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January 20, 2010
Tara: A one-year cancer journey

Tara

Tara

January 20, 2009: The worst day of my life … the hardest day of my life. Exactly one year ago, at 2 p.m. after a little bit of pushing on my mother's part, I was at my doctor's office with a terrible cough and a pasty white complexion. I walked out of the doctor's with orders for a chest x-ray and blood work. It was later that evening that my nightmare began – I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at age 17.

Throughout the past year, I have received treatment for my cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and I have survived. I have suffered from side-effects ranging from loss of muscle mass, to blood clots, all the way to pneumonia and swine flu. This past year hasn't been easy but it's given me so much. Without the diagnosis of cancer and treatment at Dana-Farber's Jimmy Fund Clinic, I would not have met some of the greatest people in my life today – other patients who are now my best friends. Also, I would not have been given so many wonderful opportunities through the Jimmy Fund.

The doctors and nurses at Dana-Farber, the Jimmy Fund Clinic specifically, have this ability to make all of the patients feel at home, like we are all part of one big family. It's truly amazing to know your nurses and doctors on a first-name basis and for them to know yours as well. Everyone is vested in your treatment and determined to help you in this journey.

Tara with Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield.

Tara with Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield.

In March of last year, when I was just starting treatment, I was surprised with the opportunity to go to Fort Myers [FL] for Red Sox Spring Training through the relationship between the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund. I jumped at the chance and met some unbelievable people like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Lowell. I was able to play on the diamond that all of "the greats" play on. I was able to gain just a little bit of my independence back again. Even though I didn't feel well for most of the trip, I still had an amazing time and was able to forget about my cancer for the entire weekend. I met some teenagers who truly understood what I was going through. The girls I met shared the same worries about not having hair and eyebrows and they understood what it meant to have someone to talk to. Being a teenage girl with cancer is a whole different reality from the outside world.

The Jimmy Fund gave me another opportunity with the Red Sox [last] June: an away game versus the Atlanta Braves! More than forty teens from the Jimmy Fund Clinic enjoyed a weekend away and the chance to feel like regular "teens." Prior to the game, we had the opportunity to meet new Red Sox players and visit with other players. The players were wonderful and really cared about how we were feeling! It was so nice to have someone outside of my school friends and family care so deeply about my prognosis.

Currently, one year through treatment, I am in the phase that is labeled, "Maintenance." In this phase, the chemotherapies change and the amounts get reduced. I feel so much more like myself and I am able to be more of a normal teenager. I got my license and I can drive myself to school now! I started to work again and I'm even volunteering again!

In the future, I want to go to college and earn a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. I want to use my degree and my career to raise money and awareness about cancer so that other children won't have to give up part of their childhood to this disease. I want to clear up misconceptions about cancer, its treatment and be an advocate for the children who can't speak for themselves.

The Jimmy Fund and Red Sox have completely made this past year more bearable for me; these experiences have made me stronger in my fight against cancer. I will forever be a Red Sox fan!

This profile was taken directly from the Web site Sons of Sam Horn, with the author's permission.

Tara is senior in high school and a patient at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. To contact Tara, please direct your e-mails to: JimmyFundContactUs@dfci.harvard.edu.