20 years… It’s been 20 years since April 26, 2000: the day I was given a second chance at life.
On Dec. 3, 1998, I was 10 years old and hadn’t been feeling well for about 3 months. After finally having blood work drawn, I was admitted to Akron Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). I didn’t know what to think when I was first told that I had cancer; this is something children shouldn’t have to know or ever think about.
But, I remember being more concerned about the fact that I wouldn’t be returning to school that week because seeing my friends, at 10 years old, seemed more important to me. Needless to say, I didn’t return to school that year and Akron Children’s became my second home for the next 2 years.
Chemotherapy started about 5 days into my first admission. I asked what percentage of people don’t lose their hair. Only 2%, and I swore I was going to be in that 2%. Needless to say, a few days later it started falling out in clumps. I’m not sure what made me think to do it, but I ended up making jewelry (bracelets and rings) out of my hair as it fell out in large amounts. After my hair was completely gone, wearing a hat became a regular part of my wardrobe and something I never left the house without.
That first admission lasted 21 days, and I was able to go home on Christmas Eve. However, I was only home for 2 days before being admitted due to an infection, which became a repeating cycle.
I went into remission quickly and was able to keep up with my schoolwork between tutoring and homeschooling. I was able to return to school for my 5th grade year in the Fall and thought everything was finally over and back to normal.
However, in November 1999, one week before my 11th birthday, we went in for a routine appointment only to be told that the leukemia had returned.
I had relapsed. I remember this very well. I didn’t even cry this time. I felt so frustrated, defeated and upset that my body had allowed the cancer to return after everything I had already gone through. I didn’t understand and couldn’t fathom the idea of going through treatment for a second time.
So, I was readmitted, started back on chemotherapy, and lost all of what little hair I had grown back. I spent Christmas 1999 at Akron Children’s, as well as the Millennium New Year.
At this point, we were told that a bone marrow transplant was needed; otherwise, the leukemia was going to keep returning, despite me going into remission.
My mother, father, and brother were all tested – none of them were a match so I was placed on the registry. Back in 2000, bone marrow transplants were still considered “experimental” and only a few had been done in Ohio. Luckily, they found an unrelated match for me quickly, and we were sent to Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There, I received more chemotherapy, as well as total body radiation in preparation for the transplant.
On April 26, 2000, I received my transplant; the day my life was saved.
I returned to Ohio with my mom in August 2000 and continued follow-up appointments at Akron Children’s for the following 10 years.
My life over the last 20 years has been more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. I married my wonderful husband 8 years ago. Everyone told me for years, that due to cancer treatment as a child, becoming pregnant wasn’t a possibility for me. However, in May 2015, much to everyone’s surprise, we were blessed with our first little boy, Liam, and, in September 2016, we were blessed with our second little boy, Noah.
I became a nurse in 2010 and completed my master’s degree in nursing in 2018 and have been a nurse practitioner since then.
I have had a few minor “bumps” along the road over the last 20 years, but NOTHING comparable to what I endured during the treatment I received for my leukemia. Though these times aren’t ideal by any means, I feel that going through this has shaped me into the person I am today. A lot of my greatest memories are of times I spent at Akron Children’s and of the nurses, physicians, and other healthcare providers that became what I felt were my family.
Dr. Mohammad Ali Talaizadeh (aka “Dr. Talai”) was my primary hematology-oncologist, and he will forever hold a special place in my heart. He made me feel safe, and I trusted him. He also made me laugh every day. I remember being in the hospital on April 1, 1999, and I played an April Fool’s prank on him by drinking apple juice out of a urine cup. I’ll never forget this.
A piece of my heart will always be with Akron Children’s, as I feel that I grew up there. This became a second home to me, and everyone there became my second family. What one would think was the worst time of my life, was made into the best time possible given the circumstances I was going through.
I am blessed that I am healthy today and thank Akron Children’s for providing me with the best care possible!
Learn more about the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Akron Children’s Hospital. On average, the center cares for 8 newly diagnosed children with cancer each month. The most common types of cancer are leukemia, brain and central nervous system cancers. To make a donation in Nikki’s honor to help other children with cancer, please click here.