The summer after graduating high school is when my life as I knew it changed forever. This is typical of most 18-year-olds about to leave high school behind and begin life as a college student, but mine changed for completely different reasons and set me on a path I never imagined. I was working as a lifeguard that summer of 2010, and I fainted after spending a couple hours in the heat from what I assumed was dehydration or heat exhaustion. I continued to feel fatigued and not like my usual, active self for the next week or so. I was getting out of breath after walking a long distance or climbing up a flight of stairs. Given I had played 3 sports all through high school, I knew something was off. I went to my doctor and he sent me to have blood work done for what I thought would be mono or something minor. The blood work ended up coming back irregular and my mom was instructed to drive me about 2.5 hours north to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. After many tests, needles, and biopsies it was confirmed that I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). It was completely out of the blue and so unexpected—it felt like a bad dream. I was put on a treatment plan and immediately began chemotherapy sessions.
My life quickly turned from picking out a dorm room and college courses to choosing hats for my balding head and which medications I would need to offset the chemotherapy side effects. I started having awful pain in the lower part of my left leg a few weeks into my chemo treatment. Initially we were told it was just another one of the many side effects from chemo. It was only until I was being taken to the children’s hospital via helicopter that my family and I realized something extremely serious was going on. I was admitted into the ICU was put in a medically induced coma. My parents were told that I had developed a life-threatening infection that was sending my body into septic shock. The chemo had dropped my immune system so low, that I no longer had the ability to fight off even the most harmless bacteria in my body. My organs were shutting down, so I was hooked up to many machines that were keeping me alive, including a ventilator and kidney dialysis. Due to the sepsis that had taken over my body, my doctors and parents then made the difficult decision to have my left leg amputated at the knee, as a last effort to rid what was causing the infection. There were doubts that even if my leg was removed that I would not survive the surgery due to blood loss. I later woke up to the news that my leg had to be amputated so I could live.
I spent a total of six weeks in the ICU. Once I was stable enough, I was moved to the cancer floor where I spent another six weeks, including my 19th birthday. From there I was transferred to multiple rehab hospitals, where I eventually learned to walk with a prosthetic leg and recover. I returned home in time for Thanksgiving that year, after a total of four months spent as an in-patient. The rest of my battle with leukemia was not easy, and filled with lots of ups and downs. Since then, I have had many hospital stays, surgeries, and other health problems due to the side effects of chemotherapy. I also was diagnosed with avascular necrosis (AVN) in my hips, shoulder and foot, which causes joint pain due to lack of blood flow. This and another infection in my left hip resulted in lots of pain, forcing me to be in a wheelchair for over a year. During this time, I was on multiple pain medicines, morphine drips, and IV antibiotics. For a year and a half, I spent almost every Monday in Indianapolis for chemotherapy infusions, spinal taps and blood and platelet transfusions. In July of 2012, I had my final dose of chemo and was considered to be in remission. In the fall of 2012, I received two hip surgeries including a total hip replacement, allowing me to learn to walk once again with a prosthetic leg.
Since 2010, I have endured 15 spinal taps, over 59 blood and platelet transfusions, over 20 inpatient admissions to the hospital, and 28 surgeries. Since loosing my leg in 2010, I have had several different types of prosthetic legs on a search to continue finding different knees, feet and sockets to allow me to walk more comfortably and live an active lifestyle. I had always dreamed about having a realistic looking cover for my prosthetic leg, but never thought it would be possible due to the costs and insurance not covering it. That all changed when I found out about the Lauren Scruggs Kennedy Foundation. I could not be more grateful for the beautiful silicone covering they have provided me with. It is a dream come true to look down and see my prosthetic leg match my real leg! Despite everything, I have refused to let cancer or a prosthetic leg slow me down. I attended the University of Southern Indiana, where I graduated from in December of 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. I now work for the foundation of a children’s hospital in Chicago.