LONGVIEW – Makayla Thrasher’s fight with cancer seemed harmless in the beginning. She had a bruise.
She thought it was from her older brother, Cole, who was 14 at the time, horsing around with her. Within a week, her legs were covered in purple bumps of all shapes and sizes.
Her mother, Sarah, joked that the bruises might be a sign of a serious disease.
“She came over and pushed on my leg with her thumb,” Miss Thrasher said. “An hour later, I had another bruise.”
That was when Ms. Thrasher got nervous. In November 2009, two days before Thanksgiving, doctors confirmed the then 12-year-old had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
This Friday, there is an event to benefit Miss Thrasher at St. Michael’s Fellowship Hall, 909 Reel Road in Longview.
“MAKcancerVIVE,” pronoun-ced Mak can survive, features live music by Stone Lake Road, an enchilada dinner by Papacita’s, a silent auction, door prizes, an iPad raffle and more.
“We’ll make it, we’ll survive if we just keep on smiling,” Ms. Thrasher said.
Ms. Thrasher said her daughter is responding well to treatments and has about 21 months left.
“I’ve had rough times, but I’m doing good,” Miss Thrasher said. “My longest stay was 34 days, I’ve been in there 19 days and 21 days. Two weekends ago, I was in there five days.”
Since her diagnosis, she has spent more than 80 days at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, received more than 50 spinal taps, been completely paralyzed three times and undergone several surgeries.
Every time she visits the hospital, she receives a “Bead of Courage.” She keeps them in a wooden box like badges of honor, each signifying a story of strength and hope while chronicling progress in her fight against childhood leukemia.
Digging through the box, she finds her favorite – a greenish, marble-sized bead she said looks like a kiwi. She has several glass rabbit beads from spending Easter in the hospital and a white bead with a red heart to mark an MRI.
“We’ve learned to laugh and not cry,” Ms. Thrasher said. “We still shed tears occasionally, but we laugh a lot.”
According to the American Cancer Society, leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents. Leukemia accounts for about one in three cancers in children, but overall, childhood leukemia is a rare disease, according to the society.
While childhood leukemia has a nearly 80 percent cure rate, Miss Thrasher said the biggest obstacle in her battle was the death of her 11-year-old friend Mikyla Pickering, of Paris, last summer.
The two had different types of leukemia but were in the hospital together for a month.
“I was very shy before cancer,” Miss Thrasher said.
She attributes her friendship with Miss Pickering for giving her confidence.
“Meeting Mikyla, she was always, ‘Hey!’ to everyone, even if she didn’t know you, she’d just start talking,” Miss Thrasher said.
Miss Thrasher’s life motto – “peace, love and cancer” – came from her friend. While the combination might be unlikely, Miss Thrasher said it is a formula for success.
“If you don’t have peace and love, you can’t fight cancer,” she said.
She gets chemotherapy each month and takes a pill form every night.
“I’m used to them,” she said. “I can’t really feel it. All they do is access your port and they just do it through that.”
But she still has not gotten used to all of it.
“I never liked needles,” she said. “If they got a chance to stick me when I was awake, I would start crying.”
Her best vein, on her right arm, has permanent scarring. She said nurses have a hard time hitting the vein.
“When I first got leukemia, my veins would hide,” she said.
Rather than enjoy a typical childhood, she spent the past 15 months being taken back and forth to Dallas.
“She hasn’t done a whole lot,” Ms. Thrasher said. “After the first year, she spent the night with a friend.”
On the day before her 14th birthday, she said she is past acting like a child. However, she still enjoys a peculiar sense of humor she said many people would not understand.
A few weeks ago, she and her mother were at a pharmacy that happened to have a free blood pressure monitor.
Despite several hospital scares with readings at 50-over-30, Miss Thrasher wanted to check her blood pressure.
“It didn’t show up and I said, ‘Look, I’m dead!'” Miss Thrasher laughed.
While the bulk of her life centers on cancer treatments, she is learning about proper nouns at home school and she has a new boyfriend, a relationship that started two weeks ago. She said they hang out at her friend’s house down the street. He has invited her to come to his house to play video games. She hopes to be back in school with her classmates in ninth grade next year.
She said she has learned a lot about life and herself since her diagnosis.
“Mostly, I’ve learned a lot of medical stuff,” she smiled.
Whether showing how to have courage through treatments or that bald is beautiful, Miss Thrasher is mentoring other childhood cancer patients at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.
This year, she hosted a second annual head-shaving party.
“She’s our little Chia pet,” Ms. Thrasher said. “She likes to watch it grow.”
When Miss Thrasher visits hospital patients, she tries to show her “little friends” how to embrace being bald. She said she has no plans to grow her hair long, like it was before the diagnosis.
After cancer, she said she wants to become a child life specialist at the Dallas hospital, helping to teach children about treatments.
“I’m not glad, but I’m OK with it,” she said. “It’ll actually help me later on, I’ll be stronger than most people and if they ever get it, I can tell them that they’ll be OK.”
Published February 24
Tyler Morning Telegraph