Voices of Childhood Cancer: Strength Lies Within Me
Written by Rachel Wood, Director of Marketing
Listen to the voices of childhood cancer this month. Every experience is different. These stories of hope and healing start with your compassion and generosity. Your donation helps us reach farther and move faster to develop improved treatments and promising cures for kids with rare cancers. Be childhood cancer aware. Take action. [Presented by Atrium Health Levine Children’s]
- Patient: Kharis, 19 years old
- Cancer: Osteosarcoma
- Diagnosed: March 2021
- Treated At: Atrium Health Levine Children’s
“It all started in October 2020, but it continued to get worse. I called my mom and came home from college. I woke up one morning in February and I just couldn’t lift my arm. I called into work and told them I couldn’t come in that day. I went in to see my pediatrician. I have never been sick in my life and my doctor first thought it was a torn rotator cuff. After an MRI, lesions on my bone were found. I asked what is that? It’s a tumor they said.”
Kharis had been a cheerleader from the time she first started walking and graduated from Weddington High School in June 2020. As an excited freshman at Winston-Salem State University, Kharis started experiencing pain in her right arm in October 2020. After a few months, the pain brought her back home to Charlotte during the second semester of her freshman year. A mass the size of a softball was discovered and Kharis was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma at 18 years old at the beginning of March. She also had two small lesions the size of grapes on her lung.
“Dr. Oesterheld explained what it could be, we talked about Ewing Sarcoma and Osteosarcoma. Frankly, I don’t really remember anything, I just remember looking at him thinking …. what are all these words? I put my AirPods in when we were there to drown everyone out, I just couldn’t hear all the things that could possibly happen to me. Next, I was sitting at home on the couch when the doctors called, the next word I hear them say to my parents was chemotherapy. I just started bawling, I didn’t want to do chemo. I knew what it could do to you, I watched my Paw Paw go through it and saw what it did to him. I didn’t know if I could do this.”
On March 3rd Kharis started her first week of 29 weeks of prescribed chemotherapy treatments.
“For the first part of chemo, my hair held on. I will never forget one day I was in my mom’s bathroom. I had started getting weak and had asked my mom to wash my hair. And I had a lot of hair! She started washing it and my hair just started falling out in clumps. I never realized how much hair I had until it was lying all over the floor. I didn’t think losing my hair would affect me… but when I saw it on the floor, it did. Everything was very real then. That’s when I decided to just cut it all off. The same day my dad came home and he decided he was going to shave his head. My mom too. And then my brother did it, which really got me. He said that if I had to go through it, he did too. Then I told my sister, you are only 12… don’t you dare!”
I didn’t really want a lot of people to find out, just my family. But my high school went all out to support me. From purple bows to wearing purple shirts at games, it was overwhelming, I didn’t think many people knew who I was or cared like that until I saw everyone showing their love. Every last single one of my cheer teammates contacted me to show their support, that’s what really helped me. I realized I wasn’t just doing it for myself, I was doing it for everybody who was on my side. My friends made me a blanket with photo memories of us in high school. Every single round of chemo I take that blanket with me. The nurses at the hospital always say my room is the coolest, I am wrapped in love every single treatment. There were too many people cheering me on, I knew I had to do it.”
Kharis has been fortunate, the extreme side effects of chemotherapy she was warned of never really affected her. The pain in her arm went away and that’s when she started realizing the treatments were working. Chemo killed 80% of the cancer. Kharis had surgery to remove the tumor and her arm bone. During surgery, they removed ⅔ of her right arm bone, between the elbow and shoulder and a metal prosthetic was placed in her arm. Kharis currently doesn’t have a shoulder socket, just the ball, and will require another surgery down the road to place one. She will then have another surgery to ensure there are no more lesions on the lung, which have already shrunk significantly.
Due to a delay this week she has 6 weeks to go, Kharis is counting down to the end of treatment. She is a changed person. She is grateful for her community. She wants to do something in this world to make a difference for others. Kharis is a biology major in college and aspires to be an OBGYN. She has used her time at the hospital to learn and ask questions. And the biggest thing that has come out of her cancer experience is realizing her strength comes from Christ that lives within her.
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Photos, quotes, and videos provided by Kharis.
VOICES OF CHILDHOOD CANCER