Meet Sylvia – who travelled 5500 miles and beat cancer!

I know how you feel, and what you are going through. I don’t want to say it will all be over soon, but I do want to say hang in there and be patient because, through all of this, there is Camp Kindle!

Sylvia with her mom at the hospital in Turkey

During the initial days, I was sleeping a lot, day and night. Nobody really noticed that I was sleeping so much since I have always been a heavy sleeper. After a few days, our family doctor suggested we do some blood tests, and after the results, I was immediately sent to the emergency department. The first night at the hospital, they told my mom that they were suspecting leukemia, and we were then sent to the oncology department. We did not even know what oncology meant at the time! A week later, they confirmed that I had leukemia, and if my parents gave consent, they would start treatment right away because I had a type of leukemia that can spread quickly. My mom only had 3 hours to make this decision.

When my mom first heard the diagnosis, she cried a lot in the office. My dad was not even in Turkey at the time. Once my parents gave consent, my treatment began. I received some blood transfusions.

The next day, I was at the doctor’s office for them to explain my diagnosis. The doctor first asked if I knew what my diagnosis might be. I answered that given all the kids on the unit who have lost their hair and seeing the doctor’s office full of accomplishments around cancer treatments, I guessed it was cancer. And I was right. The doctor then explained to me the treatment processes. When the doctor was explaining my future treatment options, all I could think about was my hair that I love so much and at the time had dyed purple. My first question to the doctor was “will I lose my hair?” At that time, I was unaware of all the side effects I could face from chemotherapy.

Sylvia during her treatment

My family decided to move to Canada but the journey was not going to be easy. We had already been away from our dad for 5 years and the wait for our visas was not over. We finally got our visa one month after my bone marrow transplant. Even though we were away from my dad for so long, when we finally got our visa to move, my doctor was very upset about us moving mid-treatment. My mom went to the hospital’s patient rights department as well to explain the situation to transfer treatment to a physician. My mom also discussed these issues with a lawyer, who reassured her of some help.

On the day we were supposed to leave, my mom had no hope that we would even be allowed to board the plane. My mom only let my grandma know that we left Turkey once we were actually on the airplane.

During my time in the hospital in Turkey, I started a project called the Wall of Life. It was a wall full of motivational comments from kids who completed their treatment and kids on active treatment. This project was finally starting up by the time I was leaving and sadly I had to leave it behind!

Strong Sylvia at the hospital

Moving to Canada was great. My treatment options were different here. In Turkey, mydoctor had given me a list of food items that I couldn’t eat. I lost a lot of weight due to that and went from 125 pounds to 66 pounds. Even my mom lost 22 pounds because of all my food restrictions. That was not the case in Canada. My doctor in Turkey did not recommend that I leave for Canada mid-treatment and sharing my medical history and, any accompanying paperwork became difficult. My current physician therefore never got a full history of all the treatments I received.

Since treatment, I have been experiencing difficulties walking. My current physician attributed my walking difficulties to food restrictions since I was not getting proper nourishment. When I moved to Canada, I started physiotherapy right away, and I received hearing aids due to the hearing loss I was experiencing as a side effect of my treatment. My physician in Turkey was so worried about exposure to infections that any treatment I could have received for my hearing loss was delayed.

When a child is going through something as terrible as cancer, it is the whole family that is affected. I have siblings and they were impacted too during my treatment. Esra Nur is my sweet younger sister who is currently 11 years old. When I was on active treatment, my mom used to stay with me at the hospital a lot. Since my dad was away, my two other sisters took care of Esra Nur. At the time of my diagnosis, my older sister Elif Nalan, who is now 20, was preparing for her university exams. Sadly, she was not able to prepare for the university entrance exams because she was helping to take care of our younger sister Esra Nur as my mom, or my eldest sister used to be in the hospital with me often. My eldest sister Meryem Sena, who is currently 22, was my bone marrow donor. She and my mom would take turns caring for me in the hospital. Since she was my bone marrow donor, she took time from her university studies for the procedure.

Moving to Canada has opened us to so much like finding Kids Cancer Care. I go to their PEER exercise program once a week. I started playing golf with them and it was my first time doing so! It is such a beautiful memory for me. I am also a volunteer with the Teen Leadership Program (TLP). I love volunteering with them and getting a chance to help others.

I LOVE Camp Kindle! It is the best thing that my cancer journey has given me. I love everything about it — the songs we sing around the campfire, the delicious food, and the activities. My favorite is the rope course. I love the adrenaline rush, so I love the zipline and the giant swing. I also love that my sister Esra gets to experience Camp Kindle with me. Other kids who are going through similar journeys should definitely experience camp! The staff and volunteers at camp are so genuine and kind. I love camp and am sad to leave every time.

Sylvia (Left) with her sister Esra Nur at Camp Kindle

I have completed my chemotherapy treatment and my bone marrow transplant was successful. I do wear hearing aids since treatment, and I do have issues with walking. I wear a brace and use a walker to get around. Even though I am done with active treatment, I have a lot of side effects that I now have to deal with. I also could not go to school for two years and am currently in school with those two years younger than me.

I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to Kids Cancer Care for helping me in this journey. I want to thank the volunteers for selflessly spending time with us and opening up their hearts to us. Though I am currently a volunteer with TLP, when I gain all the strength back that I have lost from treatment, I want to continue volunteering with Kids Cancer Care.

I also want to thank the donors and let them know that every cent they donate goes to so many beautiful programs. Thank you so much for giving me and other kids like me the opportunity to enjoy such fun activities and programs. One day I want to donate as well, just like you.

— Sylvia