The Sunday Series: Amanda's Sunrise
Just days away from a major milestone in her life, 17-year-old Amanda Endres is feeling good. She's a fighter. She's determined and she is looking forward to a ton of tomorrows. But the future wasn't always so bright.
It's now close to ten years ago and though only 8-years-old at the time, Amanda still remembers. She was feeling really tired, cold all the time, her stomach hurt, she had fevers, the doctors kept telling her parents it was just the flu. But after a blood test, the doctors changed their story. Amanda had pneumonia... that part would have been easy to take, if there also wasn't another diagnosis, a blood cancer called, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, (ALL).
Next up a three-week hospital stay and Amanda feeling scared and sad. Her sisters, Jacquelyn, Madison and Sydney weren't allowed to visit because of the fear of infection. Amanda was missing a ton of school and then there was the chemotherapy. Rounds of chemo, until the doctors felt she was in remission from the disease, at least enough to go home, yet it was just the beginning.
The outpatient treatment lasted two and a half years, chemotherapy to continue to wage the battle and to stop the disease staging a comeback. It seemed to be working, until one day on the soccer field when Amanda started feeling dizzy and had to leave the game. The cancer had returned. Another hospital stay, just as long as the first just three years before, and the chemo continued. "The chemotherapy was stronger this time", says Amanda, "because I was more high risk, but at least I had expectations of what was going to happen. I missed out on more school and that really upset me because I was determined to have perfect attendance at school that year."
Round two seemed to do the trick, but Amanda was forced to keep up the routine of outpatient chemotherapy treatments, facing the consequences that come with it, fatigue, feeling sick and hair loss. She says her parents and her sisters were and still are her greatest supporters, helping her to battle through it all. But there's also the ray of light which comes from Camp Sunrise.
Established by the American Cancer Society back in 1987, the camp started with only seven campers. Today, the week-long camp, maintained and sponsored by Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center's Division of Pediatric Oncology, serves over 100 campers. And one of those 100, Amanda Endres, says it changed her life: "All the people at Camp Sunrise inspired me to keep going. All the stories from kids like me and the terrific counselors. They are like my second family. When I'm there I have no worries about being different. All the people understand me in a way no one else can." This year marked Amanda's 9th year visiting the camp.
But while Camp Sunrise kept her spirits up, some bad cells continued to keep her down. Another relapse in November of 2013 and another round of chemotherapy. But with the pounding her body was taking from the poison, the doctors said they needed another direction for treatment, a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately for Amanda, her 11-year-old sister Madison was a "half-match" and Johns Hopkins had developed a procedure called a haploidentical transplantation, which had been successful in curing patients of some cancers and blood cancers. Amanda says her sister Madison, scared of hospitals and needles, was a brave soul and the transplant was a success.
The procedure took place in February of this year, and Tuesday is a big milestone. August 19th is 180 days since the transplant, a watershed day to measure the success of the procedure. Amanda spent the first 100 days after her transplant at Believe in Tomorrow, the home away from home for some of the children who are treated at Johns Hopkins Oncology center. But now Amanda is back home and will be getting back to school and trying to graduate on time. "It was tough this past year", (her junior year of high school), says Amanda, because of the time in the hospital but she is making strides. She attends The Academy of Health Sciences at PGCC (Prince George's Community College). A new program in Maryland, there Amanda can take her high school classes and some college credits to earn an Associates Degree and her high school diploma all at the same time.
Amanda loves the school and health sciences and as happens so often, her life experiences have given her a direction in life. Amanda wants to be a nurse, specifically a pediatric nurse because as she says, "I look up to them and I want to be a nurse to help kids that are just like me." A mission and a vision to help others because at 17-years-of-age Amanda knows what it's like to struggle with a childhood disease, but she wants to give back and she's ready.
While modern science may have saved her life, it's the people in her life that have served as Amanda's best medicine. "I've learned to stay positive and definitely have a greater appreciation for life. Going through all of this has made my family stronger. I never saw my parents upset, they always stayed strong for me and motivated me to keep going. My sisters are my best friends and Madison is my hero. How close we are... I don't even know how to describe it."
Sometimes words are not necessary. Amanda need only look to her family, friends and the incredible experience of Camp Sunrise. For Amanda, all of them light her way toward a better tomorrow.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Financial Services
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