Nightmare Words: 'Mom, I Have Leukemia'

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Before she started chemotherapy, 15-year-old Sheana Nelsen cut off her honey-blond hair and donated it to the nonprofit, Locks of Love, so another child with medical hair loss can have a full head of hair.

Nelsen turned 15 on May 30. On June 1, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Sheana started having back pain and trouble walking, and after a bloody nose, she was diagnosed with a low platelet count and mononucleosis, a debilitating and often painful disease.

But Sheana pegged her condition as something worse.

"Sheana's English class read a story about a girl who had leukemia whose mom was asking people to donate platelets," said Karyn Nelsen, Sheana's mother.

"Sheana said, ‘Mom, I have leukemia,'" Nelsen said.

"I told her, ‘No, don't you talk like that.'"

While Sheana was spending time with her grandparents to try to rest, Nelsen said she would call and tell her that the pain felt like her limbs were being constantly sawed off.

The type of leukemia Sheana has does not require radiation or a bone marrow transplant, and the chemotherapy kills the cancer cells that are pushing on the bone causing the intense pain.

"It is quite curable with chemotherapy," said Sheana's mother.

"She would tell me, like, ‘Mommy, I feel like I am going to break in half; I feel so fragile,'" Nelsen said.

Her daughter has had her first couple of chemo treatments. The second treatment was a steroid into the muscles of her leg that played havoc on her pancreas, so now she has pancreatitis and secondary diabetes.

Chemotherapy wipes out the body's white blood cells. In Sheana's case it has caused her to become neutropenic, which means she can only digest food that is peeled or cooked. Her carbohydrates and fat must be watched because of her diabetes.

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Amidst daily trips to Sheana's (upper right) bedside in a Valley hospital, Rick and Karyn Nelsen must arrange care for three children at home: Blake, Serianna and Lillian. Friends and family have helped make Sheana's room ready for her when she comes home. Sheana's sisters swapped their downstairs room for her upstairs one so she could be near her parents and wouldn't have to climb the stairs.

Once the chemo stops, the hope and prayer is that the pancreatitis, diabetes and neutropenia will be cured.

Sheana's family brought her home for a single day last week and she was so dehydrated she had lost 25 pounds.

Sheana is being cared for at Banner Desert Hospital at 1400 S. Dobson Road, Mesa. She is expected to remain there until her chemotherapy is completed, sometime in mid-July.

"We are encouraging visitors (as long as they are not sick) because keeping her spirits high right now is part of her recovery process," Nelsen said.

"The entire Future Farmers of America came down and visited her on the way to their convention in Tucson," Nelsen said. "She sat up in her bed and asked them, ‘So, what do you want to know about leukemia?'"

"When you sit and watch your baby have a transfusion, you suddenly have a whole new outlook on how long it takes to donate blood or platelets," Nelsen said.

Giving blood takes about 45 minutes. It takes about two-and-a- half hours to give platelets.

"What I would give if I only had two hours right now. I keep thinking of Sheana asking, ‘Can I go horseback riding?' and me thinking that takes an hour out of my day, sweetie," Nelsen said tearfully.

"I know it's going to be all right, that they have amazing treatments now," Nelsen said. "Shea told me God isn't going to let her die, that He has a plan for her and she'll tell us what it is when she gets better."

The family's friends at Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church, 507 W. Wade Lane, Payson, are holding a free-will donation breakfast for Shea and her family with pancakes, sausage and fruit from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday, June 17. There will be $800 in matching funds from Thrivent for Lutherans. For information, call (928) 474-5440.

Platelet donation can be made at United Blood Services at 1405 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale. For an appointment, contact (877) 448-4483.

Sheana has O-negative blood. For a person to donate platelets directly to her, the match must be made directly by her physician. But, blood or platelet donations of any blood type can be made as a gesture in Sheana's name.

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