Getting Better

As she recovers from leukemia, teen plans future


The day Shea Nelsen spent cleaning out a shed in a field behind the family business for her horse, Stormy, was a good day. Just seven months ago, the 15-year-old girl was diagnosed with leukemia.

"There are days when I don't even have the strength to stand up, but the last two months have been great," Nelsen said.


Shea Nelsen's horse, Stormy, was lonely over the summer while Nelsen was being treated for Leukemia. "When I saw Stormy, she was like, ‘Yeah. Shea's back to feed me peppermints.' Stormy loves peppermints."

Phase 3 of her chemotherapy consists of spinals and "pushes." She gets shots once a month in her spine. The last time she decided she didn't want the anesthesia and went with a local.

About three times a month, drugs are injected through a port above her heart.

"When my white cell counts are below 1,000, I have to be really careful," Nelsen said. "If my counts fall below 500, I am neutropenic then and everything I eat must be cooked, peeled or comes pre-packaged."

When she feels flu-like symptoms coming on, she knows to tell her parents, "I'm a couple quarts low."

The last chemo treatment gave Nelsen mouth sores. She did not much care whether she ate at all, because it was so painful to chew food and swallow.

Yet, she is grateful for the treatment that stopped the searing pain she felt at first from the leukemia cells as they moved through her bones and expanded.

Then the pain was "more than I think most people can imagine," she said.

Nausea, tiredness and a tough time getting her eyes to focus don't usually hit until a few days after a "push."

Phase 4 of her treatment will be a different kind of chemo and a lot rougher on Nelsen's body. For 24 weeks, the twice-a-day shots will burn going in and make her feel ill.

"My friends have all stood by me," she said.

"I only met one girl my own age in the hospital," she said. "Most of the kids are a lot younger."

Nelsen faces her future with hope because Phase 5, which will start next year, is the beginning of maintenance.

Nelsen may be 18 by the time she is finished with treatment for her cancer.

"Actually, I am not technically cured until five years after the chemo stops," she said.

But the teen has big plans malignant cells cannot erase.

While running a six- or seven-minute mile is out of the question for now, school is not. She started as a Payson High School sophomore Oct. 16.

Math, history of the world, English, animal science and independent study take up her mornings.

She attends half days because if she attended a full day she probably would not have the energy for anything else.

She ropes once a week and rides every Saturday.

Nelsen and her best friend since sixth grade, Cassidy Hayns, are planning to compete in the team roping event at the next Payson rodeo and she has dreams of the pro-rodeo circuit.

The first week of December, Nelsen hopes to get two steers to raise, one to sell at a Future Farmers of America show, and one for the family to eat.

"I'll name the one for FFA ‘T-bone' and the other one ‘Ribs'," she said.

She is anxious to get her learner's permit in another month so her father can teach her to drive on his steel-bumpered 1979 truck.

"I want to go to school for ag business classes," Nelsen said. "Basically, I want to own a huge, giant ranch with lots of horses and lots of cattle."

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