The Resilience of a Childhood Cancer Warrior
- Kailea Romel, 30, is cancer-free now, but has dealt with the disease ever since she was 9. But after that cancer battle followed by other tumors and cancer scares, she has a unique perspective on life that always reminds her “that you can’t take anything for granted.”
- The survival rate for children with cancer has improved over the past few decades, but pediatric cancer is still an incredibly hard thing for a child and his or her family to go through. Thankfully, one of our experts says targeted treatments and different immunotherapies are being studied specifically for children.
- Resilience is not an uncommon trait amongst cancer warriors. Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, says her cancer journey helped her uncover “some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities.”
At just 9 years old, Romel underwent a “massive surgery” for an ovarian germ cell tumor followed bu six rounds of chemotherapy.Read More
If that weren’t enough, she also had a lung cancer scare right after.
“That, luckily, turned out to be nothing,” she explained.
When she turned 16, however, doctors found another tumor.
“They found a tumor with a ton of nodules on my thyroid,” she said. “So I had to have my thyroid completely removed. Luckily, that was not cancerous.”
Another cancer scare arrived in the form of a breast cancer scare, but that also turned out to be noncancerous. Now, on the other side of her cancer and tumor battles, the happily married mother takes medication and continues to be monitored with routine blood work – practices that will remain for the rest of her life.
“My life, now, is pretty much like anybody’s life,” she said. “I just have my yearly screenings, I don’t have anything high-risk, or anything like that, because I’m so far out.
“I’m enjoying life with my kids that I never thought I would have.”
She’s been active in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for the last two decades, and she now has a perspective on life unique to someone who’s dealt with cancer from avery young age.
“It has really given me an appreciation for life, and made me realize that life is short, and that you can’t take anything for granted,” Romel said. “My family is very important to me, because, without their love and support throughout my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
“I try to remind myself to cherish every moment with them and my husband’s family, as there was a chance I could have missed out on all these precious moments and memories. They all mean a lot to me.”
As for her health advice to others – always seek medical attention if you think something is wrong.
“Don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you,” Romel said. “Cancer is real, and it’s out there, and it doesn’t care who it picks … It’s scary to get that diagnosis, but, if you feel like something’s wrong, then go get it checked out, sooner rather than later, because, the longer you wait, the worse off it is.
“Be in tune with your own body, and, if something doesn’t feel right, advocate for yourself… Don’t be afraid to push, and get tests.”
Understanding Childhood Cancer
Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 85 percent of children with cancer now surviving five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society. This is up from 58 percent from the mid-1970s.
But according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors have significant health-related issues because of the current treatment options, and only 4 percent of the billions of dollars spent each year on cancer research and treatments are directed towards treating childhood cancer in the United States. Since 1980, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed for use in children with cancer while hundreds of drugs have been created exclusively for adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Raetz, director of pediatric hematology and oncology at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, reminded us in a previous interview that there is still reason for hope.
“There are also targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children and there has been a great deal of excitement in the community about that,” Dr. Raetz told SurvivorNet.
The Resilience of Cancer Warriors
Here at SurvivorNet, we get to share stories of resilience all the time because there’s no shortage of brave cancer warriors holding onto hope in the face of adversity and achieving amazing things.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, is another resilient cancer survivor like Kailea Romel. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in high school and proceeded to beat the disease not once, but twice.
Understandably so, Ripley-Burgess has had to work through a lot of complex emotions that came with her cancer journey. Even still, she’s always managed to look at life with a positive attitude.
“As I’ve worked through the complex emotions of cancer, I’ve uncovered some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities,” she previously told SurvivorNet. “I carry a very real sense that life is short, and I’m grateful to be living it! This has made me optimistic.
“Optimism doesn’t mean that fear, pain and division don’t exist – they do. Our world is full of negativity, judgment and hate. Optimism means that I believe there’s always good to be found despite the bad, and this is what my life is centered around.”
She moves through life with a sense of purpose unique to someone who’s been faced with the darkest of times. Happily in remission today, she’s determined to, one day, leave the world better than she found it.
“We can choose to stay positive, treat others with respect and look for the light in spite of the darkness,” she said. “This type of attitude and behavior will lead to the kind of legacies I believe all of us hope to leave.”