Throughout treatment everyone called her Tiny Wonder Woman.
She has dark bouncing curls and a smile that lights up a room.
Now eight years old, Amaya is a force of nature, comfortable speaking about her battle with cancer in front of a camera or with a microphone in her small hands. Mom, Erin, hoped her daughter wouldn’t remember much about the experience, but Amaya hasn’t forgotten a single thing.
It began with intense leg pain. Test after test didn’t really provide a definitive answer, but Erin kept on it, and eventually a bone marrow aspiration was ordered. Erin and Amaya left the clinic at noon the day of the procedure, and by one o’clock they had a diagnosis — leukemia. Erin had a few days to prepare for Amaya’s month-long hospital stay, and to get her mind around the news.
Amaya wanted to make sure she’d be home in time for her fifth birthday. She had a party to attend.
In fact, she did so well with the initial treatment that she was able to go home after only ten days rather than staying for the full thirty — just in time for her Wonder Woman themed birthday party. But as the two-year treatment protocol progressed, Amaya got sick. Her thick curls fell out in clumps, and once she had pancreatitis so badly that she had to spend days in the pediatric intensive care unit. Her body wasn’t metabolizing the chemotherapy drugs properly. There were good days and bad.
Through it all, Amaya found the courage to make new friends and the compassion to stand by them if they were feeling sick or afraid.
“She would sit with the other kids and hold their hands when they had to have a port placement procedure, or some other treatment,” Erin remembers.
And if Amaya has strength beyond her years, she comes by it honestly. When the cancer diagnosis came, Erin was four months pregnant with her second child, and she knew she would be facing the future as a single mom. Nonetheless, she researched everything, fought to make sure Amaya got the most progressive protocols, and inspired her little girl to keep going, even when they were both worn out and discouraged. “I never allowed her to feel bad for herself. I believe if you feel good, you get up and do things.”
Erin and Amaya haven’t lost their spirit of generosity and kindness. This past Christmas, Amaya filled stockings for children who had to spend their holiday in the hospital. And Erin raised thousands of dollars for the Tomorrow Fund, a Rhode Island based non-profit supporting local families of kids with cancer.
But on Erin’s part, there is deep sadness and a growing anger that pediatric cancer receives such a small percentage of research funding.
“The pediatric protocols are very dated,” she says. “And I’ve been to more children’s funerals than I ever wanted.”
Amaya’s vanity is full of prayer cards from friends who’ve passed.
Recently, Amaya wrote an open letter to cancer.
In her own words, she speaks of heartache and loss, strength and resilience, hope and healing.
You took away some of my closest friends — Dorian, Nelly, and Jaylee. Now I can only see them in my dreams. I don’t like you, and I hate what you do to families. So I took all the chemo, I got poked a million times, and with my strength and determination, and with the support I have, I beat you!
Diagnosed with Pre B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 4