What I learned: 8 questions for leukemia survivor Anya Shah

November 23, 2015 | by Denise Heady

Five City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome 2016 atop City of Hope's Tournament of Roses Parade float on Jan. 1. The float’s theme, "The Miracle of Science with Soul", adds a deeper dimension to the parade theme of "Find your Adventure."

Before being diagnosed with leukemia at just 8 years old, Anya Shah spent her free time participating in gymnastics, her favorite thing to do. She also wanted to one day become the president of the United States.

Even when she was being treated at City of Hope and was too sick to go to gymnastics class, her coaches would come to her house to train her. Now, four years later, Anya is in remission and she has decided on a new career path. "I wanted to be president, but after going through all of this, my priorities have changed. I realized that I want to treat other kids with cancer and be a pediatric oncologist."

Here, 12-year-old Anya answers questions about her diagnosis and treatment at City of Hope.


What was your most pivotal emotional moment during treatment?

The day my parents were told I have leukemia, a type of cancer, we were all crying and that was actually the worst day of all.

What would you tell other patients who have been recently diagnosed?

Fight on. Cancer is not the end of the world and it shouldn’t be stopping you from anything. Reach for the stars.

What is one piece of practical advice you would give patients?

My best advice is to watch television or read a book or do anything to keep your mind off of the worries in your life. Just relax and know that everything will be okay. No matter what, just know you are in the best hands and God will do what’s best for you.

What was your most memorable encounter during treatment?

Because I love Christmas, the best part was a pajama party during the holidays, and at the party we had a raffle and different celebrities to meet.

Which family member or loved one did you rely on most – and how did he/she help?

I mainly relied on my parents to always help me and be there for me. I even relied on my siblings to keep me company whenever they could. I don’t know how to thank them enough.

Which person at City of Hope had the biggest impact – and how did he/she help?

When I walked into City of Hope, it felt very comforting and everyone there was so nice. Dr. (James) Miser, Dr. (Joseph) Rosenthal, my nurses, Debby, Lisa, Georgie, Ginger, and Bella, were with me from the very beginning. They were always there for me and they are very loving and caring and just so amazing.

What could a family member or loved one do to help a patient, something that they might not think of?

As a family member I would comfort the patient and try to distract them from their pain, and always encourage them and say something like, “Hey maybe next week we can go watch a movie and get some popcorn.” Anything to take the worry off of their mind would help.

How do you continue to "find your adventure" after your journey with cancer?

I fought against cancer and thanks to the help of the great people at City of Hope, and thanks to my family and friends, I won! After my successful journey with cancer, I am continuing my journey with school and gymnastics. In gymnastics, I am exploring new skills and new techniques to becoming an expert gymnast. At school, I’m learning so many new ideas every day, and I’m exploring what careers I might want to pursue in the future.

Through my life adventure there have been tears, laughs, seriousness, and fun. Before I had cancer I wanted to be president, but after going through all of this, my priorities have changed. I realized that I want to treat other kids with cancer and become a pediatric oncologist.

When I become a pediatric oncologist I want to inspire cancer patients to fight on, and that cancer is not the end of the world.

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For more information about City of Hope’s float, please visit our Rose Parade site.

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Learn more about leukemia research and treatment at City of Hope.  If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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