Caoilinn McLane: the mighty warrior’s fight against Acute Myeloid Leukemia

How a 15 year old girl’s life has changed and how she continues to fight daily

Caoilinn McLane: the mighty warrior’s fight against Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Ashley Donohoe, Author

As the VSA ‘01 Girls team gathered together on field 7 of James Long Park, they shared a look of skepticism. One of their goalkeepers, Caoilinn McLane, had not been able to get to practice for a couple weeks now. They wondered what was going on, where she was, and if she even wanted to be on the team anymore. Practice continued nonetheless, except the other goalie has a slightly harder workload than at the beginning of the season. At the end of the rigorous training, Coach Shay Bell gathered the girls into a huddle, arms wrapped around each other. His eyes flicked around to the curious faces staring at him.

He takes a deep breath, shifting his feet from right to left as he bursts out, “Caoilinn has been diagnosed with cancer.”

The girls seemed to respond immediately, but none of them out loud. Eyes become damp with tears, jaws drop, and hands are drawn up to their mouths as if to stop an outright cry. The lights on the fields shut on as the sky slowly starts to turn to night, but the group still stood in the field. Another team started to practice around the group, but there they remained. All of them are filled with questions and well wishes for their goalie, but more importantly, their friend.

In October of 2016, Caoilinn McLane started to experience unbearably painful migraines. Next month she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) which she describes as, “my bone marrow is making crappy cells that don’t do their job and it gets in the way of other blood cells.” Like all childhood cancer recipients, Caoilinn has been undergoing a hectic new schedule. She is in the recovery stage of her fourth (out of five) round of chemotherapy, one of the common treatments to cancer. Along with chemo, Caoilinn is receiving a lumbar puncture, a needle inserted into the spinal canal, and a bone marrow aspiration, taking a sample of bone marrow to measure white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. reports there has been 10,380 new cases of childhood cancer in the United States in 2016, so there are numerous methods doctors have learned to treat this cruel disease. Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplants. Even with these extensive treatments there are still a whopping 1,250 children expected to die of cancer every year.

Many people who hear about cancer do not always develop an accurate perception of the disease. It is important to realize the true effects of cancer so one can be a reliable support system for their friend in need. Before treatment, Caoilinn, “thought that you just get chemo, lose your hair, and then feel a little bad for a while. Then all better. But that’s not how it is. [Doctors] literally pump poison into you and watch it kill both your immune system and some of the cancer cells. As well as you get these awful mouth sores and all you can do is eat ice and they feed you through a tube. Your finger and toe nails will fall off, and that is if you do not have an allergic reaction like me.” Going through such a demanding process completely wears down a patient, and that is not taking into account the mental hardships they have to face.

Every cancer patient’s life is completely altered once they are diagnosed, abruptly stopping all joyous activities to stay in a hospital for who knows how long. They miss parts of their former life, wishing they did not take such moments for granted. For Caoilinn, she misses playing soccer for VSA and the Virginia Olympic Development Program, practicing at goalkeeper training, doing beach volleyball, and playing with her younger brother Padraig. Through these days, people like Caoilinn just want someone to be there for them. Caoilinn says that once she was diagnosed she wishes others would not, “waste [their] breath telling [me I am] strong,” without really being there for her. If someone has cancer, “Just talk to them and treat them as you normally would, and if you’re curious about the cancer just ask.” What patients really want is a friend, because, “get well cards… don’t make me better.”

Luckily, along with fantastic friends Caoilinn is provided an amazing staff. She was given a team of twelve doctors who, “made a plan for what my cancer treatment would entail.” Afterwards, her very kind nurses took utmost care of her, even when she was intubated and could not do anything on her own. As family and friends visit patients, these kind doctors and nurses work hard to ensure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.

As the months pass, Caoilinn’s health continues to improve. She is staying in Washington DC’s Children’s National Medical Center where she has met some spectacular people. On March 2nd, 2017, her dad shared that, “Caoilinn was hand picked by the child life staff at CNMC to present the FLOTUS with flowers and thank her for visiting Children’s National Medical Center. Her kindness and ability to relate resonated and gave her a moment that will stay with her forever.” on her CaringBridge site. To support Caoilinn, donate to her GoFundMe page at . She also had a CaringBridge site where one can follow her recovery through daily journal reports by her father, Jim McLane at .