A Child’s View

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BY ASHLEY DICKSON, utahvalley360.com

Leukemia shows one Orem girl how to bounce back

To grant Myshayla Atene’s wish, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Utah, along with Courage Reins Therapeutic Riding Center in Highland, helped Myshayla choose everything she’d need for riding lessons: a saddle, bridle, saddle blanket, brushes, horse treats, blue jeans and riding shirt from a local C-A-L Ranch store. Myshayla works with “her” horse, Pepe, during weekly lessons. “All the people who watch her say she’s graceful and has a natural balance,” mom Andrea says. “It’s the one day each week she’s excited to get out of bed.”

To grant Myshayla Atene’s wish, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Utah, along with Courage Reins Therapeutic Riding Center in Highland, helped Myshayla choose everything she’d need for riding lessons: a saddle, bridle, saddle blanket, brushes, horse treats, blue jeans and riding shirt from a local C-A-L Ranch store. Myshayla works with “her” horse, Pepe, during weekly lessons. “All the people who watch her say she’s graceful and has a natural balance,” mom Andrea says. “It’s the one day each week she’s excited to get out of bed.”

“I got chemo for my seventh birthday. Yesterday Dr. Yaish told my parents that I have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. He said that’s the ‘good kind.’ It seems weird to me. Today’s my birthday and I feel awful.”
— Nov. 27, 2006

To a playful and carefree 7 year old, the words “acute leukemia” don’t mean much. The first few times she heard the phrase, Myshayla Atene, an Orem resident, interpreted it as a “cute” leukemia. But now she doesn’t think her disease is very darling.
In October 2006 Myshayla had what seemed to be a typical fever. When she started shaking and turning white, her parents rushed her to a doctor. The family was sent straight to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where Myshayla received two blood transfusions to restore dangerously low blood counts.
A few weeks later, the Atenes learned that leukemia was the culprit behind the problems inside Myshayla’s small body.
The next few months were filled with bone marrow biopsies, chemotherapy treatments, spinal taps (which Myshayla calls “back pokes”), and a variety of medications infused through the port-a-cath implanted in Myshayla’s chest. A hospital room at Primary Children’s Medical Center became home.
Life in the hospital is difficult for anyone, but it was especially tough for Myshayla, a horse-loving tomboy who doesn’t like watching TV and is happiest when she’s playing basketball, chasing her puppy or riding her bike. Many of the medications not only zapped her energy, they sent her emotions on a rollercoaster ride.
“I got really emotional cuz of the steroids I’m on. I told Mom that I was a jealous bossy kid and that I didn’t want to be one. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t want her out of my sight. Daddy wanted to hold me even though he was scared of all my tubes. He cried because he couldn’t make me all better. I cried because I wanted a hug but I’m scared of germs and being touched cuz it might hurt. I kept crying that I wanted a hug then screaming, ‘Don’t touch me!’ when Mom or Dad tried to give me one.”
— Nov. 29, 2006

Acute lymphoBLASTIC leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of leukemia in children under age 15. It’s a type of blood cancer in which too many lymphoblasts, or immature white blood cells, are found in the blood and bone marrow.
Many symptoms of ALL are similar to other more common, less severe illnesses. Aches in arms, legs and back; bruises for no obvious reason; enlarged lymph nodes; fevers; pale skin; headaches; and tiredness are some of the common symptoms.
Blood and bone marrow tests are needed to make a proper diagnosis. Immediate chemotherapy is the best chance of curing the disease. Most children with ALL are cured after treatment.

Her parents, brother and twin sister visited frequently, but Myshayla constantly asked to go home. Last April, about six months after her initial diagnosis, Myshayla entered the interim maintenance stage and began receiving her chemo treatments outside of the hospital.
“It’s really scary cuz mom’s doing my chemo at home. I’m always worried that she’ll mess up. It’s really complicated but she has a list of notes that she follows really closely. I heard the nurse say that she has to be really patient and slow when she’s putting it into my port cuz if it goes too fast it can burn through my vein and skin. It’s SCARY!”
— May 2, 2007

The maintenance routine will last at least two more years, but Myshayla is starting to settle back into a normal routine. She attends school most days and loves playing with her siblings and pets when she has enough energy.
But the true highlight of the road to recovery is Myshayla’s weekly horse riding lessons, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Utah. Described by her family as “obsessed” with horses, she is graceful and confident during lessons, though other parts of her life are still very painful.
And while life as a cancer patient is a battle, for one day each week all thoughts of leukemia are far from Myshayla’s mind.

Words in italics come from Myshayla’s CaringBridge journal — an online Web service that connects family and friends during a critical illness, treatment or recovery.

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Ashley Dickson is a Virginia native now living in Boston. She graduated from BYU with degrees in journalism and home and family living, then spent three years writing and editing for Utah Valley Magazine. She left the mountain West to earn a master's degree in library science and now splits her time between motherhood, editing for a financial research firm, and keeping a connection to Utah by writing for UtahValley360.

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