Jehovah’s Witness teen happy to be

Treatments working for leukemia sufferer
Calgary Herald (Canada), Aug. 20, 2002
Kerry Williamson

She doesn’t celebrate birthdays, but she’s sure happy she made this one.

Mia, the Calgary teen battling a rare and aggressive form of leukemia, turns 17 today, something she doubted she would ever do.

Less than two months ago, she thought she would be lucky to see the next weekend, or even the next day.

But Mia has battled her disease and the prognosis of doctors, and is happier to see this birthday than any of those past.

While she won’t be celebrating today — her religious beliefs mean she sees nothing special in a birthday — this one is a little different.

“My birthday is not really a big deal for me, except, ‘Hey, cool, now I’m 17’ . . . but it is a milestone,” she told the Herald in an exclusive interview Monday.

“At the beginning, I really didn’t think I would see my 17th birthday. I hoped I would, but no matter how optimistic I was, I had to be realistic.

“I did think I was going to die two months ago. I like to make a job of proving the doctors wrong.”

Mia — her real name cannot be published for legal and personal reasons — is undergoing alternative chemotherapy treatment at an undisclosed location in North America.

She made headlines earlier this year when she refused to receive blood transfusions because of her religious convictions. A staunch Jehovah’s Witness, she opposes the use of blood products.

She was made a temporary ward of Alberta Child Welfare and forced to undergo close to 40 transfusions against her will, often sedated and tied down so she wouldn’t fight the treatment.

After several months of treatment, doctors decided the chemotherapy was not working and recommended palliative care. She was released from Child Welfare custody in mid-July.

Mia has been receiving treatment at the secret clinic for close to a month, oncologists recommending a form of chemotherapy that attacks only cancerous cells without the need for blood transfusions.

While definitive results are still two weeks away, Mia is optimistic the treatment is working. She says her blood counts are improving and her day-to-day health is better than just weeks ago.

She can walk short distances without growing tired, has yet to feel any serious side-effects and has been free of the crippling nausea that dogged her treatment at Alberta Children’s Hospital in southwest Calgary.

“The treatment is coming along pretty well, and, actually, I’m feeling pretty well. I am tired a lot of the time, but it has always been like that.

“I walk more now than I did and I feel a lot better. I don’t feel sick, which is nice. My blood counts are going up. I haven’t had side-effects.

“I’m not dead yet.”

Mia — she chose the last three letters of leukemia as her name — defends her decision to seek alternative treatment. She claims the chemotherapy treatment has a good remission rate and has helped other cancer sufferers.

Mia visits the clinic once a day, undergoing treatment for several hours. She is living with her mother and younger sister at the home of a family friend — her sister wheeling her to and from the clinic each day.

If her treatment works, she will likely remain at the clinic for three to four months before returning to her Calgary home.

Mia’s battle has torn her family apart. Her parents are now embroiled in divorce proceedings, split over Mia’s refusal to undergo blood transfusions. Mia’s father is seeking sole custody of two of his three daughters, and is asking his wife to pay child support.

If successful, he plans to move his daughters back to Calgary and keep them from the Jehovah’s Witnesses church.

He told the Herald last week that he has been shut out of his daughter’s life after supporting the province’s decision to make her a ward of Child Welfare.

Mia said that’s not the case. She called her dad Monday, speaking for close to 10 minutes. She is upset her parents are no longer together.

“I’m just trying to focus on getting better. No person wants their parents to get divorced, but that doesn’t really involve me,” she said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 21, 2002.
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