At first blush, LaTia Bell is just like any other high school senior.
She likes school, especially science, and keeps her grades up with college applications just around the corner. She merely started playing tennis, and in her free time, she likes to read books and learn about sharks — her favorite animal. Like most other students in the U.S ., the pressure is on to keep up, stand out, and excel as competition to gain college admission continues to grow more fierce.
What you can’t see is that LaTia, despite all of her work ethic and exuberance, is chronically fatigued all the time.
When it’s cold — and even sometimes when it’s not — her entire body is wracked with ache. She misses weeks of school at a time in the hospital. Even though she strives to be like any other daughter, LaTia’s sickle cell disease avoids that from being possible .
Sickle cell illnes is a blood disorder that can, to set it bluntly, attain life hellish.
“It seems I always get sick around the most important dates, ” LaTia says, talking about her sickle cell disease like it’s a mischievous imp rather than a painful and difficult cancer. “Usually when I’m sick, I miss at the least three days of school. So it is really hard.”
Sickle cell cancer is a genetic disorder that avoids a person’s red blood cell from becoming flexible, round, and healthy. Instead, they become rigid and crescent-shaped, unable to carry the amount of oxygen the body needs and succumbing off much faster than healthy blood cell do.
The result is that chronic fatigue LaTia is constantly faced with, along with other symptoms like intense, frequent pain resulting from a lack of oxygen being delivered to key body parts, causing muscles to seize up. People young and old living with sickle cell illnes are also susceptible to strokes and infections and have to take medications that can take even more of a toll on the body.
The symptoms of sickle cell disease make even mundane chores feel like impossible accomplishments. Last year, LaTia missed weeks of school and more than a few tennis rivalries because of her sickle cell crises.
But as a patient at the Aflac Center and Blood Disorders Centerof Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where many young people are taught to manage their sickle cell cancer, LaTia has been taught to manage her symptoms. It also helps that she has a lot of optimism and drive to do what she loves .
“I don’t genuinely let it hold me back from my dreams and what I love to do, ” says LaTia .
In spite of the challenges her cancer causes, she has her heart set on analyzing biochemistry in college — knowing full well that stress is one of the primary factors that can trigger her illness and send her to the hospital.
Regardless, she’s choosing to aim high . “I want to be a hematologist and a marine biologist, ” she says. “I expect it to be very stressful, but I’m merely ready to take it on.”
LaTia also said that he hoped she can use her passion for learning and knowledge to someday help other people like her.
There’s no cure for sickle cell illnes — only developments in pain treatment that can make the disease easier to manage. But she wants to help find a remedy.
“Sickle cell doesn’t only affect the patients. It affects the families too, ” she says. “No one in the family likes to see small children suffered by such a terrible disease.”
“I’m doing it for the patients and for the families.”
Though her cancer is beyond her control, in so far, LaTia has been able to do everything she wants — it’s just more of a challenge.
Supported by the Aflac Center and Blood Disorders Center, with compassionate care and patient education and counseling, she has been able to chase her dreams with confidence.
Heading into her future, she’s confident in her ability to keep on accomplishing. “I feel invincible, ” she says.
Ultimately, she hopes that seeing a cure is within her reaching. “I do a lot of spreading awareness through social media and things, ” she says. “I want people to be aware of sickle cell and maybe help make a change.”
One thing she’s certain of is that she’ll be one of the people helping induce that change, regardless of the obstacles in her route. “Sickle cell has built “i m feeling” down a lot, but you can overcome anything, ” she says. “That’s what I’ve learned — that anything can be overcome.”
To learn more about sickle cell disease or the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, visit choa.org/ fightsicklecell .
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