In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we will be sharing a series of stories about some of our incredible patients who have overcome cancer or are currently fighting the disease.
My name is Stacy Helton and I am a 10-year cancer survivor. I celebrated this momentous milestone in July by flying to Florida to be with my family. We reflected upon how far we’ve come over the years and how much we’ve grown together.
Before sharing where I am today, it’s important to describe what has got me here.
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma when I was 16, the day before Christmas break my junior year of high school.
It was by happenstance that I learned I had cancer. I had slipped getting into my car, hitting my chin and chest on my steering wheel, and so my mom and I went to urgent care where I got a chest X-ray. Surprisingly it showed a tumor. Later I learned it was cancer.
It might sound funny, but when I got the news my biggest question was if I could start treatment after junior prom. I had already purchased my dress and had been looking forward to prom for months. Of course to my disappointment, I couldn’t wait and had to start treatment immediately.
While everyone else was making last minute plans for the holiday break, I was on a flight from Anchorage to Seattle Children’s Hospital consumed with feelings of uncertainty. I was hopeful that treatment would go well because doctors said my cancer had a high survival rate, but I didn’t know what was in store for me.
Treatment and a new nickname
Little did I know that I was about to have a lot of fun having cancer. Yes, you read that correctly.
I ate a ridiculous amount of Burgermaster, shopped at University Village by the hospital, walked on the Burke-Gilman Trail, cheered on the Seattle Sonics and attended Mariners games in the spring. I even made some friends at the Ronald McDonald House where I stayed.
I was also lucky because I didn’t gain weight on the steroids I had to take, which often happens with people, and I never threw up even though I’d feel nauseous. I also had the chance to participate in a study for my type of cancer where I had fewer rounds of chemotherapy.
Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some challenges during treatment. My bones ached, I felt isolated and couldn’t go outside when my blood counts were low, and I missed my friends and family back home.
Losing my hair was also by far the worst part. But I tried to stay positive and made the most of it by styling my wig on a regular basis. It was because of this that my mom gave me the unique nickname of “chemo Barbie,” which you will see in the video below.
My treatment at Children’s lasted five and a half months. I was thrilled when treatment ended and I got to go home. I remember learning the news on my dad’s birthday.
Once home, it was hard to go back to high school for my senior year because I had a new perspective on life and things that mattered before treatment, didn’t seem all that important. At the same time, I was very happy that I graduated from high school with the rest of my class. I then went to college at Washington State University to pursue a communications degree.
Where I am today: Giving back to the hospital and community
Now 27 years old, I am doing awesome. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful that I am here. I also miss those that I met as a patient that are unfortunately no longer with us.
I feel forever in debt to Children’s for helping me survive cancer. Fred Wilkinson, senior social worker, was an integral part of my care team. He connected me with a former patient who survived Hodgkin’s so that I would better understand what was going on. He also helped my parents understand and navigate the emotional ups and downs.
I was also able to stay on track with my peers and later go on to graduate high school and attend college thanks to help with homework and other school projects that I received through Children’s School Services Program.
During my senior year in college in 2008, I completed my five-year checkup at Children’s, which is when I was able to call myself a survivor. It was at this visit that I realized a new goal: I wanted to work at Children’s as a way to give back to the organization that saved my life.
I first started as an intern at Children’s and later, I had the opportunity to become an employee and work as the coordinator for the Helmet Safety Program. In my role, I am the Health and Safety Van Coordinator, a position funded through a grant from Kohl’s that provides free monthly helmet fitting and giveaway events in the community. I’ve held this position for nearly four years, and it’s something that makes me very proud.
I find joy everyday by working at a place that means so much to me. Also training and working with an amazing volunteer team brings ear-to-ear smiles to my face. My volunteer team has stuck with me through the years and many of them are some of the most important people in my life. That may sound corny, but it’s true. The volunteers inspire me to make a difference in our community.
I look forward to event days because families often share stories of how Children’s has made a difference in their lives. Children’s is a special organization that gives children the opportunity to be kids and to live without fear. I know this first hand.
As I reflect on my experience, I would like to end by sharing some advice to anyone facing a similar diagnosis. Try your best to focus on getting back to your normal life with your friends. I believe that if you stay positive throughout your experience, your outcome will be better. This experience will make you stronger. I encourage you to use that strength in the future to serve others and find a job that brings you joy. As a survivor, you deserve to be happy.
Watch Stacy’s story in her “I am Seattle Children’s: Chemo Barbie” video below.
- Seattle Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders
- Patient voices: Jake beats cancer, starts new life at college
If you’d like to interview Stacy, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at email@example.com.