Surviving Cancer with a Smile

By Patricia A. González-Portillo

For Maegen Trujillo, leukemia was the beginning, not end of her journey

The diagnosis was hard enough, but for Maegen Trujillo, cancer was the beginning, not the end of her journey.

“There were times when I wanted to give up because everything was so unbearable but I couldn’t I was just a kid,” she recalls. “I had a full life ahead of me.”

Maegen in Full Remission!

Maegen in Full Remission!

At just 18-years-old, Maegen has persevered through more challenges than most of us face in a lifetime. She is a cancer survivor and she is proud of it.

On July 4, 2009, Maegen awoke that morning with a severe headache and stomach cramps. Despite her symptoms, Maegen celebrated the 4th of July holiday with her friends and family.

As days progressed, Maegen’s symptoms worsened and on July 16, her mother, Vonda took Maegen to the nearest emergency room, hoping the unusual red spots which started to appear on her body along with her initial symptoms were just signs of anemia. After careful examination and tests, the doctors gave Vonda, a parent’s worst nightmare. At only 14, Maegen was diagnosed with T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or cancer of the blood cells.

“When the nurse called me and placed her arm around my shoulder and closed the door, I knew something was wrong,” Vonda said. “It can’t be true. I argued with the nurses that my daughter didn’t have cancer, that it was a mistake.”

Moments later, Vonda walked into the hospital room and gave her daughter the news. They both cried. But soon tears turned into smiles, when Vonda, told Maegen “you better save all your wigs for when I get old and grey.”

“We joke around a lot and that helped us through some really tough times,” Vonda said. “There were times she wanted to give up but I didn’t let her. I was her mom, caretaker, nurse and friend. I was everything to her.”

Despite the challenges, Maegen kept smiling.  She suffered from nausea, hair loss and other physical side-effects caused by chemotherapy and radiation treatment. And, being away from home and school during such a stressful time was difficult, but Maegen says the care she received at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, made her illness bearable. Maegen formed a special bond with her nurses and a child life specialist named Ashley, who often brought her board games and movies while she was in isolation.

Maegen also participated in the Look Good Feel Better for Teens (LGFB for Teens) program at Childrens Hospital. LGFB for Teens is a hospital-based public service program for teens with cancer. It is offered by the American Cancer Society, Personal Care Products Council Foundation and the Professional Beauty Association | National Cosmetology Association. Licensed professionals help girls and guys between the ages of 13 and 17 deal with the appearance, health, and social side effects of cancer treatment. For more information about LGFB for Teens visit 2beme.org or call 800.227.2345.

“Look Good Feel Better for Teens helped me feel better about myself inside and out,” Maegen said.

Now, Maegen’s leukemia is in full remission. She’s full of life and proud to say she graduated from high school a year early.  Maegen volunteers as an office assistant at the American Cancer Society in Pasadena. She sees her doctor every three months for examinations and blood work. Maegen is a psychology student at East Los Angeles College. She plans to work with children with cancer.

With her cancer days a distant memory, Maegen says she will always remember everything her team of doctors and nurses did for her. In a way, she is thankful for her experience because it made her stronger.

“My nightmare is over,” Maegen said. “I’m relieved and proud that I am a survivor. Now I can move on with my life and focus on the future.”

written by

Emily is publisher and editor-in-chief of Mariposa Magazine. She's passionate about the hugely important role that Latinas play in the well-being and advancement of their families. She writes about Latina success stories and observations on life.
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