“I was two years old when we found out I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rare cancer. As a result of chemotherapy, I went into cardiac arrest and almost died. I have been in remission for eight years. I have little flashbacks and picture myself lying in the hospital bed or sometimes in school having fun. Some flashbacks are happy and some are sad.
I am in fifth grade. My favorite subject is writing. I want to be a chef one day. I love food and expressing myself through food. I like to make fried chicken, macaroni and green beans. I like to sing and dance. I love to read. I just started ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’ We are reading Alabama Moon in school right now and we are doing a writing project with that. My mom pushes us and teaches us things for the real world. When I was five I was learning to spell big words like transportation and I do well in spelling bees. I want to be a chef, a lawyer, and an actress.
I know how much my mom loves me because she takes such good care of me. If you are a parent and your kid has cancer. Try not to show your fear to your kid because that scares them. You always want to trust your parents. If your parents get scared, you think it is all over. Put amazing vibes on your kids and make sure your kid doesn’t feel like she is fighting alone. Let your child play and have as normal life as possible.
I have gotten to do a lot of things because I am a kid with cancer. We went to the White House and met Michelle Obama. I gave her one of my bracelets. It was one of the happiest days ever because I played with her dog. I was the IHOP Kid Chef two years ago. I made a special Oatmeal Surprise pancake for in the test kitchen for IHOP on behalf of kids in hospitals and they served them at IHOPS in Mobile. It was an oatmeal raisin pancake that I had made with my grandmother. We had some of the batter left over and made it into pancakes the next morning. I was also the flower girl in football player AJ McCarron’s wedding. He is from Mobile and came to the children’s hospital and gave out gifts while I was there and that was how we met. I gave him one of my bands with “Just Trust.” That is what I told my parents the night before my treatment. AJ wore it in the national championship game that year. I was still in a coma in PICU during that game.
l love that my mom and I get to inspire and help people together. We do lemonade stands to raise money. I go to the hospital to see kids. I want to do more to help them. I am someone they can put their head on. I can be there to be a friend to help them through. Encourage whoever is going through something. That makes them stronger.”
“Watching your child go through cancer is so hard on the parents. We were an average family and childhood cancer was the last thing on our mind. It was just a St. Jude’s commercial. Our eyes aren’t open to this in the African American community. She was two-years-old and started complaining about her legs hurting and it got progressively worse. We finally took her to the ER at Thomas Hospital and our cancer journey began.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia is usually only found in older white men. Starla was declared in remission but had to go through five rounds of chemo. She was diagnosed on Sept.13, 2011 and after the third round of chemo she went into cardiac arrest on Jan. 3, 2012. They told us she wouldn’t survive. We went from worrying about cancer to worrying about her heart. They wanted to life flight her to Birmingham but decided against it because they couldn’t take the risk. The doctors told us to get on the phone and social media to rally the prayer warriors because that is all Starla had left.
Kids are playful and resilient even when they are sick. You would not know Starla had cancer. The day she went down and quit playing, I knew it was bad and she was going to leave us. I prayed for God’s will, there was nothing I could do. I stepped out of the room for a moment and she coded while my husband was holding her. The monitors beeped flat and doctors and nurses started chess compressions. I walked into the room and she was unrecognizable. A minister told us to take a picture of her at that moment because she was going to recover and be a walking testimony of the healing and goodness of God. Her heart regulated and she recovered, but she still had to go through the rest of chemo.
Being a young married couple, it was stressful on our relationship. We tried to be strong for each other. We could tell a difference from prayer. The prayer for us as parents. We were physically and mentally exhausted. I knew someone was praying for me because I could barely pray for myself. We were inside a bubble and forget that life is going on outside. People were going to spring break and Disney World and we were just trying to get the next round of treatment. We got out of the hospital and two months later I found out I was pregnant with our son Korey.
We could tell a difference from prayer. The prayer for us as parents. We were physically and mentally exhausted. I knew someone was praying for me because I could barely pray for myself. We were inside a bubble and forget that life is going on the outside. People going to spring break and Disney World and we were just trying to get the next round of treatment. My husband went from work at International Paper in Bay Minette to the hospital in Mobile every day because he knew we all needed his relief and support. His boss told him to stop working and stay with Starla until she was well. He still works for them today.
My mom was a huge part of our lives and walked this entire journey with us. She was my safe harbor and Starla’s best friend. She passed away in 2015. The tattoo on my arm says, “Love Always Mom. It was her handwriting on the last birthday card she sent me. I look down there and feel her with me. I also have a ‘Just Trust’ tattoo. There was a tattoo shop that started doing those as a fundraiser for us. Strangers sent us pictures of their tattoos. One was from Nebraska.
There are days where I don’t think about cancer, but most days I know this is a life sentence. There is always a chance of secondary cancer and I get worked up over every normal childhood bump and bruise Starla gets. If you know a family that has a child with cancer, encourage the parents. It is a lot on them. Childhood cancer is severely underfunded and needs donations. Childhood cancer is emotional, physical, and financial. There are somethings we will never get to do because we will always be paying down medical bills. But having Starla is priceless.”