Teens With Cancer: Meet the Inspiring Teens in Treatment at the Cancer Center

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In January and February, the Cancer Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used its Facebook page to share the stories of some of our inspiring teen cancer patients. Teen Cancer Awareness Week is celebrated during the third week of January, but seven days just wasn’t enough time to recognize the unique emotional and social needs of this patient population!

These teens and young adults are facing frightening diagnoses and challenging treatments during what is already a time of great physical, social and emotional change. But they’ve developed coping strategies and found support systems that will get them through an incredibly difficult time in their lives. Learn how our teens are dealing with diagnosis and treatment, and what they want you to know about life with cancer.

Antonio Santos, 17, Ewing sarcoma

Antonio’s theme song: Sleeping with Sirens, “Kick Me.”

What has helped you cope?

“Music. Listening to it, writing it and performing it.”

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“Teen cancer is unique. You have all the struggles of regular teenage life on top of chemo, radiation and surgery. When you come to CHOP you feel safe, there is no judging. Everyone knows the struggles you are enduring. CHOP is a family. Even though we go through a lot of hardships in the hospital, you meet a lot of people here who uplift your soul and keep you fighting.”

Rebekah Jacobson, 13, Ewing sarcoma

Rebekah’s theme song: Sara Bareilles, “Brave.”

What has helped you cope?

“Sleeping, I always loved sleeping. The support of my family and friends. And humor!”

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“Being a teen with cancer is very scary and it seems that I'm spending all of my time either in the hospital or in clinic. I try to stay positive because it makes things better. I hate it when people say that they are sorry for me or ask why I'm on crutches or in a wheelchair.”

Adam Bengis, 16, acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Adam’s theme song: Pharrell Williams, “Happy.”

What has helped you cope?

“Staying positive no matter what's happening. So many things have gone awry during my treatment, but it takes more than a bad day to throw me off track! Everyone at CHOP wants nothing more than your comfort, and that's very valuable to remember on a bad day!”

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“If you let cancer beat you up, it will take the upper hand in a heartbeat. Every step of every part of battling this disease comes with its challenges, but it's entirely up to you on how you look at them. Smiling in the way of a needle and having a good laugh over a bag of blood with the amazing medical team at CHOP is what keeps me going. Remembering that cancer is just another hurdle in my life that I have to pull through takes me out of any fit I come upon.”

Alicia Skeath, 19, osteosarcoma

Alicia’s theme song: Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.”

What has helped you cope?

Alicia loved doing art projects with Magda, our Artist in Residence (Magda is in the picture with her). They made a mold and prints of her foot before her amputation earlier in treatment. Recently they just finished a beautiful quilt, pictured. They had been working on the quilt since the fall!

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“Take advantage of all the things the hospital has to offer, like art! It may seem really lame at first but it really makes a difference. When it is all over you realize you are really going to miss all these people.”

Travis Cook, 13, brain tumor

Travis’ theme song: Pharrell Williams, “Happy.”

What has helped you cope?

“My iPad. I enjoy all different games on it. It’s important to have something to do!”

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“It can happen to anyone.”

Wendell Cherry-Brown, 18, Burkitt's lymphoma

Wendell’s theme song: Wiz Khalifa, “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

What has helped you cope?

“Continuing to live my life as normal as possible. My disease has definitely prevented me from doing some of the things that I used to, but throughout my treatment I have worked hard to maintain my friendships with people from school and my family. I still go hang with my brother and meet up with friends and do stuff when I’m not here receiving treatment. It’s important to keep doing, getting out, and living. Stay connected and remember that this is temporary, this won’t be forever and you’ll get through this.”

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“There are people at my school and people that I have met throughout my treatment who just don’t get everything that I go through on a daily basis. They know what cancer is but don’t about ANCs, counts dropping, fevers, all the admissions (planned and unplanned) that you go through, and clinic visits. I had friends who when they found out I was cancer free, ask me ‘Are you coming back to school tomorrow then?’ People don’t realize all these things and I would ask people, if you know someone with cancer, to educate yourself on what type they have, and ask them what they go through. I know that’s something that I’d appreciate.”

Hepzilee, 14 years old, osteosarcoma

Hepziee’s theme songs: Tercer Cielo, “Contigo Estoy [I Am With You].” Marcala Gandara, “Contigo Quiero Caminar [I Want to Walk With You]” and “El Mismo Cielo [The Same Sky].” Katy Perry, “Fireworks.”

“These 4 songs describe me because, despite my diagnosis, I keep going and will keep going forward, because I know that God is with me and with everyone. He will always be here for us. Because in spite of what I’m going through, I know I’ll go back to playing my sports and will be with my family and friends. All the support that my family, especially my mother and my friends have given me; the desire to go back and see my friends, to play sports, and to be with my family again; the prayers I say to the Lord our God day and night for my complete healing; these are my strength and my support to keep going forward. Because I know I will come out a fighter; God doesn’t give us burdens that we cannot bear. We are very special, and just because we may have cancer doesn’t mean we have to stay in bed all the time and do nothing. Just the opposite; now we are much stronger, braver and willing to fight. As I mentioned earlier, God doesn’t give us burdens that we can’t bear. We will not stop being who we are because we have cancer; we will be the same or even better than who we were before our diagnoses.”

Christa Rodriguez, 18

Christa’s theme song: Katy Perry, “Roar.”

What has helped you cope?

“My family and friends and their constant encouragement to stay positive.”

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“It’s a different experience when teenagers get a life-threatening disease. You don’t expect it to occur, and it can be difficult to understand all that comes with it and how teens experience it differently.”

Aniekan Bassey, 15

Aniekan’s theme song: Sam Smith, “Stay With Me.”

What has helped you cope?

“Playing games, building stuff (like Legos) and keeping busy.”

What do you want people to know about being a teen with cancer?

“It's best to be patient and calm. Keep focused and busy until it's over!”