*** Editor’s Note: Mitch was 12 years old when he delivered this speech to his school.
Just close your eyes and imagine. Imagine you are in a room at a hospital waiting for the doctor to arrive after a checkup. Then the doctor comes out and says, “Well, I hate to say it but… you have cancer.”
Hello teachers, judges and fellow students.
To many of you this is just an imaginary scene. But for many people, this imaginary scene is a reality.
Nine years ago this happened to my cousin, Kristin Malone, when she was only seven years old.
It was May 19th, 1994. She had not been feeling well, so she went for a check up with her doctor. She went back to school that day and my aunt went back to work. They thought everything was fine. Then while at work, my aunt got a call from the doctor’s office. They suspected Leukemia! The doctor told her to take Kristin immediately to the Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Alberta.
Imagine how terrifying that would be! You are in your car, on the way to see if you have cancer or not.
Immediately, Kristin had blood tests, and the doctors had to get a sample of her bone marrow, which is called an aspiration. Aspiration is a procedure when the doctors take a long needle and inject it into your leg to get a sample of your bone marrow.
After all the tests were completed, the doctors now knew for sure that she had a cancer called ALL. ALL stands for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. They began surgery quickly the next morning because ALL, unlike other Leukemia’s, spreads at a very fast pace. The first surgery performed was a permanent catheter, a rubber tube that went through her jugular vein to her heart. Her chemotherapy was given through this catheter which reduced the number of needles she had to get. The treatments were very intense. And they made her very sick. She was getting different injections into her leg each week. She was on various medications like steroids. They also had to get bone marrow out of her spine, which was a very painful procedure. Remember that she was only seven when all this happened.
This was happening to Kristin, and she wanted to know all about the cancer. And she learned it all. At the age of seven, she had all these new terms and understandings of cancer and a new set of fears. Kids died from ALL, but Kristin was not going to give up.
Many times were tough for Kristin. She had really long hair, and it all fell out. She got very skinny from the drugs. Her face was swollen because of the drugs. The cancer had made her white blood count tremendously low, which made her an easier target for viruses and sicknesses. She couldn’t be around her friends. She was getting weaker as the days passed. With family and friends by her side, Kristin was determined to not give in to cancer.
My Dad went out to Calgary to go see Kristin in the hospital to cheer her up. To my Dad’s surprise, Kristin gave him a little gift. It was a little glow in the dark dragonfly, so he would not be scared during the night. Even though she was very sick, she wasn’t worried about herself. She wanted to make her Uncle Mike happy too. Kristin is a very strong person with a heart of gold.
She kept up the surgeries and the intensive treatment for 2 full years. It would take five more years of monthly blood tests before the cancer could be pronounced in complete remission.
Kristin went back to living a less suspenseful life and was feeling great but still had a little worry in the back of her mind that the cancer would return.
After five years, she was fourteen years old. All her monthly check ups went as hoped. The work and hope and praying finally paid off. At Christmas, 2001, Kristin’s cancer was pronounced in complete remission. It was God’s gift to everyone in the Houlahan and Malone family.
For those very long years of her life it was hard for her, her family and especially her brother, to have to live with the worry of a loved one passing on at such a young age.
Kristin and Kevin started to attend a summer camp for kids with cancer the second year she was in treatment. Even while her cancer has been in remission they have both continued to return to the camp each summer as an inspiration to the other kids. Kristin is a trainee this year to become a camp councilor.
Today, Kristin is doing great. She is sixteen years old, in grade eleven, has a part-time job and is now starting to drive. After having cancer she said her family has learned the value of life, and how lucky they are because it is easier to lose a loved one than you think.
By: Mitch Houlahan, 2003
Mitch’s father, “Uncle Mike”, adds this update:
Quick note about the dragonfly, When I went to Calgary to see her, she was just starting the chemo and was having real ups and downs, and was filling her time with that kit that you could make these rubber bugs. As a present to me for coming out to visit, she gave me the dragon fly as a gift. The next morning I told her that I realized during the night that it was a glow in the dark kind. Her response, with her 7 year old big smile, was that she thought it would be helpful in case I was afraid of the dark. I kept that thing in my wallet for 3-4 years as a talisman until it disintegrated…
Kristin has always had personality to spare and is a real force of nature. Currently, she is (still in remission) a 25 year old, just graduated as a Respiratory Technician, and not surprisingly, is going to work mostly with Kids. To my amazement she had never actually read the story Mitch had written because it got lost over the years in the pile of school work that everyone saves from their kids and gets ignored.