One day she was playing with her girlfriends; the next, 10-year-old Heather was in a doctor’s office with her stunned parents, being told she had leukemia.
Her father quit college, packed her in a car, and drove 3 1/2 hours from their small town home to Salt Lake City’s only hospital treating pediatric cancer. They rented a tiny apartment and Heather began chemotherapy. Her mom stayed behind to maintain her job and medical benefits and care for Heather’s younger brother and sister.
Chemo made Heather very sick, and there were a couple of times she almost died, she recalled. She soon needed a bone marrow transplant; fortunately, her younger sister was a perfect match.
The family was stretched thin, emotionally and financially.
That’s when The National Children's Cancer Society stepped in, assisting with lodging and travel expenses during Heather's hospital stay, as well as providing a tremendous amount of emotional support.
"My mom said that without The National Children's Cancer Society, she honestly has no idea how they would have made it through financially or emotionally," said Heather, now 25. "She said it was a miracle."
Heather went into remission and moved home, but 3 1/2 years later her cancer recurred. Her dad took her back to Salt Lake City for additional treatment, and eventually a stem cell transplant. The NCCS once again helped the family with expenses, and Heather beat cancer a second time.
Heather remained cancer free through her teen years, but faced late affects from treatment, including graft host disease as her body rejected the stem cells, scleroderma (a stiffening of the joints caused by chemotherapy drugs), fatigue and chronic dry eye.
Despite her health challenges, Heather graduated high school with a year of college already completed. When she applied to Utah State University, her mom reminded her that Beyond the Cure has a scholarship program for childhood cancer survivors. Heather submitted her application which included essays, transcripts, letters from her doctors and personal recommendations. Once again, the NCCS became part of Heather's life, providing financial help for her bachelor's degree in communicative science and deaf education and her master's degree in speech/language pathology. As part of the scholarship stipulations, Heather contributed 15 hours of community service to the NCCS for each year that she received a scholarship.
Today, Heather is happily married and working as an elementary school speech pathologist with children who have speech/sound disorders and language disorders. Heather also donates time back the NCCS to help other kids going through the same cancer journey that she conquered. She helped illustrate a children's activity book the organization just published for kids in the hospital, and is on the team that reviews college scholarship applications from childhood cancer survivors.
Check out this inspirational video from Heather and learn more about how the NCCS helped her and her family.