“I like to look at my symptoms online, and I had an unexplained cough, so I went to the doctor,” Brown explained. “The chest X-ray looked clear, but they thought they saw an enlarged vein behind my heart. They did an MRI and saw inflamed lymph nodes.
“I said, hey Mom, I could have cancer,” Brown continued. “My Mom said, you don’t have cancer, and the doctor said the same thing.”
The doctors did a biopsy of her lymph nodes, and she was notified that she had a follow-up appointment with her pediatrician.
“They didn’t take my height, or weight or my temperature (when arriving for the appointment) so I thought something was fishy,” Brown said. “The doctor said, Kayla, we got the results of the biopsy and you have what’s called Hodgkins Lymphoma. I said, you mean I have cancer? I sat there, for like five minutes, just saying ‘Wow.’ They told me it’s common in 30-40 year-old men, which I thought was funny.”
Over the next six months, Kayla had 20 chemotherapy treatments, accompanied by a drug specifically for her kind of cancer. There were some significant side effects, including severe pain, fatigue, nausea and she lost all of her hair.
“People kept telling me I was so brave, but in my opinion, I felt like I didn’t do that much,” Brown said. “I feel like I just showed up and didn’t die. Everyday that I got up, I’d say I was going to fight it, no matter how bad I felt. Every single day I got up and took it one day at a time. It was kind of scary. But I tried my best not to complain, even as much pain as I was in, I was just going to suck it up and do it.”
Compounding her recovery is that she also was recovering from a concussion as well. A tutor came to the house as many days a week as Kayla could tolerate it. The two of them continued to work on her school assignments to try to stay on track. This might’ve been the most painful part of her recovery.
“Even though I was homebound, I kept turning in work,” Brown said. “But the teachers stopped sending work because they thought I was going to repeat. This was the worst year of my life, and I said, I’m not repeating it! I finished my classes by July, which was the deadline. The teachers basically gave up on me. It hurt. It’s never really been like that for me before, never had anyone give up on me before. I told myself, I’m stronger than this, I’m not going to give up because my teachers don’t think I can do it.”
Kayla is a journalism major, because she loves to write. Her goal is to write for ESPN when she graduates. She’s already started writing outside of the classroom, being a regular contributor to TheOdysseyonline.com, an online e-zine. She also uses her writing to display her emotions. Kayla doesn’t like to talk about how she feels, so she types it out on her laptop, sort of like a journal. She keeps all of these posts in a file, and if her Mom, for example, asks how she’s feeling, Kayla shows her Mom her writing.
“I put on this face…I like to show that I’m strong, but even though I’ve been through all this stuff, I’m still tough and it doesn’t bother me,” Kayla concluded. “But in reality, when I’m alone, I cry a lot about it. It works better for me if I put up a mask in public. My whole life I’ve hated being seen as weak. I take it one day at a time, and some days are really bad. But I have some good days, when it’s not a fake mask, it’s actually that I’m happy, and I’m pushing through. I just keep pushing on, and not giving up when it gets hard. Because if I gave up when it got hard, I would’ve been gone a long time ago.”
Don’t Say “I Can’t”