Jadelyn Sanchez loves to wear dresses, twirl, and dance. But with four older brothers, she’s also perfectly happy playing with monster trucks or going fishing. Don’t be fooled by her round rosy cheeks and pretty brown eyes – Jadelyn, or “J.J.” as her family calls her – is a fighter. She’s 5 years old now, but she’s spent nearly half of her life battling cancer.
“When she was 3 years old, she kept getting high fevers and infections that would make her legs swell up,” said Stephanie Brazell, J.J.’s mom. Stephanie also noticed small bruises all over her daughter’s body. When J.J.’s temperature climbed to 104, the family took her to the Claxton Memorial Hospital emergency room. Doctors drew blood and found that the toddler’s white blood cell count was extremely low. They immediately put her in an ambulance and sent her to the Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah.
The next 48 hours were a terrifying blur for Stephanie. J.J. was quickly admitted to the hospital. She received blood tests, X-rays, and a spinal tap. She had an allergic reaction to a medication and was kept sedated with breathing tubes in her throat for 24 hours. During that time, Andrew Pendleton, M.D., a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the Willett Children’s Hospital, gave Stephanie the news she feared – her daughter had a type of cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
“When he told me, I felt immediate panic. I was upset and crying. Nobody in my family had ever had cancer before. All I could think was, ‘people die from cancer,’” said Stephanie.
But Pendleton explained to Stephanie that ALL has a very high cure rate. He felt optimistic that J.J. would survive with chemotherapy. Stephanie became optimistic too and resolved to help her daughter beat the disease.
ALL is the most common type of leukemia in children. It occurs when abnormal blood cells grow quickly and spread throughout the body. It requires immediate treatment with chemotherapy drugs that kill the abnormal cells.
The next two years were filled with driving and doctor visits. Stephanie lost count of the number of times her daughter was in and out of the hospital. They made the hour-long drive from their home in Reidsville to the Willett Children’s Hospital in Savannah regularly. At first, J.J. received several hours-long chemotherapy treatments. She became weak and lost her hair. She experienced pneumonia, croup, and colds because her body’s immune system was so vulnerable. She also had blood and platelet transfusions. When the long treatments were complete, she began a series of daily chemotherapy treatments.
Throughout it all, Stephanie was amazed by the Willett Children’s Hospital. She said the doctors and nurses were the best she’s ever seen. The child life specialists entertained J.J. in the playroom and during treatments. And the family became friends with other patients and their families.
“Kids are stronger than you think. I’ve seen kids at the cancer clinic handle all kinds of stuff,” said Stephanie.
On June 17, 2016, J.J. sat through her last chemotherapy treatment. Her blood tests show that her ALL is in remission and there is no evidence of cancer in her body. She’s been fighting for her life since age 3, but now the spunky little girl is ready to take on something really big – kindergarten.