking about how this is going to affect your social life. (We’re talking about the oh-so-awkward, preteen/teenage years, after all.)

I really needed to know at that moment if my track season was coming to an end. Needless to say, my parents had other, bigger concerns. Soon, we would be meeting with the oncologist. My amazing parents dealt with the hard stuff, the tough questions like what is chemo going to do to her body, or what was the percentage of me actually making it through the next 10 months.

Meanwhile, I remember being scared of what my friends were going to think. No, really. The first thing I asked my doctor was, “Am I going to lose my hair?“ I was absolutely terrified that I was going to be “that” kid in eighth grade – the weird, bald-headed kid. It was nearly impossible for me to imagine anything worse than that.

Chemotherapy was hard. Oh, so very hard. Hair loss, nausea, weight gain from steroids – my whole appearance changed in the blink of an eye. I was sick, all the time. In the beginning, my chemo treatments were outpatient, so I would always get to come home afterward. However, this was also hard because my low blood counts meant my friends weren’t allowed to visit; my very weak body would not be able to fight off the infection.

I was a sad teenager, a lot. I felt isolated and could not figure out why this was happening to me.  Again, thank goodness for my amazing parents and, add to that, two amazing big sisters. And a town that was wrapping me up in prayers, good thoughts, and hugs – even though from a distance.

After six months of chemo, my oncologist did another biopsy. Unfortunately, we found that the chemotherapy was not working, and the cancer cells were about to start spreading  At this point, my doctors had to get aggressive with my treatment. This meant much stronger chemo and dreaded radiation. Trying to explain this to my friends was no easy task.  I didn’t understand it any better than they did. And, all I could think about was I am about to start High School bald-headed and pale.  It was the worst. I cried a lot. Thank goodness for prayer and my momma!

It was time to start radiation. I have never been so scared in my entire life! I was about to have radiation beads implanted into my body, and I would have to lay flat on my back for a week straight, not being able to move, with tubes and machines attached to my body as well. No one was allowed in my room for more than a short period of time, and they had to stand behind a shield in order to see me. An experience like that is something you can never forget, no matter how old you are when you experience it, 13 or 30 or any age.

My oncology nurses had to have some very serious conversations with me about how this radiation was going to affect my body in the future. Conversations about my body, which at 14 now was already changing because of puberty and adolescence, changing even more because of radiation and cancer, made me so confused about life. I will say everyone, and I mean everyone, on my medical team was so kind, caring, thoughtful, mindful, and, encouraging, and would do whatever they could to try and put a smile on my face.

Following my week-long radiation treatment, I began a six-month-long chemo regimen. For this round, instead of coming home, I would have to stay in the hospital for days at a time while my chemo slow-dripped. Again, “sick as a dog” was an understatement. I thought those 6 months were never going to end.

I began my freshman year of high school bald, rail-thin, sick, and uncomfortable. But I wasn’t the only one in my small town with an unexpected new look. I started high school the same way all the freshman boys did – because they shaved their heads! All 30 of them! Yep, the boys of my class, who were probably pretty nervous about starting high school too, shaved their heads to support me. Their sweet gesture made entering those double doors that day a little less frightening.

Eventually, the very long six months of chemo came to an end, and one, final biopsy concluded that I was cancer-free. That first year of being a high schooler, I felt it all: happy, sad, scared, and anxious, all while trying to navigate cancer as an adolescent. Through it all, the support that my family and I received… To this day, I cannot talk about it without getting teary-eyed. It meant so much to my survival. From family and friends to people I didn’t even know who were praying for me, the love and support I received were unconditional. This also came in the form of so many support services and nonprofits.

It is because of all the support I received that I have chosen to work in a field where I can give back some of what I’ve been given. It is my goal to help, support, and reach out to every cancer patient that comes across my path! I live to tell my story because – at any age – life isn’t always beautiful, but it is a beautiful ride!