Orem teen's blog helping in her fight against cancer

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OREM -- At age 16, most teenagers are getting their first chance to drive a car, go to prom or maybe play high school sports. But for one Orem teen, these activities have been put on hold while she battles cancer.

Sixteen-year-old Rachel Steele has a "happy place:" at home, writing on her blog. She started the blog three months ago as a patient at Primary Children's Medical Center.

What is ... acute myeloid leukemia?
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) -- also known as acute myelogenous lukemia -- is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. The word "acute" denotes the disease's rapid progression. It's called myelogenous leukemia because it affects a group of white blood cells called the myeloid cells, which normally develop into the various types of mature blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
-Mayo Clinic

"'June 13. This is my first post,'" Rachael reads. "‘Start treatments tomorrow and get a cool little tube into my chest.'"

Rachel was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in June. The Mountain View High School volleyball player first experienced severe fatigue.

"Then I started getting a stiff neck, and then it would kind of morph into a headache," Rachel recalls. "We thought it was meningitis because that was kind of was symptomatic of meningitis, so we went into the ER thinking it was that."

It wasn't. Instead, after a full day in the emergency room, Rachel was sent to Primary Children's hospital for immediate chemotherapy treatment.

The teenager, whose club volleyball team had just qualified for nationals, found her once-active life suddenly put on hold.

Another bog post: "July 1. Some days I get really sick of being here, or I get discouraged about how long and hard it's going to be. I truly feel so loved and blessed! I just feel bad it took leukemia to make me see how blessed I am."

July 1. Some days I get really sick of being here, or I get discouraged about how long and hard it's going to be. I truly feel so loved and blessed! I just feel bad it took leukemia to make me see how blessed I am.

–Steele Strong blog post

"She definitely has her down days, but she's not one that sits and cries a lot. She'll have her moment, but then she moves on. She's been pretty upbeat," says Rachel's mother, Marie Steele.

Marie says her daughter was even upbeat on the day she lost her beautiful long hair.

"July 3," Rachel's blog reads. "Before I came here I'd been meaning to get a haircut for quite some time, but I was thinking of more like a trim. Today we whipped out the scissors and the electric clippers and I got my haircut."

Rachel has declared her battle "Steele Strong," with orange wristbands and T-shirts all around.

Her community is also rallying around her. At Thursday night's volleyball match between Mountain View and rival Orem High School both teams wore Rachel's favorite color in her honor.

"It puts things into perspective as to how blessed I am," Rachel says. "When something like this happens you think, ‘Oh, I'm so unlucky.' And there are days I think that, but it's really, it's brought my family is closer; and all my friends have been really good."

The 6-foot-2 middle blocker will have to sit out her junior season and entire school year, but several top colleges have shown interest in Rachel. It's interest she hopes continues until her hopeful return in 2011.

"It kind of put me in my place and just said there's bigger things out there," Rachel says.

For now, her place is at home writing in her blog. That's what keeps her spirits high and her loved ones informed.

Another post reads: "I wanted to let you all to know I'm so grateful for all the support and prayers. I really feel so blessed to know so many great people. Even with the long days here in the hospital, I just feel comforted to know I have a lot of great people on my side."

Rachel will return to hospital next week to begin her third round of chemotherapy. Doctors hope this next treatment will put her in remission so she can receive a bone marrow transplant.

E-mail: kaiken@ksl.com

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