"I first met Nicole (Nicki) in 2002, at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She too like Dakota, is a strong, heroic warrior and survivor of cancer. Nicole has been an Ambassador for ARVF, representing the Foundation during Teen Cancer Awareness Weeks, as well as being a Guest Speaker at our Annual Birthday Bash. She, like Dakota, understands the trials and needs of adolescents & young adults living with critical illnesses. She gets it; she’s been there. Please welcome Nicole in joining the conversation with Dakota on our weekly blogs." - Gisele DiNatale, Executive Director ARVF
I was 14 years old, an ambitious, hardworking, honor student with lots of friends and a growing independence. And then I got cancer. My world changed within days.
It's been 15 years since I was diagnosed with CML (chronic myelogenous leukemia) and received a stem cell transplant from a perfectly imperfect stranger. It's been 15 years since I met Alicia. It's been 15 years and I live with cancer every day. It's taken years to no longer identify myself as cancer but it remains a part of my life. Alicia and I met in the hospital at CHOP and from day 1 we hit it off. It was hard being a teenager in a hospital full of children. The toys were too juvenile, the playroom too childish with seats that were too small, and even the channels available to us in our hospital rooms were limited to cartoons and kid friendly shows. I felt fortunate to have the friends I did and to know I wasn't alone with a friend like Alicia. The first thing I'd ask whenever I was admitted was if Alicia was there too. We got it, and we got each other. I spent my time making bracelets or doing arts and crafts that friends and family would bring in for me and Alicia always had her nails painted in a new color every time I saw her. We found ways to keep ourselves busy and remain optimistic. I felt isolated though. There wasn't anywhere for me to feel like a teenager in the hospital, to escape the illness that was consuming my life. All Alicia and I wanted was space to feel like ourselves, to be a teen again. And that's where the Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation was born; in that void of support for teens. Now ARVF has installed countless Teen Lounges, provided hope and acknowledgement through Teen Kits and Bandana Pillows, and now with the Art Cart, will be able to provide even more escape and support for hospitalized teens. Just knowing I wasn't alone made a world of difference for me in the hospital; having Alicia as a friend. To know someone is thinking of you and acknowledging your needs as a young adult or teen has such a huge impact on a young person's outlook and life. A positive attitude can make all the difference when you're facing life's hardest challenges. ARVF helps along the way.
It's an incredible thing to see how far we've come since I was sick and in the hospital, how many teens’ lives have been touched and changed because of Alicia's vision and the drive behind the Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation. Seeing a seed planted and watching it get nourished and grow is a beautiful thing. It feels so good knowing that others don't have to struggle as much or feel the isolation I felt when I was hospitalized and a teen.
"When a seed is planted, it becomes a rose."