Theatre was an escape for me in the world of chemo, needles and side effects.Renee Brandon
On December 6, 2014, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I went from being a busy high school student to spending nights in a hospital bed at CHaD (the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock). The first day I was admitted was a blur, but I remember being welcomed by friendly nurses who wanted to make me happy. My nurse was Alanna, and I will forever be grateful for her. She made me forget that I was in the hospital for treatment. She made me laugh even when I wasn’t feeling well. And, she made my first day at CHaD as comfortable as possible.
A few days later, I started my first dose of chemo and had a full day of appointments. Throughout the day I had a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) inserted into my arm, an echocardiogram, a bone marrow biopsy, a spinal tap and I met the Dartmouth men's hockey team. I was on my way to have my PICC line done, wearing my fashionable and in-style hospital gown, when the whole hockey team lined up to give me high fives. I applaud the transportation person who successfully navigated me through the line of players.
With my treatment came meeting many people, specifically my “team,” which included a combination of specialists from CHaD and Norris Cotton Cancer Center—three doctors, a Child Life Specialist, a social worker, a dietician and a team nurse. Without them, I would not be where I am right now, healthy. I also connected with others including nurses and a very special anesthesiologist. I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me through the last two roller-coaster years of my life.
During my treatment, I was often not at school, and I did not participate in sports like I used to, but I never gave up theatre. Theatre was an escape for me in the world of chemo, needles and side effects. I was able to leave my life and become a character, even for a little part of the day. I participated in four shows at my high school and one show on Broadway.
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I was able to be in a live Broadway performance in New York City on my 17th birthday. I was part of the ensemble in Les Misérables, and was on stage singing and dancing with the cast. Before the show, the cast even sang happy birthday to me! It is a moment I will never forget, and I will always hold theatre in a special place in my heart.
Since the moment I was diagnosed, I knew that I wanted to spend my life helping everyone that I possibly could. During my senior year of high school, while still on chemo, I planned a 5K road race, called “Bold for Gold 5K” to raise awareness for childhood cancer. All the proceeds were donated to the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at CHaD, where I am being treated. I thought that I would raise maybe $1,000, but I ended up raising $7,000—more than I thought possible. I was able to plan the race again this year, raising $6,000, and I hope to continue it for years to come. When I planned this event, I wanted to make a difference, but I never thought about the impact it would make. The overwhelming success of my event is supporting the many services at the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic. My event allowed me to give back to a world I never thought I would be a part of; a world where I soon realized the importance of the little things like books, movies, or fun snacks that are available at the clinic.
Also, during my treatment, I became a CHaD ambassador and continue in that role today. As an ambassador, I have been fortunate to be able to speak on the behalf of CHaD and share my story. Speaking at events has helped me to deal with what I went through. Now because of my public speaking opportunities I am going to major in Communications at Lasell College.
After two years, my treatment ended due to complictations, but I am cancer-free and a “normal” person healthy now. I am even starting to volunteer at CHaD in the Child Life Program.
While I wish I had not had leukemia, I would have never been able to meet so many inspiring people or have the opportunity to share my story. I can truly say that having been diagnosed and overcoming leukemia has had a positive impact on my life.