St. Jude patient Anna, blood cancer

Sweet 16 at St. Jude

Patient Anna wasn't able to celebrate her 16th birthday at home. Instead, a group of friends from her hometown made the journey to St. Jude, making her birthday a sweet success.

 

A framed photo shows Anna in green spangles on a football field, part of her high school’s homecoming half-time show. She nails her pose; her smile is wide. There is no sign that her life is in danger.

 St. Jude patient Anna holding a photo of herself during the half-time show at homecoming.

 St. Jude patient Anna holding a photo of herself during the half-time show at homecoming.

One week after the game, Anna and her mom, Jane, were getting a jump on plans for Anna’s 16th birthday party when the pediatrician called. Anna’s labs were back, and it wasn’t anemia making her tired.

Jane remembers the doctor saying, “I’ve got terrible news. Anna has leukemia, and there’s no question. You need to get home and pack a bag because you’re going to Memphis.”

They were sent to Memphis, Tenn., because that’s the home of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and St. Jude is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer. Anna and her mom arrived at St. Jude in October 2017, and since then, between chemotherapy and complications, Anna has been inpatient for more than 100 days.

When not at the hospital, she's been in St. Jude housing and missing her friends, her dad, siblings, her dog and her school. But she's kept a positive outlook.

St. Jude patient Anna with friends at her 16th birthday party

St. Jude patient Anna with friends at her 16th birthday party

 

She’s just always been the happiest person, no matter what’s going on.

Anna's best friend, Emme

 

“Of course, I never would have planned to be celebrating my 16th birthday while undergoing treatment for leukemia,” said Anna. “Still, my birthday was approaching, and here we were. We decided to make the best out of the situation since I only get one 16th birthday.”

So Jane marshalled a team of about a half-dozen moms to help her pull off a party in the newly-renovated dining room at Target House, a long-term lodging facility for St. Jude patients and their families.

The day of, lavender and pink paper lanterns hung from the ceiling. There were bowls of chips and popcorn, a coffee bar and a giant cookie cake. Anna finished up her medications while her friends neared the end of a five-hour drive through the February rain to be with her on her special day.

St. Jude patient Anna with friends at her 16th birthday
 

The day couldn’t have been better. I was feeling great, the dining room looked wonderful, and we were all so excited to see everybody from home. Because of treatment, we haven’t had the chance to go home and won’t until treatment is complete. The fact that they would travel so far just to share my birthday meant the world to me.

Anna

 

Some milestones, like getting her driver’s license, will have to wait. Anna’s cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer, is aggressive. But research at St. Jude has paved the way for new treatments.

“Being a teenager with cancer is a unique challenge,” she said. “Right now, my life does revolve around St. Jude and getting better, but I know that this experience will equip me to be my very best after.”

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