Rachel was typical child starting Grade 2. She loved adventures outdoors, swimming and skiing. She was a proud big sister, always caring for and playing with her younger sister Hayley. Rachel was creative, making, accessorizing and collecting all things beautiful. She was sensitive, determined, able to reason well and full of courage. Rachel was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in November 2017, at the age of 7.
We had just returned from a family vacation in Hawaii, and Rachel had not been feeling like herself. On a Saturday afternoon at home, Rachel had a stroke and was found sitting on her bed unable to move or speak. She was rushed to BC Children’s Hospital emergency and that is how our journey began. Rachel would not only have to recover from multiple brain injuries, but she had cancer. Rachel spent 2 weeks sedated in the ICU, while starting chemotherapy. Her AML was aggressive but there was a plan, a protocol to treat pediatric AML. After the first round Rachel was in remission and doctors continued with the low risk protocol of four rounds of chemotherapy. The brain injuries Rachel suffered, were a side effect of the AML. During chemo treatments, Rachel had to learn how to eat, drink, walk, talk and learn to understand again. Her memory came back slowly and we started to see the Rachel we knew before the diagnosis. Rachel lived in the hospital for 6 difficult months, only visiting home a few days between rounds.
The toll on our whole family was tremendous! After the fourth round, her counts slowly recovered and Rachel was finally able to move home. Unfortunately, the treatment protocol for AML was not as successful as we had hoped and Rachel’s bone marrow was not able to fully recover before the AML returned. In June 2018, Rachel had relapsed less than two months after being discharged from the hospital. Rachel fought through two more rounds of chemotherapy, as doctors prepared her for a Bone Marrow Transplant. Testing confirmed that Hayley, Rachel’s sister, was a 50% match and the best chance of beating the Leukemia.
Our #RachelStrong movement began when a group of family and friends flash mobbed our house after the relapse. Rachel was home for a couple days and our family was surrounded by so much love and support. We knew we needed to take this experience and make a difference for Rachel and others fighting blood cancer, through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Clearly more research was needed and Light the Night was an event Rachel had attended before her diagnosis.
On October 3rd, 2018, Hayley gave Rachel another chance at life, a second “birth” day. While recovering in hospital, Rachel struggled with infections and emotions, counting the days till it was safe to go home. We watched as family and friends fundraised to an amazing total and walked in support of Rachel in Stanley Park, all while Rachel held her white lantern in the hospital.
Rachel is a survivor! Today, she is in remission, off treatment and living her best life. Rachel continues to receive speech and language therapy, making progress all the time. She successfully returned to school after being away for a year and a half and we as a family try to live life as normal as possible. All those personality traits Rachel had before, are still very much alive and helping her make the most of life’s challenges. Rachel still has a long way to go, but we are so thankful that she is in a good place.
Written by Lauren Spotzl, Rachel's mom