I was your typical teenage girl getting ready to embark on my sophomore year of high school when I felt a lump in my neck. After waiting to see if it would go away, it never did, the doctors began testing me for everything, even cat scratch fever. It wasn’t until a CT scan of my chest happened to show an additional mass next to my heart that the doctors were concerned. I was immediately scheduled for a surgical biopsy of the swollen lymph node in my neck; the results showed that I had Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Suddenly, my plans to play volleyball, earn my letterman, and life as I knew it changed completely. I started chemotherapy at McLane’s Children’s Specialty Clinic the first week of my 10th grade year and had to stay at the Ronald McDonald house in Temple, TX, when I should have been in a classroom with all of my friends.
I later moved to MD Anderson in Houston, TX where during my 8 hour long infusions and extended hospital admissions I would receive B.I.G. Love bags with essentials and wishlists to help make the hospital stays easier. While I enjoyed ordering my favorites off of the hospital menu, most of the time my family and I were able to enjoy food that B.I.G. Love provided in the RMH refrigerator. These simple, yet life changing things made going through treatment less stressful and easier for my family and I.
Six months after being in remission, I was still convinced I could go back to my normal life. I began playing volleyball until I was sidelined again from a severe stabbing pain in my left hip. My oncologist was in disbelief as he told us that the oral steroids I took as part of my cancer treatment caused the blood flow to stop in both of my hips resulting in Avascular Necrosis. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time until my left hip fully collapsed.
Just like that, it felt like everything had been taken away from me again. I underwent a total hip replacement in March of my junior year, which was extremely hard to deal with physically and emotionally. Fighting cancer was one thing, however coming to terms with the fact that I can never run or jump again and play the sports I love alongside my friends seemed as daunting as the original diagnosis.
Once again, B.I.G. Love was there with anything I could think of to make hospital stays easier, and to help motivate me while figuring out this new way of life. Initially, after four rounds of chemotherapy treatment and being deemed in remission, I thought I was going to leave this experience behind. However, after another year and a half of dealing with these side effects from treatment, I decided to embrace the opportunity to help other cancer patients and their families by serving as an ambassador for B.I.G. Love. I would contend that the greatest outcomes from this life altering experience is the relationships I have made with kids like me and opportunities to meet inspiring people through B.I.G. Love. After I graduate in May, I will be studying Biology at The University of Texas at Austin. In the future, I want to become a Pediatric Oncologist and treat and care for children, who like me, hear the words “You have cancer."
Laken Manna, B.I.G. Love Ambassador
If you feel compelled to help kids and teens like Laken, please join us in our mission by giving monthly at https://www.biglovecancercare.org/monthlygiving.