Story, Patient, Research and Innovation

Delaney’s #1 Wish? To Cure Cancer.

September 15, 2020

Delaney underwent years of chemotherapy, endured multiple surgeries and hospitalizations, and missed more school days than she can count. Find out where Delaney is today and what she says was the hardest part of cancer treatment.

Delaney, Children’s Hospital Colorado Patient Ambassador

The hardest part of cancer treatment, according to Delaney, was losing her hair.

Diagnosed with leukemia at age 6, she underwent two and a half years of grueling chemotherapy treatment. As a kindergartener, it was hard to explain to other kids why she was bald.

“When you are a girl, but you don’t have any hair, people assume that you are a boy,” explains Delaney’s mom, Stacey. “When she went to the restroom at school, a lot of kids would tell her that she was going into the wrong bathroom. They weren’t being mean—they were actually trying to help—but it was embarrassing.”

Delaney’s cancer diagnosis came out of the blue. Usually a healthy, energetic child, Delaney came home from school one day complaining of an earache. By that evening, Delaney’s lymph nodes were swollen.

Doctors prescribed antibiotics to treat a possible infection, but blood work revealed a much more frightening diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her family was devastated to learn that their daughter would need to undergo two or more years of chemotherapy treatment.

‘The best place for our child’

In the months that followed, Delaney was perpetually exhausted. She lost all her hair, and her body became uncomfortably swollen from the steroids she had to take. Oftentimes she just couldn’t go to school because she felt so ill.

 “Chemo was rough,” remembers Delaney. “I was only 6, so I didn’t understand what cancer was or how the treatment might affect me.”

But her mom, Stacey, who is trained as an oncology nurse, did.

“As a parent, you wonder, ‘Am I doing everything I can? Are the right people treating my child?’” she says.

Stacey and her husband did extensive research to find the best possible cancer care for the youngest of their four daughters. They found it at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“I had heard about Children’s Colorado and knew that it was considered cutting-edge,” she says. “I asked several people I know in the medical community, and they said that Children’s was the best place to take our child.”

Throughout Delaney’s course of treatment, her caregivers tried to make sure she never stopped smiling. The oncology staff sang hip hop songs to her as she was going under sedation. When Delaney asked her caregivers to draw a mustache on her face as a joke, the nurses obliged – and even drew mustaches on their own faces to make her laugh. Whenever she was feeling sad or bored, a phone call would bring a Child Life specialist or volunteer with tubs of Legos or a distracting video game to her room. On one particularly difficult day, a nurse inflated a rubber glove and started an impromptu game of volleyball in Delaney’s hospital room, using the bed as the net.

“Even though you are in the hospital for a scary reason, everyone tries to make you happy and help you forget about that reason,” Delaney says. “Children’s Colorado is truly special. It’s more than a hospital—it’s your family.”

Hard times and celebrations

There were many celebrations along the way, as Delaney went into remission, finished treatment and celebrated five years of being cancer-free.  But there are also a lot of painful things that go along with cancer treatment that most people don’t know about, says Stacey. Some physical and some emotional.

Steroids increased Delaney’s appetite, which caused her to gain weight. They also caused Delaney’s mouth to be very dry. Without saliva to help keep her mouth clean, her teeth crumbled, which required extensive dental work.

In addition, missing school, sports and other activities because of treatment can make it hard to make and keep friends. “You can’t do things other kids can do. You miss out on a lot of things. It is years of a child’s life,” says Stacey.

Researchers at Children’s Colorado are working to change that by developing targeted treatments that harness the body’s own immune system to kill cancer cells with fewer physical side effects. Traditional chemotherapy attacks cells indiscriminately, cancerous and noncancerous alike, but physician-scientists are on the brink of new therapies that are far less invasive. In the future, these research breakthroughs could make a tremendous difference for kids like Delaney, so they can spend fewer days fighting cancer and more days enjoying childhood.

Five years later, Delaney is not only cancer free, but the self-described “goofball” is back to her active, happy self, making YouTube videos and playing lacrosse for a championship team. Now 13, she dreams of someday playing lacrosse in the Olympic Games and studying to be a doctor – maybe even helping to advance new cancer breakthroughs like the ones being pursued at Children’s Colorado.

“If I could have one wish it would be to cure cancer,” says Delaney. “That’s my greatest hope.”

As a Patient Ambassador, Delaney is raising money for the Child Life program at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Donate to her fundraising page to help other kids facing cancer to cope.