One daughter's story of her 'hero and best friend'

Kaitlyn Aki and her mom post for a photo in 2017
Kaitlyn and her mom in 2017. Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Aki
I was 9 years old when my mom told me and my two younger brothers, who were 7 and 4 at the time, that she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was 34 years old. At the time, I don't feel I really understood what that meant, what was going to happen and how my life would change.

My parents researched and found Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which seemed to give my mom the best chances. So, we picked up and moved to Seattle — from New York.

At first I was upset about missing my basketball games, missing my friends, and most of all having to share a bedroom with my two brothers in our apartment in downtown Seattle. But my outlook on life quickly changed from that point on. I started at the Hutch School and quickly realized all the different places and backgrounds my classmates came from. There was a girl from Egypt in my class, a boy named North from Alaska and even a kid from New Jersey. Meeting these people helped ease the transition to my new life because they understood what I was going through.

Every day after school, I would walk across to the hospital and go to my mom's room and play cards with her, and every day I would worry she wouldn't be there any more when I arrived. But each time I turned and looked into the room, she was there with her positive, upbeat, goofy self, always making me laugh.

That is what taught me the biggest lesson in life: to always look at the glass half full and be positive no matter what life throws at you. My mom never gave up, and I believe it was her attitude that gave her the strength to fight her battle. We had a happy ending to our story: On Valentines Day this year, my mom will be 18 years cancer free. Without Fred Hutch I would not have my hero and my best friend.

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