Faith sat in her hospital room at Children’s Hospital Colorado after yet another excruciating round of radiation treatment. Her family and nurses had spent days trying to convince her to get out of bed, but Faith felt too exhausted and sick to move.
It was a low point in her year-long cancer battle. And she still had many more months of treatment ahead.
“I just remember being in so much pain and feeling so sad,” Faith said.
Then there was a knock at Faith’s door. It was one of her favorite nurses, Jen.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said.
Jen wheeled Faith to a conference room down the hall. There, several nurses had set up a makeshift “spa,” just for her. One of the nurses used a bedpan to give Faith a pedicure, while the other painted her nails.
“It was during their lunch hour,” Faith said. “Even during the worst times, they always made everything as happy as possible.”
One in 10 odds
Just a few months earlier, Faith had been a thriving 15-year-old. She loved photography and hanging out with her friends. Then one day, Faith started experiencing severe pelvic pain. She sought out treatment in her hometown of Colorado Springs.
“Doctors kept saying she had a cyst and that it would go away, but I knew something wasn’t right,” said Faith’s mother, Tabitha. “Another family practitioner even said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. It’s not cancer or anything, just an abscess.’ But Faith’s pain kept getting worse.”
When doctors finally tried to surgically remove the mass, they realized it was something far worse. A subsequent biopsy revealed Faith had alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma – a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Scans at a local hospital revealed that the cancer had already spread throughout her lymph nodes, spine and sternum.
It was stage 4. Faith was given a one in 10 chance of survival.
“We were absolutely devastated, full of anger and tears. I just wanted to take all this away from my baby girl,” said Tabitha. “I had no idea how hard life could be before that day.”
Two days later, the family came to Children’s Hospital Colorado. There, they met with a team of pediatric cancer experts who came up with a plan to save Faith’s life. The tumor was too close to major organs, so doctors couldn’t remove it surgically. Instead, Faith would have to undergo an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation.
“People always ask me if I was scared of dying, but to be honest, I was more worried about losing my hair,” Faith said. “When my hair fell out, I didn’t feel beautiful anymore.”
In a bold act of solidarity, Faith’s best friend shaved her head, too. Then one of Faith’s nurses showed her some new make-up tricks to cheer her up, and Faith soon became an expert make-up artist.
“The staff at Children’s Colorado is amazing,” Tabitha said. “Nobody wants to be at the hospital, but the nurses took all the weight off us. They were so thorough and ready to react in any event. It made Faith more comfortable and gave us a chance to breathe.”
From patient to survivor
After three months of chemo, Faith and her family finally got some good news. Faith’s tumor had shrunk by 86 percent – a reduction that’s almost unheard of for her type of cancer. But the hardest part of her journey was still ahead. To full eradicate the tumor, Faith would have to undergo radiation therapy.
Faith endured six brutal weeks of radiation on her pelvis. She experienced internal and external second-degree burns as a result of the treatment. At one point, she had an allergic reaction to morphine and went into anaphylactic shock. She also contracted E. coli and other infections – another side effect of the radiation.
“My pain was too much to bear, so I quit eating,” Faith said. “I knew I needed to eat, but my burns caused me so much pain that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had the Burn Unit treating my burns daily, but it felt like nothing was working.”
For three straight weeks, Faith was too sick to eat anything, so she had to get a feeding tube.
As if the first round wasn’t difficult enough, Faith had to undergo yet another round of radiation, this time on her sternum, spine and shoulder.
“Words cannot describe how much she suffered, but she was so strong,” her mother said. “She just lights up a room!”
After nearly two years of cancer treatment, Faith had endured more pain than most people experience in a lifetime – but she never gave up. By the end of 2017, her cancer was in remission.
“The day they told me I was done with my chemo and radiation therapy was the most exciting day of my life,” Faith said.
No longer a cancer patient, Faith is now a cancer SURVIVOR who dreams of being a photographer when she grows up.
“Faith had a lot of complications, but she was always able to smile in the midst of it all,” said Dr. Carrye Cost, one of Faith’s doctors at Children’s Colorado. “She never quit fighting.”