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A Blessing in Disguise: Maleah's Story

January 30, 2012

It all started with a simple trip to the nearby walk-in clinic with what they thought was an infection. Maleah’s lymph nodes were swollen and her mom thought all she needed was some antibiotics. A few days later, Maleah’s lymph nodes were getting larger and the antibiotics didn’t seem to be working. It was the weekend, so Maleah’s mom took her to the closest emergency room where they ran a few tests. Her white blood cell count was three times its normal amount, but they were told to keep taking the antibiotics and that the elevated white blood cell count is a result of the infection. That next Monday, Maleah’s mom called their family doctor, concerned that her lymph nodes were still swollen. Her doctor told them to take her to the Arnold Palmer Hospital emergency room, knowing it was probably more than just an infection.  

By the time they had reached the emergency room at Arnold Palmer Hospital on June 13, 2007, Maleah’s white blood cell count was now ten times its normal amount. Reality began to set in and they knew something was wrong.

“When the doctors told me the diagnosis, I kicked them out. I told them they had the wrong kid. It couldn’t happen to her. I just couldn’t believe it was true.”

Maleah was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She had surgery on June 16th and started her first round of chemotherapy immediately after that. The doctors were all amazed with Maleah’s strength from the beginning. When she was brought back from surgery, she immediately wanted to go to the playroom. They couldn’t believe it!

For the first eight months, Maleah and her mom stayed at the hospital 3 out of the 4 weeks, while Maleah went through chemotherapy. Maleah continually showed that she was a fighter and would not let her cancer get the best of her. Her mom distinctly remembers one time when she realized they would be able to get through it.

“We were getting ready to go on a family trip. Maleah’s hair was in braids and I suddenly noticed that the she was bald in the middle and her braids were hanging on by strands of hair. I didn’t know what to do. Maleah is a girly girl and won’t even take a picture without lip gloss on. How was she going to react when she realized she was losing her hair? I asked Maleah if I could cut her braids off and she said yes. After I was done, Maleah went into the bathroom to look in the mirror for a few minutes and I just started crying. She finally came out and proclaimed, ‘Mommy, I have a CUTE head!’ We all burst out laughing and I knew we would be able to get through anything.”

After her first round of chemotherapy, they received the news they had been longing to hear. Maleah was in remission! This means that she showed no signs or symptoms that indicated the presence of cancer. However, the fight wasn’t over. Dr. Guisti, her oncologist, wanted to continue treatment as a precaution to make sure the cancer wouldn’t come back. After two more years of treatment, Maleah is still cancer-free and now completely done with treatment!

As her mom reflects back on their journey, she says:

“The things she said throughout this process helped me. I’m the one that is supposed to care for her, but she carried me. The doctors try to explain the strength kids have, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it in her.”

When asked what advice she would give parents going through a similar situation, Maleah’s mom commented,

“It’s going to be hard. You will be confused, but you will get through it. Regardless of the outcome, hope and pray for the best. You pray for the miracle. You pray for the long life. You will realize that there is strength in you and your child that you had no idea existed. Let the journey take you where it may. Get mad, cry, throw something- it’s only natural. But you have to get over that hump. You have to get to a place where you are okay.”

Maleah battled through cancer with confidence and determination. She is now a happy, healthy little girl that loves lip gloss and rapping with her older brother. She wants to be a teacher, singer, AND dancer when she grows up. Who knows, maybe she will be the next Beyoncé!

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