It all started when Elise Steingruebl began limping around her house.
The usually energetic and playful young girl, who lives in the Bay Area with her parents Andy and Heather, wasn't used to having difficulty enjoying her childhood. After several visits to doctors and specialists, including a trip to the ER, the clinicians attending to her were unable to pinpoint what exactly was wrong. As the days stretched into weeks, and Elise grew increasingly irritable, lethargic, pale, and unable to walk, it was clear that something more than a simple flu bug was afflicting her.
In April of 2011, Elise was diagnosed with leukemia. And in April of 2011, Elise became a beacon of hope for other children dealing with the horrendous disease.
Approximately 10,400 children under age 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year, with nearly one-third of those totals due to various forms of leukemia . In 1955 leukemia was reported to be 100% fatal, with most patients young and old unfortunately succumbing in a matter of months. Because of advancements in medical treatment however, childhood survival rates for all types of cancers reached 80% in 2003 and continue to climb . Outreach and research efforts from organizations such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) have played a huge role in those numbers, but clearly more needs to be done in order to reach the 100% target all involved hope to obtain.
It doesn't hurt to have a brave young girl like Elise on your team, whose work with fellow patients has inspired other children battling the disease.
She can also be quite the interview, as Sharks forward Patrick Marleau learned two weeks ago when he had the opportunity to sit down with her.
Elise's relationship with the NHL and LLS began last year at Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night 2010. Being a big fan of the Sharks, Elise and her family were invited to meet the team following a game at HP Pavilion. Elise's personality and bravery was a huge hit with the players. As she and her family partnered with LLS to bolster fundraising efforts, they felt a relationship with the Sharks was an excellent opportunity to make an impact in the community and highlight a disease that has affected thousands of families across the United States. Elise's hard work gave her the chance to land that exclusive interview with Marleau this year in the midst of the Hockey Fights Cancer campaign.
"Elise was diagnosed in April 2010, and her biggest complaint was that the TVs at Kaiser Santa Clara didn't carry the playoff games," Elise's mom Heather said before stating that Kaiser eventually got CSN into the hospital. "Patty was uncharacteristically verbose, a fact that was not lost on Elise. She kept complimenting him on his nice, long answers which made him chuckle but did not end up making the final cut."
When Elise was first diagnosed with leukemia her first months of treatment were frightening affairs. Each new procedure brought on more and more anxiety, coming to the point where fear began to run her life. She would enter and exit the hospital screaming, and even tasks as simple as brushing her teeth and taking her pills were approached with trepidation.
That all changed when she met another brave young patient however. Elise learned that her unique situation was one that allowed her to make a positive impact in the lives of others, and that her bravery could inspire others to fight just as hard as she does.
"Elise met a fellow patient in clinic who has business cards and invites other kids to see how brave he is when he gets IVs. Within a week, Elise was telling us she wanted to be an expert too, and we started filming her brave feats so that she could share them with other kids," Elise's mother Heather said. "Nothing about this leukemia stuff is easy, but we all want other families to know that it does get better over time. Elise is about the most dramatic proof for which anyone could ask."
Elise's Youtube channel is a testament to her desire to help other children. The demonstrations range from showing how her port for her central line makes her treatment easier, demystifying sedation ("magic sleep" as she calls it), and how to be brave while being de-accessed from her chemotherapy treatments. These tutorials give other children afflicted with leukemia the power of knowledge and, most importantly, the knowledge of bravery.
It's not easy for anyone, young or old, to stay positive when undergoing chemotherapy. It is an exhausting process that requires stoic resolve and tremendous support from families. Elise's willingness to help her fellow patients and triumphantly stride down the road to recovery is something that has undoubtedly inspired others to do the same.
A bright future lies ahead for Elise, who is expected to finish her treatments in August of 2012. With her infectious personality and determination, a career as a journalist or television host are just a few of the many possibilities that await her later in life.
However, as Elise's father Andy states, the most important thing right now is bringing attention to their cause. Because no matter how many lives are saved today, there is always work to be done in preparation for tomorrow.
"What we want to do is use that publicity to drive traffic to LLS for donations, as that is the point of the whole campaign," Elise's father Andy said. "Elise just puts an incredible human face behind the good you're doing when you donate to LLS and cancer research."
For more information on how to donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, please click here.