“We knew she was in the best place possible, which was comforting. Her doctors and nurses treated us like family.”
–Dianne, Isabella’s Mom
“Cancer changed my life drastically, but overall it made me stronger,” says 17-year-old Isabella Medeiros. As a high school freshman, Isabella went from being a typical teen to a leukemia patient. Now, as a survivor, she’s taken on yet another role: fundraiser. “I want to advocate for more funding,” Isabella says. “If there was more money to fight pediatric cancer, there could be better technology and more research, and more hope to find cures.”
Her battle started with a large bruise that mysteriously appeared on her left leg in May 2015. Soon after, she got a cut that wouldn’t stop bleeding. Then her temperature spiked, her nose started bleeding, and she coughed up blood, all in the span of a weekend. Isabella knew something was wrong.
A visit to the local hospital in Fairfield revealed that these symptoms were serious, and Isabella’s mother, Dianne, was advised to take the 15-year-old to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland immediately. After hours of tests, a chest X-ray, and a platelet transfusion, Isabella’s doctor revealed the diagnosis: leukemia. Additional testing revealed that Isabella had acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of the disease that causes severe symptoms and requires immediate medical intervention.
“Taking all this in wasn’t easy for me,” Isabella says. “I just didn’t want to die.”
As the first step in her cancer fight, Isabella was treated at our Oakland campus for a month, receiving chemotherapy and battling complications like fluid in her lungs, pneumonia, blood clots, and an infection.
“We knew she was in the best place possible, which was comforting,” says Dianne. “Her doctors and nurses treated us like family. That made it much easier to go through this, since we had to spend so much time away from home.”
After getting discharged, Isabella’s fight wasn’t over. For eight months, she had to return to a clinic every weekday for chemotherapy infusions. Fittingly, she had her last treatment on December 31, starting the new year with a clean slate.
“Watching the last bit of the chemo go into the IV was amazing,” Isabella says. “A whole chapter of my life ended so I could start a new one.”
Back at school, Isabella delivered a passionate speech on pediatric cancer funding, and she plans to lead a campaign among her fellow students to raise awareness. This goal is shared by her whole family: Her brothers wore gold shoelaces last September to highlight pediatric cancer; her father, Mike, has started donating platelets; and her older sister has registered as a bone marrow donor.
“Working toward something positive gives us a way to move forward,” Dianne says.
Isabella’s experience has also influenced her goals for the future. She’s considering becoming an oncology nurse so she can help kids facing the same struggle she did.
“When I first got diagnosed, I felt like maybe I deserved leukemia. And it was hurtful that people treated me differently for not losing my hair—although I looked fine, I wasn’t,” she says. “But when I beat cancer, I thought, ‘Who would have known that I could do such a big thing?’ Now I try to live every day to the fullest.”