Photography by Dinah Sutton Photography
This dainty beauty is Liliana. She is full of life and joy. Her smile is contagious and melts the hearts of those who work with her. She loves Disney princesses, dancing, singing, swimming and playing with her favorite toys. She enjoys going to school and aspires to be a nurse and a rock-star when she grows up. Luckily for the world, rock-stars and nurses are in high demand!
At the young age of 5, Liliana has fought more battles that most of us endure through adulthood. When she was three-years-old, her parents were hit with the devastating news that she had cancer. The surreal moment when a team of doctors uttered that horrific word. Cancer. An Oncologist gave her the official diagnosis of B-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
It was in the spring of 2016 when she began to become more pale and weak-oftentimes, not even able to walk the distance from the driveway to the front door without asking to be carried. She was still an upbeat and happy child, but was not as active during normal play time with Emma her older sister. She had developed a slight limp without any known traumatic injury. A few days prior to her diagnosis, she had two spontaneous nose bleeds which led to a visit with the pediatrician and then urgently to the ER.
The first month was extremely difficult; new chemotherapy drugs were administered via a surgically implanted port in her chest, spine, or mouth. The first phase included twice daily steroids which completely changed her physically and emotionally. The steroids caused wild emotional swings and physically changed her appearance so drastically that she was unrecognizable. She lost so much muscle in her legs, that she was not able to walk for a few weeks. She progressed through the protocol like a champ and did not complain a lot, even when receiving meds that caused horrible side effects.
She was hospitalized right before her birthday (Christmas day) that first year for mucositis, an inflammation causing ulcers on the mucosal surfaces from her mouth all the way through her intestinal system. She was not able to eat for ten days, but was released from the hospital just before her birthday! She adjusted to having a bald head with confidence and little concern of how people would react to her appearance. As a Georgia born girl, her family called her “Peach” when some fuzz began to appear. An adoring nickname that suits her well.
The decision to allow Liliana to attend school was not taken lightly. Fear of illness compromising her immune system delayed her attendance for one year. Onocologists encouraged her attendance so she could experience as normal a life as possible. The transition was successful. She enjoyed attending school, connected with teachers and friends and loved learning new things. She often misses school due to illness or doctor’s visits. At times, she stays home to avoid rampant viruses such as the flu when they are circulating the school.
The second year into treatment, Liliana began to experience skin rashes, infections and abscesses due to her suppressed immune system. Several months into her maintenance phase, the Oncologists realized that her liver was getting harmed more severely than most kids on similar doses of chemotherapy. Her body metabolizes the medications differently causing a severe hepatitis and gallbladder issue. She struggled with severe abdominal pain and vomiting for several weeks before they could come to a conclusion as to what to do. They added another drug to her regimen to hopefully reduce the toxicity of the one drug, but it also had its share of side effects. Her liver enzymes did improve, but her platelets and hemoglobin dropped so severely, that they had to hold her medication for one to two weeks of every four week cycle.
Liliana loves the doctors, nurses and staff at the Aflac Clinic and eagerly looks forward to their smiling faces, despite her fear of the pokes and prodding. She has shown tremendous bravery and handled all that she has had to go through with a hop in her step and a song on her lips. At her young age, all she knows is a life of cancer treatments, hospital visits, and daily medications. She knows that she needs to avoid germs and wear a mask at times. She does not think ahead to the distant future, but enjoys the here and now, which is evident to all who come in contact with her.