Chloe was one of only three freshmen to make her high school’s varsity poms team, which was her dream since she was a little girl. There was only one problem — by August, she was exhausted. It was unlike Chloe to struggle with drills that were routine to her just a few months earlier.
Her mom, Kim, thought she was just acclimating to her new rigorous dance schedule and starting high school. She watched Chloe push through the tiredness to dance and live her dream.
But during a routine physical for poms team, Chloe’s doctors were alarmed by her extremely low hemoglobin levels indicating that she was severely anemic. This led to another more extensive blood test the next day. Her pediatrician called back and asked to see Chloe in the next hour.
Anemia or leukemia?
Just a week into her freshman year, Chloe was diagnosed with leukemia. Within hours of the diagnosis, she required two blood transfusions and was admitted to our Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Our doctors said they were shocked that she was even walking, much less going to school and dance practice. Between her competitive dance team and high school poms, Chloe had danced five hours just the night she was diagnosed.
“It was like being hit by a Mac Truck, honestly,” says Kim. “But she never once said, ‘Why me?’”
At first, Chloe was most worried about losing her hair and missing out on the first year of fun high school activities. Quickly after her diagnosis, she met with one of our child psychologists who reassured her that she would be beautiful either way, and that it wouldn’t be her biggest concern during treatment. Then she asked Chloe to draw a picture of a brain and fill in the parts that are most important to her to keep positive during treatment.
“She said, ‘I want to come back to you at the end of treatment and make sure they’re still important to you,’” says Chloe. “I’ll always love her for that. She was the first person to talk about the end of treatment.”
For the next two and a half years, she braved through chemotherapy, steroids and surgeries on her knees and right hip. Due to the monthly steroids, the bones in Chloe’s legs from the hip down developed avascular necrosis, or bone death, which cut off the blood circulation in her bones and caused severe pain. Chloe couldn’t put weight on her legs for six weeks and dropped to 75 pounds at one point — so low that she needed a feeding tube. Kim had to learn how to place a feeding tube to allow Chloe to leave the hospital and take time to heal at home.
“She’s tiny, but that little girl is mighty,” says Kim.
Leukemia treatment was more than medicine
For Chloe and Kim, treatment was about much more than medicine. Kelly Maloney, MD, Chloe’s primary oncologist, lives just down the street from her family and quickly became a big part of her healing journey. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Maloney came to see her when Chloe had an ear infection and diagnosed and treated Chloe right in her front yard, to prevent risk of going to the hospital.
“Dr. Maloney was a very calming presence when Chloe wasn’t doing well,” says Kim. “We were just so lucky to have Children’s Hospital in our backyard.”
Thankfully, Chloe was able to go back to school in-person her senior year to graduate. Dr. Maloney came to Chloe’s high school graduation and two of her friends thanked Dr. Maloney for saving their friend.
“Beating cancer takes a village,” says Dr. Maloney. “I can prescribe the correct chemotherapy plan, but it is so much more than just the medications. I think it is important to help make the journey easier in any small way I can. We see our patients so often and we feel absolutely blessed to be a small part of their journey and their family. I love going to celebrations for the people we care for and feel this is a privilege to be invited to their special events to celebrate alongside the patient and their special loved ones.”
During treatment, Chloe loved many of her nurses, but had a special connection with Giovanna, who always sat and talked with her like a friend before starting any test or treatment.
"I can’t express how much that makes a difference,” says Chloe.
In addition to feeling support from friends, family and caregivers, Chloe was able to go on trips and celebrate milestones. She took a trip to spring training in Arizona with our Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders staff and the Colorado Rockies where she bonded with other kids going through treatment. And in the fall, her entire school wore orange for leukemia awareness during a football game a week after she was diagnosed. Plus, she had a constant parade of friends and dance teammates visiting her in the hospital to lift her spirits.
“Between Children’s Colorado and those girls, that’s what helped me get through treatment,” says Chloe.
Chloe was not only healing herself during treatment, but actively working to help others. In four short years, she raised more than $80,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And after two and a half years, Chloe finally rang the warrior bell that she frequently heard echoing the halls when kids finish treatment.
A cancer-free freshman year
Four years to the day after her leukemia diagnosis, Chloe began yet another freshman year. This time she was in college, cancer-free, bubbly and gregarious, and thriving at San Diego State University. In her new setting, she’s learning a lot in the classroom but maybe even more about her journey with cancer.
“After going to college, joining a sorority, exploring and making my own way, I know that in the long run, it made me a better person,” says Chloe. “I am forever grateful to Children's Colorado and the doctors and nurses that gave me this chance to grow and live the life I always dreamed of. I can now say with certainty that cancer made me stronger and life after cancer is worth fighting for.”