An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Zen Vuong | December 18, 2019

City of Hope’s eponymous float embodies the 2020 Rose Parade theme, “The Power of Hope.” There can be no hope if there is no future. The leading-edge treatments and compassionate care City of Hope provides give people the gift of time to live their best life.

Nine patients will ride on the float. They came to City of Hope to beat the odds and live a long life filled with joyous moments with family and friends.

North Hollywood, California, resident Cierra Danielle Jackson was born with sickle cell disease, a genetic disorder that afflicts some 100,000 Americans, 80% of whom are African American. Very few sickle cell patients live past 30, and much of their time is spent coping with one pain emergency after another, said Joseph Rosenthal, M.D., the Barron Hilton Chair in Pediatrics at City of Hope and chief of its Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

Jackson, an up-and-coming actress and former beauty queen, waited until she graduated from university before she sought a bone marrow transplant that could “cure” her. She came to City of Hope because it has performed the largest number of transplants for sickle cell patients in the West. A U.K. donor with a 99.9% match was found, and the transplant was performed to great success. Jackson is now considered “cured.” (Read more about her journey here.)

Jackson, now 31, reflects on her disease journey as she mentally prepares to start the new year on a rosy note aboard City of Hope’s Rose Parade float.

 

You were born with sickle cell disease. When did you realize you had the disease and how did it affect you?

My mom was told I was born with sickle cell type SS about two weeks after my birth. She did everything she could to ensure that I had a “normal,” fun, active childhood. As a result, I didn’t realize I had a disease until around age 5 when I was frequently hospitalized due to pain. So many things triggered the pain and endless hospital admissions: extreme temperatures, airplane rides, swimming in cold bodies of water.

Navigating my adolescence was challenging. I had a hard time staying up on my academics and relating to my peers. I was bullied. People called me “green-eyed gremlin” because of the severe jaundice in my eyes

Things got better after high school, but prior to the transplant I received when I was 26, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to live the life I had dreamed of – that I would die.

 

Why did you decide to come to City of Hope?

I initially wanted to have my bone marrow transplant at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles when I was 23 years old, but the hospital wouldn’t approve the procedure because of my age. My hematologist said good things about City of Hope and referred me to the Duarte campus. After meeting Dr. Rosenthal, I knew I wanted to get my transplant at City of Hope, but we decided it would be best to wait until after I graduated from college.

 

What would you like to share about the specialized treatment you received at City of Hope?

I believe that City of Hope’s staff truly believe in the miracle of science with soul. They understand that the body is not going to heal solely with medicine. My healing process also required proper meditation, breathing, yoga and general positivity – and City of Hope delivered in those aspects.

Although I experienced some challenges and miscommunication during my 10-month admission at City of Hope, I must say that City of Hope’s nurses were there for me during the countless sleepless nights, the tears, the turmoil. The nurses are indeed the heartbeat of City of Hope. They gave me tough love when I needed it (came into my room and wheeled me outside for fresh air), made me shower, laid in bed with me while I was in pain, sang me songs, fed me, encouraged me, prayed for me, listened and were overall my best friends. They believed in me and continued to let me know that I would get through it.

 

You are now disease-free. How has your perspective on life changed?

I realize that death is not imminent. As a young person, I see many individuals who live recklessly; they don’t quite understand the fragility of life. I do my best to wake up every day with gratitude and strive to live fearlessly as I chase my dreams. As long as there is air in my body, anything is possible!

 

Why would you recommend City of Hope to other people seeking treatment for cancer, diabetes or life-threatening diseases?

City of Hope understands that it isn’t just about medicine. I support any organization that promotes healing through mindfulness. Faith has been a huge part of my healing – and City of Hope supports many different faiths to accommodate their diverse patient population.

 

How did “The Power of Hope,” this year’s Rose Parade theme, help bring you back to health?

Every day, individuals are faced with challenges and tribulations that seem impossible to overcome. City of Hope epitomizes what it means to have hope. Hope is really all one needs to move forward. It gets me through all of my days even as I continue to navigate post-transplant difficulties. If you can believe, you can receive.

 

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