Fourteen-year-old Jessa has spent almost half her life fighting cancer. Her six-year battle has included 30 hospitalizations and more than 150 outpatient chemotherapy treatments. She’s missed more school days than she can count. But there’s one thing cancer hasn’t taken from Jessa: her hope.
Jessa was 3 years old when she started having hip pain and trouble walking. At first, doctors thought it was just normal growing pains. When the pain worsened, tests revealed Jessa had leukemia.
After three years of treatment at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Jessa reached remission. For more than five years, she lived a healthy, normal life. But Jessa’s battle wasn’t over. In 2011, her cancer returned, and this time the odds of survival were not in Jessa’s favor.
“We weren’t as prepared for it as we thought,” said Jessa’s mom, Jennifer, about her daughter’s relapse. “This was a whole different game.”
For the next 18 months, Jessa endured high-dose, often painful, chemotherapy treatments. After being home-schooled for two years while undergoing treatment, she was eventually able to rejoin her eighth grade classmates as she moved from high-dose chemotherapy to maintenance doses her final year of treatment.
Jessa’s parents say they appreciated the how Children’s Colorado doctors stayed focused on the big picture. They worked hard to cure Jessa, but they also allowed her to have as normal an adolescence as possible while undergoing treatment.
“The medical team was so good at explaining what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen and why,” said Jennifer. Jessa was engaged in her treatment process and was even given a picture of her bone marrow, which she used as her screensaver.
A memorable moment for Jessa was the final day of her inpatient chemotherapy treatment. When she opened the door of her hospital room to leave, she was met by a tunnel of nurses and caregivers, all cheering for her.
“They all supported me and I felt so loved at that moment,” said Jessa.
A new passion
While in treatment, Jessa discovered a passion for public speaking. She now advocates for the bone marrow registry and has spoken at several schools, including Colorado State University.
Today, Jessa’s cancer is still in remission. Last year, she conquered Vail Pass at the Courage Classic after completing chemotherapy only two months prior. She also raised $1,700 to give back to the hospital and caregivers that saved her life.
“Not only does Children’s Colorado get these kids through medical challenges, they also come out thriving,” said Jennifer. “Their lives are good when they walk out of those doors.”