Since 2015, PAB’S has had the privilege to meet and stay in-contact with so many incredible teens. One such teen is Saunder Strong, who was diagnosed with with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2015. He received a PAB’S PACK at the start of his extensive treatment, and has kept in close contact with PAB’S. We are so happy to be able to congratulate Saunder for completing his treatment for ALL in November after a three year journey.
Now 16 years old, Saunder graciously shares his story with us.
On August 10th, 2015 I heard the words that would change my day-to-day way of living for the next few years and shape the person I am for a lifetime.
I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia just before I turned 13. As my classmates began their 7th grade year of school, I began daily rounds of chemotherapy and regular hospitalizations. Setbacks and losses accumulated - freedom, mobility, memory, days, weeks, months…. I was unable to rejoin my classmates until 8th grade. When I did, I was not the person I was prior to diagnosis. My personality and lens on life had changed— not to mention my physical appearance. I hung on to a tuft of hair that I combed over my mostly bald head for as long as I could— clinging to the one feature that hadn’t been taken from me yet. Osteonecrosis (death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply) and Neuropathy (weakness and pain from nerve damage) set in, and with them came more restrictions. Ultimately, many of my friends drifted away as hobbies and pastimes were forced to change due to limitations. Cancer nightmares shook me out of my sleep, and still today I receive therapy to rebuild my body, mind, and spirit post the life-impacting ordeal.
I completed my treatment for ALL just over a month ago on November 30, 2018. I’m now 16. While there were many dark days in my 3.5 years of treatment for Leukemia, and I continue to navigate the impact of such a stressful time in my life, there are also bright spots. Many of these bright spots continue to impact me today and play out positively in my daily life.
Pia and Abbie shed the first light on a community that I never knew existed until I received a PAB’S Pack. The pack was filled with comforting gifts and I knew that this organization got it. These people get my life. From a mutual friend, I learned more about their incredible story and the personal journeys that led Pia and Abbie to found PAB’S PACKS. PAB’S PACKS sympathizes with a community of young people navigating similar hardships, allowing them to find calm and care in creature comforts… a blanket, chapstick, a stress ball, and the PAB’S penguin. I used everything in my pack (I even got my hands on an extra stress ball which was seriously worked over during every chemo treatment in my port and my spine).
Learning about Abby and Pia and their story from our mutual friend was my first exposure to other teens who are navigating the tough challenges of a life-threatening diagnosis. I eventually was able to meet Pia and Abby in-person, and my stigma about forming friendships with other ill teens was quickly proved incorrect. They showed me that hanging with other ill teens with doesn’t mean you sit around and talk about your illness and treatment. The connection was immediate. Since meeting Pia and Abby, my relationships and my community have changed. I have became a part of a community of the most incredible, resilient, big-hearted teenagers I could ever hope to know and learn from. The friendship bond is easily formed and connection is instant, because the road that leads you to each other is as similar and familiar as it is different. For me, this connection is ultimately what PAB’S PACKS is about: comfort, care, and connection.
Saunder appeared in our video in August of 2017, and has always updated us about his treatments. We are so thankful for the incredibly engaged and empathetic person he is. Now at the end of his fight, Saunder is determined to give back even more than he already has. He is currently competing to be the Minnesota Student of the Year with the Leukemia and Lymphoma foundation. He has the goal of raising $50,000 by February 26th to name a research grant after his friend Christian Larson, who passed away in September from cancer, and bring more attention to blood cancers. Click the link below to donate and learn more about his campaign.
Thanks for always having our back, and the backs of so many other chronically-ill teens, Saunder! We’ve got your back. Blood warriors!
The PAB’S Team