World Cancer Day, Purple Your Profile for Survivors {Melyna Fang Portraits, North Phoenix Photographer}

10:38 AM

                           Photo by Roberta Smith

Why is my Facebook profile image purple, you wonder? Today is World Cancer Day to celebrate survivors and promote cancer awareness. While this is not directly photography related, it is a health issue that has hit my family & me personally--literally. 


A few months before I turned 27, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. For me it started with fatigue for several months, then I had a terrible cold that left me with a lingering cough, then night sweats, and finally I developed a noticeable lump on the left side of my neck. This lump, of course, was a lymph node with a tumor in it. And I was to find out that I had a tumor mass all over my chest, my neck, and a couple of small tumors in my intestines. Fortunately, my stage III-B cancer was cured with ABVD chemotherapy for 6 months, and I have been cancer-free for nearly 13 years.

Sadly, 7 years & 11 months after my diagnosis, my oldest son, Sean, was also stricken with cancer. When he was 3 1/2, he started developing unusual bruises that didn't seem to go away. I did worry it might be leukemia, but I explained it away as him just being a rough boy. Then he started developing extreme fatigue, dark circles under his eyes, he was extra grouchy, and he started become really sweaty during naps & at night. After weeks of these symptoms, I finally discovered that his lymph nodes in his neck were swollen & hard as rocks. I knew what this was.

We already had an appointment for his little sister's well check, so we brought him along. Our pediatrician examined him & his blood was sent to the lab. Because of his elevated white blood cell count & decreased red blood cell count & platelet count, it was assumed he had leukemia, and they sent us to the emergency room at Phoenix Children's Hospital where he was admitted. 


As soon as we were in a room, I noticed petichiae under his eyes (pin point little bruises) which if not immediately treated could result in death from internal bleeding. He was immediately given 3 transfusions of blood and platelets, and the next day chemo was started. He was ultimately diagnosed with the most common, yet most curable, type of childhood cancer--Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.



After nearly 3 1/2 years of chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and hospitalizations, Sean was declared healthy, cancer free, & completely finished. He is now almost 9, and has been in remission for 5 years.

                           Photo by Roberta Smith

We both were fortunate to have the two types of cancers that have benefitted the most from cancer research & cancer research funding, and from which all other cancer research has benefitted & been developed from. 

Despite all the years of research, we still don't have a cure for all cancers, and we still don't yet understand the long-term consequences of cancer treatment. Often, cancer survivors can have relapses, and/or develop secondary cancers 10-20 years later as a result of the treatment. Even as more and more people are surviving cancer these days, It is no time to stop.

Please consider supporting non-profit groups that fund cancer research, legislative advocacy, & patient support such as: the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation (http://www.lls.org), the Lymphoma Research Foundation (http://www.lymphoma.org), St.Baldrick's Foundation (funds cancer research for children's cancer) (http://www.stbaldricks.org), and the American Cancer Society (http://cancer.org).

I'd also like to mention some other wonderful organizations, also worthy of your consideration, who provide much needed fun, excitement, & other forms of temporary respite from cancer for pediatric patients & their siblings & parents: locally, HopeKids (http://www.hopekids.org/) & Phoenix Children's Hospital's Camp Rainbow (http://www.phoenixchildrens.org/medical-specialties/center-for-cancer-blood-disorders/camp-rainbow), nationally, the Make A Wish Foundation (http://wish.org/), SuperSibs (support for siblings of cancer patients) (http://www.supersibs.org/and finally, in Florida, providing housing, entertaining, & loving Make A Wish families visiting Disney World & all the other attractions in the Orlando area, is Give Kids the World (http://www.gktw.org). Without these organizations and their love for children who needlessly suffer, I don't know if we would have made it through all we've been through as a family.

Thank you for any support you may be able to offer. Most importantly, if you have gained nothing else from reading this blogpost, if you or a family member notice the symptoms I described above, please, please, please go to the doctor ASAP. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

P.S. I also want to encourage you to document your own or your child's cancer journey with photographs. I have no photographs of my hospital experiences or treatments, but now I really wish I did. To be sure, it is a hard time that you think you won't want to remember, but when you come out on the other side, it is a precious time to remember. My son worked so hard to live, and we have the proof of it preserved through my photos. 

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