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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

September 12, 2022
Molly’s story: Empowering others after powering through cancer
Molly’s story: Empowering others after powering through cancer

Molly’s warm and resilient spirit inspires those around her. Whether she’s playing with Legos or swimming with her little sister, kayaking with her family or talking with her care team at Phoenix Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, Molly has a way of making people around her feel empowered. This quality, along with the loving support of her family, has inspired Molly — who recently completed treatment for cancer — to dream of providing hope and healing to others who have to fight similar battles.

Molly’s diagnosis

Before cancer, Molly had never been to the hospital, not even for a broken bone. At the time, Molly, a 12-year-old soccer player who’s been active all her life, went to her pediatrician for leg pain. From there, she was referred for X-rays that initially didn’t raise concern, so the pain was thought to be shin splints – a common injury for young athletes.

A few months later, Molly returned to the pediatrician with continued pain and was referred for an MRI. After reviewing the image results, the pediatrician referred Molly to Phoenix Children’s – where she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that develops in the cells that form bones.

Molly was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, where she met the doctors, nurses and volunteers who helped make some of the most challenging days of her life a little easier.

During the next few months, Molly received a host of treatments — seven initial rounds of chemotherapy, limb salvage surgery, a knee replacement, placement of a titanium tibia – then 11 more rounds of chemotherapy. In total, Molly endured 18 rounds of chemotherapy in just nine months, totaling around 150 days in the hospital.

Fortunately, Molly wasn’t going through this journey alone. Her parents, Sarah and Ben, and her two sisters supported her every step of the way.

Molly’s support system

After Molly’s diagnosis, Sarah left her job so she could be with Molly during her treatment. Ben worked and stayed home with Molly’s older and younger sisters during the week and spent weekends at Phoenix Children’s with Molly – but they came up with creative ways to spend time as a family.

Of course, there were lots of video calls between Molly and her sisters – and they also made decorations for Molly to hang in her room at Phoenix Children’s to make it feel a little more like home.

Ben would come and spend time with Molly while Sarah had picnics with Molly’s sisters on the rooftop of Phoenix Children’s parking garage – the same spot Molly’s family and friends would one day gather to celebrate Molly’s last chemotherapy treatment.

The consistent support between Molly’s family members helped them stay positive and feel close during their time at Phoenix Children’s, but the support system didn’t end there.

Molly and her family are incredibly grateful to the staff at Phoenix Children’s. From nurses like Lacey and Michelle, who got to know Molly on a personal level, to volunteers who checked on Molly every shift, to the therapists in the Child Life and Therapeutic Arts Program, Molly and her family felt truly supported.

Lacey Khor, one of Molly’s nurses in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, said from day one, Molly embodied true resilience.

“She fought with grace, hope and humor,” Lacey said. “Molly, her mom and I sat together in some difficult moments. Together we’d say, ‘This is so hard, but we can do hard things.’ She used her voice so courageously to guide us on how to best care for her. That requires incredible strength and clarity, and I always admired her for that.”

Sarah said the revolving door of people who came in to care for, or even just talk to Molly, showed the high quality of care Phoenix Children’s offers. The CCBD clinic on the seventh floor allows patients and families to stay in one place while all members of the care team come to them, making conversations and other encounters easier for the patients, which Sarah shared makes all the difference.

“Phoenix Children’s does a great job taking care of the whole family,” said Sarah. “From offering counseling for siblings to a literal shoulder for parents to cry on – they wrap the whole family in care.”

Molly’s story: Empowering others after powering through cancer

Molly and her family attended the U.S. Women's National Soccer game in Denver, Colorado for Molly's Make-A-Wish trip.

Expressing herself while healing

Molly was able to do some fun things in her room, like make crafts, to take her mind off treatment and feel like a typical preteen, but she also had the opportunity to talk more deeply about what she was going through. Phoenix Children’s art therapy helps patients express feelings and process concerns about their diagnosis while regaining a sense of confidence and control.

No matter what Molly felt like sharing on a given day, art always brightened her spirit – especially when it was Slime Saturday, a weekly opportunity where patients in the hospital can play with different types of slime.

There were also times when Molly wasn’t up for visitors though – unless it was a furry friend.

One of the bright spots during Molly’s time at Phoenix Children’s was the Animal-Assisted Therapy Program. Molly loved the therapy dogs so much that she even had a sign on her door for tougher days that asked others not to disturb unless they had one of the dogs with them.

Opportunities like this strengthened Molly’s ability to feel like a typical teen during a time when most parts of her life felt beyond her control.

Molly’s story: Empowering others after powering through cancer

Taking control of her own story

Being diagnosed with cancer at 12 years old is not something anyone can prepare for, and as an organized and planful person, Molly learned how to feel a sense of control over her days in new ways.

Molly and her nurses would write out a plan each day on the whiteboard in her room so that Molly always knew what was coming next. This schedule gave her a sense of control over inpatient days that could easily start to feel the same.

But one spring day, Molly’s whiteboard showed it was her last round of chemotherapy – a day that certainly felt much more special than those before it.

Molly finished her last round and paraded through the seventh floor surrounded by her care team singing the celebratory “No More Chemo” song – a moment Molly shared was the highlight of her time at Phoenix Children’s.

“It was truly a privilege to be a part of her journey,” said Lacey Khor, Molly’s nurse. “Watching her ring the bell at the end of treatment is the reason I choose this work. Every day, I get to work with superheroes like Molly.”

Through the window, Molly’s family and friends gathered on the rooftop of the parking garage to rejoice and show support.

This past August, Molly turned 14 and is now learning how to balance honoring her cancer journey with being a teenager. She loves to kayak, play guitar and spend time outdoors with her family – and she is also spending time thinking about her future.

Her time at Phoenix Children’s was so impactful that Molly decided she wants to pursue a career as an oncologist. She doesn’t want anyone to have to go through what she did, but she wants to be there for those who do.

“Going through what I did, I wouldn’t have wanted to receive care anywhere other than Phoenix Children’s,” said Molly.

Taking control of her own story, Molly recently applied and was accepted to the Children’s Advisory Board (CAB) where she can share her perspective and further the hope and healing provided at Phoenix Children’s. The CAB consists of patients and siblings, ages 12 to 18, who make suggestions about the clinic, hospital and Phoenix Children’s overall environment to make it more child- and family-friendly.

Molly looks forward to bringing the same light and determination to this group that she held throughout her cancer journey.

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