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St. Jude Patient Kayla

9 years old

acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Nine-year-old Kayla has a million-watt smile. When it spreads across her face, which is often, it shows the light inside her that not even childhood cancer can dim.

A day in 2012 that had been such a fun, with a trip to the park and then to the movies, ended with Kayla at an urgent care clinic, crying in immense pain. An abdominal X-ray showed her liver and spleen to be enlarged. When they took blood her mother really panicked.

“She wouldn’t stop bleeding,” Kayla’s mom remembers. “I thought, oh, that’s not normal. Something else is going on, something deeper.” It was cancer.

That night, Kayla was brought to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude is where doctors send their toughest cases because St. Jude has the world’s best survival rates for the most aggressive childhood cancers. When she arrived, Kayla was found to suffer from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer.

Kayla began receiving chemotherapy at St. Jude, where the groundbreaking development of combination therapy for children with ALL has revolutionized leukemia therapy worldwide and increased the survival rate from 4 percent when St. Jude opened in 1962 to 94 percent today.

Chemotherapy for ALL usually lasts more than two years, which can seem like forever to a child. But Kayla has stayed positive and upbeat, even during the hardest times. Kayla’s smiling face is well- known to both hospital staff and patients. She’s often seen to be something of a “big sister” to newer and younger patients, helping them learn to feel at ease.

“Kayla has a great personality,” her mother says. “She enjoys life, and she is an entertainer at heart.” When Kayla grows up, she wants to have her own television show.

Two years of treatment could add up to a lot of bills for a family facing childhood cancer. But families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

“Thank goodness on top of all of this, I’m not getting a bill for Kayla’s treatment,” says her mom. “It allows us to really concentrate on our children, on loving our children, and we don’t have to worry about the money aspect. I can focus on Kayla and being supportive of her.”