After cancer I could barely stand, but now I’m doing the salsa

My Not-Quite Childhood Cancer Journey

natalie cameronAt this time last year, I could barely squat, walk or even stand.

This year, I’m learning ballroom dancing – taking on every style I can, from the smooth, flowing movements of the foxtrot to vigorous salsa and cha-cha steps.

It’s just one sign of how far I have come since being diagnosed with cancer.

Just a normal, active 18-year old

I’ve always been very active. As a kid I did gymnastics. I figure skated in high school. The first time my body showed signs that something was wrong, I was actually hiking mountains in Arizona just before my 18th birthday. People noticed that I looked pale. When I got home, the other symptoms started. My gums would bleed. I had bruises all over my legs.

A visit to urgent care and some blood work later, I got a 2 a.m. call that I needed to go to the hospital right away. More tests showed that there was a strong probability that I had leukemia. I was immediately transferred by ambulance to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The diagnosis changed it all

At Mott I got the official diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – a type of cancer that starts in the blood and bone marrow.

They started me on chemo right away. The first round was the worst. I couldn’t keep any food down and felt awful. The nurses, doctors and staff did everything they could, though, to make me feel comfortable.  With each round, I basically spent a month in the hospital followed by a week “vacation” at home before having to return for the next round.

mott blog - natalie cameron treatmentWhen I was first treated at Mott, I felt a little out of place because I was one of the oldest patients there. The staff was great, though, in helping address my concerns. During treatment, I also met a girl at Mott who was about my age and had the same cancer I had. We were good support for each other and are still in contact.

About three months after the last round of chemo, the cancer returned. That led to two more rounds of chemo, radiation and finally, a bone marrow transplant. I was in the hospital for a total of nine months with family members at my side. I had been home schooled before I got sick, so I continued my schoolwork when I could.

Through everything, one of the most frustrating parts for me was not being able to do any of the physical activities I loved most. My body was simply too weak. It wasn’t something I was used to.

Back in the swing of things

But a year and a half after my bone marrow transplant, I’m feeling like me again. I’ve had some minor side effects of the transplant, but I’m able to work out several times a week, weight train and do HIIT (high-intensity interval training). I’m also very careful about what I eat, making sure everything that goes into my body can be easily processed. Eating well has helped my liver enzymes.

When the Rainbow Connection of Michigan asked me what my “wish” was, I wanted to get my healing body back to work, so I picked ballroom dancing. Today, I’m practicing for a showcase performance piece for an upcoming gala – something I didn’t think would ever be possible as I was going through treatment.

I’m also studying exercise science, which I hope will allow me help others be as healthy as they can be. I’ve started online courses, and I plan to start attending college in Virginia next year. This experience has given me a different perspective moving forward and, in many ways, I’m thankful.

Take the next steps:

Natalie CameronNatalie Cameron is a 20-year-old from Oxford, Mich. She’s taking online college courses now and plans to attend Liberty University in 2016. She hopes to be a fitness specialist who works with cancer patients.



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best children's hospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.