David diagnosed at 15, T-cell lymphoma and Crystal, 7 & 14, ALL

Patients treated at Texas Children’s Cancer Center may wonder if the people working there really understand what they’re going through. Two special employees, David and Crystal, understand completely.
David diagnosed at 15, T-cell lymphoma and Crystal, 7 & 14, ALL(2005) – In fact, David and Crystal were treated at the Cancer Center by many of the same doctors and nurses working there now.“For a while I carried pictures around of when I had no hair so the kids could see that it really does grow back,” said David.Today, David and Crystal participate in the center’s long-term survivor program, and work overlapping shifts in the Cancer Center’s infusion area as PALS, or patient assistance liaisons. “We call ourselves the tag team,” said Crystal. “We take vitals, take out IVs, monitor patients, help the nurses a lot, and stock supplies.”

David and Crystal enjoy their jobs, especially working with the children and the staff who once treated them. Their histories help them sympathize with patients of all ages.

Crystal experienced cancer as a young child and then again as a teen-ager. She was first diagnosed with ALL, or acute lymphoblastic leukemia, at 7. She responded well to her mild course of chemotherapy and everything seemed fine for seven years. Then at 14 the cancer returned. Treatment this time included a bone marrow transplant, along with chemotherapy and radiation.

“I was a freshman and very athletic. Suddenly there was no school, no sports, no social life, being cooped up in the house, and hair loss. When I was 7 I knew I was sick, but I was okay just so long my parents were there and we went to McDonald’s after the appointment,” said Crystal. “At 14, it matured me so much faster than other teen-agers. You just appreciate life because you see a lot of people take it for granted and you want to help another life.”

David was 15½ when diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma. He remembers the most difficult parts of treatment as the shots and the fluctuations in his body during chemotherapy. “I lost a lot of muscle and then had to rebuild it,” said David. “The medicine caused my weight to go from 130 pounds to 230 then back to 108 pounds.”

“As a teen, you understand what’s going on, and that’s good and bad. It’s a mental struggle because you know how serious cancer is,” said David. “I work here now because so many people at Texas Children’s gave to me and helped me. I want to give back because if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be alive.”

Once patients and their families find out that David and Crystal are long-term survivors, they ask many questions about their experiences. Neither minds answering the questions, and the advice David and Crystal give their patients and families is much the same:

  • Stay strong
  • Rely on your faith and your family
  • Don’t ever give up, always have hope
  • Believe in the doctors and do what they say
  • Feel free to ask questions

Today, David is a volunteer at camps for children with cancer. Crystal attends nursing school and leads a life full of family and many activities. Both are daily reminders of hope and the life waiting to be lived after the cancer is gone.