Jenna’s Journey: A Young Life with Leukemia {Sponsored}

Jenna Carnes is strong. It’s a quality she won’t boast, let alone admit she possesses. Yet one doesn’t venture where she has without incredible strength.

This is how the Rogers, Minnesota, teen first knew something was wrong.

A Young Life with Leukemia {Sponsored} | Twin Cities Moms Blog

In February 2012, Jenna, a dancer, who was never one to sit out a routine, began to feel weak, fatigued and dizzy. Unable to make it through the simplest steps, the then-14-year-old chalked it up to a cold. Days later, a bloody nose that lasted more than 90 minutes spurred the energy-sapped eighth grader to visit Partners in Pediatrics, an affiliate of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, in her hometown. A hemoglobin count half of what it should have been led to a referral to the Cancer and Blood Disorders program at Children’s Minneapolis hospital campus. It was there that Jenna was diagnosed with leukemia.

“On the way to the hospital, I had no doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t be leukemia,” Jenna said. But after the diagnosis, “The first thing that went through my mind was that my hair would fall out. I was only 14.”

Jenna was immediately admitted and spent the next five days undergoing treatment.

“It was shocking,” said Barbara Carnes, Jenna’s mother. “Everything changes in your life at that point.

A Young Life with Leukemia {Sponsored} | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Months of intense chemotherapy followed. Shortly after being diagnosed, Jenna gained 40 pounds, one of the many side effects caused by food cravings and cancer-fighting drugs. She had to quit dance and take a leave from school. Two months later, upon her return to close out the school year, the student body immediately wrapped her in its full support.

Despite not feeling well, that summer, Jenna attended Camp Courage, a weeklong camp in Maple Lake, Minn., for children ages 4-17 and staffed by Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders medical staff. Molly, her sister two years Jenna’s junior, joined her.

“Jenna went to camp even when she was in a lot of pain. Being able to have that time away was key, and it was nice that they let Molly go with her,” said Barbara, who, along with husband Rob, stayed in contact with the girls during camp. “Jenna’s pediatric oncologist, Dr. Joanna Perkins, was there, and her nurse was, too. We knew she was in good hands.”

However, it was through her summer camp experiences, which also included Camp-Make-A-Dream in Missoula, Mont., that Jenna learned not everyone had the same back-to-school experience she did. Some kids, she said, talked about being bullied when students found out they had cancer.

Kids and adults alike will have an opportunity to understand and learn about the obstacles childhood cancer patients face with the release of The Fault in Our Stars, a movie based on the fictional John Green novel of the same name about a teenage girl, Hazel, who is living with cancer. The film opens in theaters nationwide today.

A Young Life with Leukemia {Sponsored} | Twin Cities Moms Blog

“After being through two years of treatment, you start to not care what anyone thinks of you anymore,” said Jenna, who read the book and resonated with the main characters and how much life changes after you face something as monumental as surviving cancer. “When I was 14, my life revolved around makeup, nails, hair and just having fun. After being diagnosed with cancer, you realize those aren’t important.”

Understandably, Jenna’s outlook on life is different than the one she had before her diagnosis. She said she’s more compassionate and aware of what’s happening outside of her world.

“I don’t get as nervous anymore and I enjoy meeting new people,” she said.

Later this month, Jenna, her family, care team and friends will mark the end of her chemotherapy with a party. Her final round of chemo was May 9. She took her last pill May 25.

Jenna’s Children’s visits will continue, albeit become less frequent, focusing on life after cancer therapy. Her visits will include evaluations with Children’s Health and Wellness Team, consisting of staff members from oncology, nutrition services, physical therapy, psychology and child life, and eventually will transition to yearly wellness evaluations in Children’s STAR (Surveillance and Testing After Recovery) Clinic. She said her care team, including Dr. Perkins, child life specialists and music therapists helped make Children’s a second home.

“All of the staff at Children’s are geared towards helping kids” Jenna said. “They’re just really fun and they make your whole experience less intimidating.”

Jenna’s journey with leukemia as a passenger has taken winding roads, but it uncovered a future career path. Prior to the cancer diagnosis, she wanted to be a cosmetologist. Now she wants to be a pediatric oncology nurse.

She’s enrolling at Anoka-Ramsey Community College for postsecondary enrollment option courses her junior year. And she’s back to dancing, joining the Rogers High School fall dance team.

To sum up her past two-plus years, Jenna chose a quote attributed to late singer Bob Marley.

“You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice,” she said.

A Young Life with Leukemia {Sponsored} | Twin Cities Moms Blog

To learn more about the pediatric cancer program at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, read Mighty, a Children’s health blog.

Jimmy Bellamy is the social media specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MinnesotaHe can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jimmybellamy.

{Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.  We are thrilled to help spread their message and honored to highlight Jenna’s story today!}

4 Responses to Jenna’s Journey: A Young Life with Leukemia {Sponsored}

  1. Kari June 6, 2014 at 8:28 AM #

    It’s been a rough week. Lots going on and I’ve just about hit my limit. But boy does God know what you need when you need it. As I’m reading this, I’m sitting in our own 7th floor hospital room at Children’s, watching my 20 month old nap, her port accessed to receive high dose methotrexate. Just got done talking with our primary oncologist, Dr. Perkins just hours ago. Dani was diagnosed with ALL/MLL on January 9th of this year. We’re about 5 months into treatment. Stories like this give me hope…a light at the end of what seems right now like a very LONG and very DARK tunnel. THANK YOU for sharing your journey…for making me smile…and for being a courageous role model for so many others. Hugs to you…

    • Barb C June 29, 2014 at 8:20 AM #

      I’m so sorry that it has taken me so long to reply to this message. I was going to and then cancelled it because I just didn’t know the right words. I still don’t, but I do have to say that during Jenna’s treatment I felt so blessed that she was a bit older and understood what was happening to her. I have so much compassion for those of you who have younger kids going through this. I pray every time I hear someone crying in the clinic or in the hospital.
      It’s weird to say, but something good usually comes out of those struggles we go through in life. Stay strong!! (it’s your only option, right??) NOOO! I had plenty of breakdowns and so did Jenna. It’s okay. 🙂
      I can’t say that the time went by fast, but now that we are done it’s wonderful. It is really such a wonderful feeling to get life back to “normal”. Good luck in everything. Say HI to Amy if you’re in the hospital again. She was one of Jenna’s favorite nurses.
      Take care!!

  2. Kendra June 6, 2014 at 8:50 AM #

    I am a wife and mom now in 2014, but back in 2005 I was a cancer patient. I was diagnosed with leukemia (AML) at age 15. I underwent all my treatment in patient. This story was amazing to hear because it was so much like my own. I also went to Camp Mak A Dream twice actually. There I made lifelong friends who I am still in contact with. Thank you for sharing this story. Through family, faith and the wonderful staff at Children’s MN I am where I am today!

  3. Barb C June 29, 2014 at 8:11 AM #

    Hi Kendra
    Thank you so much for posting. It is such a relief to hear from people who are well beyond “those years of treatment” 🙂 I’m so happy that you are a mom. I’m hoping that’s what Jenna’s future holds too.
    Take care

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