This piece was written by Katrina Siebels, who recently celebrated being 10 years cancer-free.
I’m not quite sure where the past ten years have gone.
I blinked and was no longer a bald teenager with cancer laying in a hospital bed with bags of chemo hanging above my bed. I’ve forgotten my nine-digit hospital ID number and need to reference the giant white binder my mom created to house my medical records to remember my chemo cocktail. In the past 10 years, I finished high school, lived in Europe, graduated from an incredible college, moved thousands of miles away from home, traveled across the country working at summer camps for teenagers, and eventually found my way back to Minnesota. Today, I am engaged to marry arguably the greatest man in the world, have incredible family and friends, and I work at Children’s Cancer Research Fund helping donors make meaningful gifts.
As a 16 year-old lying awake in the middle of the night due to a heavy dose of prednisone thinking about my future, I never could have imagined all of this. I didn’t imagine what my life would look like in 10 years, I just hoped that tomorrow would feel a little better than today. My work at CCRF frequently reminds me of the day I was diagnosed.
I remember my doctor kindly knocking on the door to my hospital room. As he entered, he was followed by a line of residents and interns. The residents and interns had kind and sympathetic smiles on their faces – I knew that they were there to observe. They were there to witness how to share with my parents and me that the mass in the middle of my chest was what everyone feared: cancer.
Although there was a somber attitude while delivering my diagnosis, a strange amount of excitement was in the voice of my doctor when the conversation shifted to what would happen next. He shared, “If you’re going to get cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, b-cell is the one to get. This is quite a coincidence because you won’t believe what I just learned.” Just a month prior to this very moment in my hospital room, he was in Germany at a conference learning about my exact kind of cancer and changes that doctors could make to the chemo protocol to increase cure rates. These changes in the protocol caused cure rates to jump from 60% to 90%.
That’s all my family needed to hear: There was a treatment plan and it was better than before because of advances in research.
My story isn’t so different from thousands of childhood cancer survivors. Cancer is just part of our story – there are plenty of experiences that make up our lives aside from a cancer diagnosis. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all of the 43 kids who get diagnosed with cancer every single week in the United States. Even kids diagnosed with cancers with high cure rates aren’t guaranteed a good outcome. There are protocols that need improving and children in need of safer and less toxic treatment options.
I’m grateful to be one of the 90%. I’m grateful that people like you believed in research 20 years ago so I could receive a more effective treatment plan. The past 10 years have all been a gift due to organizations like Children’s Cancer Research Fund and people like you who believe in the importance of supporting new research. I have the privilege of working for CCRF and seeing firsthand the impact of supporting this work. We don’t have all of the answers yet, but CCRF is supporting researchers who continue to seek out safer and less toxic treatments for children with cancer.
Research happening in labs today has the potential to raise the survival rates of tomorrow – but not without your help. Your dollar means more healthy survivors like Katrina can celebrate birthdays, weddings and cancer-free anniversaries for years to come.