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Hickory, North Carolina

The summer after sixth grade, Ayla spent 21 days in the hospital as doctors worked to determine the true cause of her stomach pain.

Though they originally thought the 12-year-old was simply experiencing acid reflux, an endoscopy, quickly followed by a CT scan, showed something much more concerning.

“She was a trooper,” said her mom, Angela. “The process of them finding out was the hardest. She had to go through so many surgeries and tests.”


After three weeks, Ayla and Angela received news no family wants to hear. It wasn’t acid reflux causing Ayla so much pain. It was diffuse large B cell lymphoma.

Throughout her chemotherapy treatments, Ayla required more than 20 blood transfusions.

“I had them all the time,” she said. “I would feel really down and really sick, and I’d have a transfusion and it would just make me feel so much better. I felt like I could actually breathe and function.”

Ayla and her mom spent much of their time in the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. When they were able to go home to Hickory, they would usually end up right back in the hospital.

“When you’re a cancer patient, just little stuff like a cold or a fever will send you right back to the hospital,” Ayla said. “I used to have to ride the ambulance right back down to the hospital the day after I came back up here.”

But after three months of treatment, Ayla was declared cancer free.

“It was a difficult experience, but it taught me a lot,” she said. “And I’m glad that I went through it so I would be able to give motivation to other people that they could get through it.”

This February marked five years cancer free. When the blood center came to Ayla’s high school for a blood drive, she was sad she wasn’t able to donate herself and give back, but she was touched when her classmates stepped up to give.

“It means a lot to see my classmates donate,” she said. “Even though I can’t donate, there are thousands of people donating at schools, or on buses. I just had to realize that people are getting help in the world, even though I’m not able to give.”

Ayla continues to deal with some health issues, but her mother says she has come a long way.

“It was a short process, but there was a lot to it,” Angela said. “I’m very proud of her, and I’m glad it’s behind us.”

Now, Ayla plans to go to college to become a NICU nurse and continue to help others in difficult situations. It’s just one more way she hopes to pay forward the support she received during her treatment.

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