CHOC Teen Shares Her Positive Take On Beating Cancer

In honor of National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week (April 2-8), CHOC Children’s patient, Kenia Gonzalez, shares her story of how she coped with her diagnosis and went on to beat cancer. She wants young cancer patients to know “you are never alone!” 

Kenia, pictured outside of CHOC Hospital, was recently interviewed for the “OMG! Cancer Summit,” a special oncology conference for the young adult cancer movement.

My name is Kenia Gonzalez and I am nineteen years old. I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was seventeen. I was a senior at Century High School, a straight-A student who was involved in different activities, including captain of the volleyball team, when I found out my life was going to change completely.

I remember having a meeting with my parents and my doctor about what I was diagnosed with and what was going to happen next. At first, I felt overwhelmed by my whole situation since everything was happening so fast. It was a lot to take in because I was told about chemotherapy and its effects, and the limitations that I was going to have.

Getting diagnosed with ovarian cancer was not only tough for me to take in but I felt it was also very hard for my family – especially my parents. My parents are very strong people and I know they tried to be stronger for me. What motivated me to fight and not give up, were my parents because I knew I had to stay strong not only for myself but also for them. I was not going to let this disease defeat me and what helped me keep a positive attitude was the fact that I knew that I had complete support from my family, friends, classmates, and teachers. Most importantly, I knew my family was behind me every step of the way.

I feel completely blessed with all the support I received and I am proud to say I have been cancer free for two years. I am now attending college, working, and enjoying the opportunity I was given. I understand that not everyone who is unfortunately diagnosed with any type of cancer has the same reaction, but I just want to say to anyone who is having difficulties, to never give up and always keep trying, especially if it is something as valuable as their life, and to know that they are never alone.

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Hyundai Cancer Institute Associate Spotlight: Janet Hager, Case Coordinator

Janet Hager is case coordinator for the After Cancer Treatment Survivorship (ACTS) Program. After working in several different areas of the hospital for more than 30 years, she found her home in the Cancer Institute.

“I primarily worked with cancer patients many years ago when I worked in the ambulatory care clinic,” Janet said. “I felt drawn to working with oncology patients ever since. When the case coordinator position in the After Cancer Treatment Survivorship Program became available in 2002, I knew that it was the right move for me.”

Janet and the rest of the ACTS team have dedicated themselves to helping cancer survivors navigate life after treatment.

“It is very gratifying when we see our patients ‘graduate’ to their adult doctors,” Janet said. “Our team of doctors, nurses, and social workers couldn’t be more proud of our patients when we see that they have become savvy healthcare consumers and know how to advocate for their future health.”

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Emma and Ryan Find Special Bond at CHOC

When Samantha’s daughter, Ryan, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at age 5, she wasn’t sure who would understand what they were going through. Following her diagnosis, Ryan was admitted to the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s, a place she would call home for the next five weeks. Little did Ryan know that after only one day at CHOC, she would gain a friendship that will last a lifetime.

At the same time, Leigh Anne’s 5-year-old daughter, Emma, was undergoing treatment at CHOC for ALL. Samantha and Leigh Anne would huddle outside their children’s rooms in the middle of the night, drinking coffee and forming support groups.

The day Ryan and Emma met was very memorable to both girls; it was Ryan’s first day and Emma’s last. It was during this time that Ryan and Emma quickly bonded over their diagnosis. The girls would hold hands and walk the halls together, whispering about their doctors and what they hoped to get from the prize chest. According to their mothers, there was an intrinsic understanding between the two.

“The girls were like kindred spirits; they felt more comfortable around each other, which made receiving treatment easier,” noted Samantha. “It’s like, ‘she has a port, and so do I. She has no hair, neither do I.’ Commonality forms a bond.”

“They felt as though this was their journey and they were in it together,” added Leigh Anne.

Today, both girls are on the path to recovery and are receiving routine checkups and treatment at CHOC Children’s Outpatient Infusion Center (OPI), where they even plan their appointments around each other so they can spend time together. Although they only spent one day together during their time at CHOC, it’s been over a year since that initial meeting, and they still have a special bond.

Emma and Ryan, as well as their moms, will always be grateful for the life-saving treatment they received at CHOC, and thankful for the life-long friendship they made because of it.

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Hyundai Cancer Institute Associate Spotlight: Julene Schenk, Case Coordinator

For more than 20 years Julene Schenk has been caring for cancer patients at CHOC Children’s. She began her career as a bedside nurse and charge nurse in the hospital’s oncology division and became a case coordinator in 2008. As the neuro-oncology case coordinator, Julene works one-on-one with patients and their families to help them throughout their cancer treatments.

“I love working with my patients and their families,” Julene said. “I have the opportunity to teach them all about their treatment process and chemotherapy regimens. I also advocate for them and help to alleviate any stressful problems that may come up along the way.” Julene also works with the family’s insurance company to ensure that treatment and accompanying therapy are covered.

The Neuro-oncology Treatment Program at the Cancer Institute uses a team approach to treat patients. The team, led by Violet Shen, M.D., is made up of multidisciplinary specialists including a social worker, clinical research nurse, neuropsychologist, nurse practitioner, dietitian and child life specialists.

“Our team approach makes the care we provide exceptional,” Julene said. “We work very closely with one another and have a great rapport. The most important people on any patient’s treatment team are the family. Because a patient’s family is that child’s best expert, parents and caregivers are involved in every step of the treatment process.”

To learn more about the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s, please click here: http://www.choc.org/cancer/index.cfm

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