BY ASHLEY DICKSON, utahvalley360.com
Leukemia shows one Orem girl how to bounce back
“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
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.