“I still live every day like it could be the last, you learn not to stress about the small stuff. Little things don’t upset me.”
Rachel’s first cancer diagnosis came when she was only 10 years old. Her parents took her to see a pediatrician after her knee hurt during gymnastics training. For the next two years, she spent 159 nights in the hospital undergoing treatment for osteosarcoma, a solid tumor bone cancer.
While most cancers travel from tissue to bone, this disease takes a reverse path. Rachel’s illness required a shinbone replacement and then more chemotherapy, only to have a tumor appear in her lung.
More than a year passed, but the disease returned again in January of 2011. By then, Rachel’s chance of survival had dropped to about 10 percent.
Her doctors enrolled her in a drug study, and the treatments successfully staved off the cancer. But just months later, doctors found a tumor in Rachel’s upper lung and lymph nodes and, yet again, Rachel traded school for treatment and kept her tears to herself. She only broke down once, on a phone call with a counselor she met at Camp Happy Days, a summer getaway for pediatric cancer patients.
“Only one person heard me cry when I had a diagnosis,” Rachel said. “One total.”
She emerged from her childhood with sharp wit, consuming empathy and a belief that she has a God-given purpose in life to help future pediatric cancer patients. From radio announcements to golf tournaments and fashion shows, Rachel knows how to work a crowd. She stopped bringing pre-written speeches after a while and decided to just tell her story.
“I used to get nervous,” Rachel said. “Now it’s just kind of routine to get up and talk to people. Since I’ve gone through this, I feel like I can just kind of live with most of the things that would get teenagers worked up.”