Isabella Santos Foundation Scholarship Recipient Turns Pain Into Purpose

Pediatric cancer survivor Amanda Haufler was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant at just 15 years old. In 2023, she received the Isabella Santos Foundation scholarship to support her college endeavors. Now she is 19 years old and thriving. Keep reading to learn how she turned her unimaginable pain into a purpose-filled career path.



What are you doing now?

I am very extroverted, so I love college. I go to the University of Tennessee Knoxville and I am majoring in nursing. When I first got to school, I rushed and joined a sorority, which was very scary at first but so worth it in the end. I am in Tri Delta, which I could not say more positive things about. Not to mention that Tri Delta’s national philanthropy is St Jude. With my sorority
we have raised $185,000 for St Jude in just this academic year to fund finding a cure for childhood cancer. I am truly so honored to be a part of such an amazing organization. I have also been involved at my campus gym. I’ve joined a group fitness and personal training program, which has really helped to gain back my physical health.

What inspired you to choose your college major?

I’ve always known that I wanted to go into the medical field, I just wasn’t set on a specific path. When I was going through treatment I was exposed to so many medical professionals in all different fields. But what really interested me was nursing. I absolutely love my nurses and they are my best friends. They did so much for me and I aspire to be like them when I graduate. Once I graduate, I plan on working as a nurse for a few years, and then go back to grad school where I hope to become a CRNA.

Has defeating cancer changed your perspective on life or certain situations?

Absolutely, and not a day goes by that I am not reminded of having cancer. I’ve learned to let things go and not argue and complain about the little things. It’s been really hard to be around kids my age who don’t have perspective. I find myself having to take a step back and remind myself that they are lucky enough not to have gone through situations like mine.

During your battle with cancer, what motivated you to keep fighting?

To be honest, not much in the moment motivated me. Everything around me seemed to be sad and depressing. I wasn’t allowed to have anyone visit me. I went 4 months without seeing my sister. I also couldn’t even see grass or trees from my window, all I could see was the other side of the hospital. But there was one beacon of light that motivated me, and that was my mom. I truly believe that I would not be here today without her. She slept by my side every single night I stayed at the hospital. She was always there for me, and would drop everything just to help me. She would cheer me on for every little thing I needed to overcome. She was there to comfort me when I was at my worst. Always giving me all the hugs and love I needed. She was my home away from home.

As someone who has overcome such significant adversity, what advice would you give to other young individuals facing similar battles, whether it be with cancer or other obstacles?

This is always a difficult question to answer because I feel that there is not much I did personally. I was in a horrible place mentally and my brain was on autopilot all the time. I would say the one piece of advice I would give is to find your army. My family was my biggest cheerleader throughout everything, always by my side. My nurses and doctors were extraordinary, and I still have very personal connections with them. I would not be here without them.

Reflecting on your experiences, what role do you believe organizations like the Isabella Santos Foundation play in supporting children and families affected by rare pediatric cancer, both during treatment and in their pursuit of education and future goals?

Organizations like ISF make all the difference in children and families lives. Many parents, like mine, do not have much of a college fund after treatment. In the moment, parents will pay anything they have to keep their child alive. They aren’t thinking about school or college; they are completely focused on the health of their child. That includes using money set aside for college. Scholarships, such as the ones from ISF, allow kids like me to be able to go to college without having to take out so many student loans. It helps to take the stress off me and my parents.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future, both personally and professionally, and how do you plan to continue making a positive impact in the lives of others?

I love speaking out and sharing my story, as I believe that is one of the best ways to spread awareness. In my senior year of high school, I got my certified nurse aide license. Now, during my college breaks and in the summer, I work night shift as a CNA in an ICU. I absolutely love working there and learning from all the nurses and doctors. I’ve seen things that kids my age don’t normally get to see, and it has completely opened my eyes. I plan to continue working here until I complete nursing school, and once I pass the NCLEX exam, I will begin my work as a nurse.

What message would you give to those who are looking to become donors or support the mission?

I would absolutely encourage them. I believe they need to know how important every little donation is. Whether it be money or a blood product. I received over 55 transfusions during treatment. These transfusions allowed my body to keep fighting and be able to handle all the different drugs going into it. If I did not get the RBC or platelets from these transfusions, my treatment plan would not have been possible. Even if someone donates one time, that gives a person a few more days.

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