September is childhood cancer awareness month. Every day, 43 children are rushed to the ER and diagnosed with childhood cancer. One out of eight kids will not survive their childhood cancer. Fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty children from ages zero to 19 years old are diagnosed with childhood cancer each year. The top five cancers diagnosed each year are in order from least to greatest; Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, Hodgkin Disease, Brain and Central Nervous System, and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).I want everyone to support my sister and others like her who are fighting cancer by wearing gold.
My little sister, Melanie, has a subgroup of AML called APML which is a curable subgroup of leukemia; she was diagnosed at 13 years old. Every three months Melanie had to have a spinal tap and bone marrow aspirations to make sure the chemo treatments were effective and that the cancer cells had not relapsed into mutations. These procedures were very painful, but recent approval by the FDA of a new blood test eliminated the need for these procedures. The DNA can be checked in that manner instead, which is a major breakthrough for all of these children. We just need more of these breakthroughs. Our drugs need to be revamped and more research is needed to minimize a child’s chemo dose so it is effective but not the same as an adult. It’s important that the treatment plans are different because the adult’s treatment plan has a higher dose with a steady pace. This approach does not work for children because the symptoms appear rapidly the longer the child is administered chemo. With a higher dose and rapid chemo session the child doesn’t have a severe reaction to the symptoms from chemo.
There have been advancements in ALL, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, the most common childhood cancer. In 1975 only a quarter of ALL patients ages 15 to 19 survived for more than five years after diagnosis. Recent technology and medical updates have allowed 90 percent of patients to survive childhood cancer. Between 1975 and 2010 mortality has decreased by 50% with AML. AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, is the deadliest form of leukemia.
Melanie Abele, my younger sister, was diagnosed with APML, Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia on July 9, 2014 at CHOP: a day that changed my family’s life forever. Melanie was easily diagnosed because she showed symptoms of every single symptom known to AMPL Leukemia. Bleeding gums and rapid nose bleed are the two most common symptoms. Every year in CHOP only two cases are reported of APML Leukemia. At the time of Melanie’s ER visit to Doylestown Hospital on July 5, I was singing in Paris and Normandy with a 500 piece choir from Clarion University for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I did not find out until I landed in Atlanta, Georgia at 3 p.m. on July 11, 2013. My grandma Judy got the call from my mom, where she asked Grandma to turn off the speakerphone because she had information to discuss. My Mother recalls that phone conversation to be one of the hardest phone calls she ever made to my Grandmother.
My Grandmother told me Melanie had a severe nose bleed, and I connected the dots. The previous summer I had to read “Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie” by Jordan Sonnenblick which is about a teenage boy whose brother contracts AML Leukemia. I automatically thought it was AML Leukemia, which is the deadliest form of leukemia. I was extremely terrified, and so was Mel. Melanie’s life had been changed forever while she was hooked up to an IV in PICU. Melanie cried when she lost her hair, and began to idolize my dirty blonde waves. She was absolutely devastated. I cried the entire flight from Atlanta to Pittsburgh because I thought I was going to lose her. After all of the fighting over the years I thought I was going to lose my little sister.
As soon as we landed in Pittsburgh we drove all the way to CHOP running on three hours of sleep. My Mom was shocked to see my Grandma and I arrive at Mel’s room on third floor Oncology so soon, but we had to see Mel. The next day the diagnosis came through as APML Leukemia. I can remember Mom saying this is the best news, because this particular kind has the highest cure rate (which is 80%) . The nagging question of would my sister be one of that 80 percent entered my thoughts.
Due to her condition, Mel was moved to the PICU and was there for 28 days because of a respiratory issue. Upon release of PICU, Melanie was to have a port installed a minor surgery, but after six days the port got infected and failed so it was removed. Instead of having a new port placed immediately my Mom chose to try IV treatment for the chemo. Melanie reported the port was not right, and the nurses praised her for being so brave and forthcoming. Mel was devastated, and returned to administering chemo through an IV. Her first trip home from the hospital was Sept. 28, 2014 we all went to the beach for a getaway weekend.
The phases of IV chemo had caused Mel’s hair to fall out. Then it grew back in, but it was lost again in December during the third phase of chemo. Jan. 9, 2015 Melanie had confirmed remission and the oral chemo pills started. This past Friday, 9/9/16, Melanie started cycle eight out of nine continuing the oral chemo pills. We have six months to go and she will be a survivor!
Melanie had a horrible time being hooked up to an IV, but she also has amazing stories of her experiences at CHOP. Once she was out of the ICU, PICU, the cardiac floor, and into a normal oncology room she had some thrilling experiences. She met the band 5 Seconds Of Summer, and got a calendar with their signatures. Melanie met The Vamps and talked to them. Melanie also met Meghan Trainor at CHOP, before she started to get ready for Christmas and school in January. Ryan Seacrest has a radio studio in the lobby area of Chop where the children can meet and visit with celebrities.
For the last two years Melanie and I have been going to RMC, Ronald McDonald Camp, for a week up in the Poconos.During 2015, our first year at the camp, the theme was under the sea. In 2016 the theme was Hollywood. Mel and I have made a lot of friends at RMC, and some of our friends have gone to a better place. Both of us were in the talent show this year at RMC. Melanie sang along to Centuries, and called herself “Mel Money.” I went up with my band, and sang an original song that I wrote with our guitarist Claire.
We will travel to Los Angeles with the music department in February; both Mel and my mom are going.
We plan to celebrate Mel’s treatment ending a little early. Mel finishes oral chemo on Mar. 9, 2017. We haven’t planned all of the festivities yet, but a major celebration will be happening.
Since it is Childhood Cancer awareness month our last football game of this month is Sept. 30, 2016. The entire student body should wear gold out of school spirit as well as childhood cancer awareness. It’s important to support childhood cancer awareness because it’s a very difficult struggle to not only survive, but also live a “normal” teenage life. Show your spirit for Sept. 30,2016!