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Leukemia Story Has Brighter Side



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Leukemia made friends out of Felicia Bryant and Shannon Coleman.

They were diagnosed with the childhood cancer within months of each other. Back in 1988, Neil R. Nickelsen, a Gwinnett pediatrician, made the initial diagnosis of both toddlers.

Shannon's parents learned she had acute leukemia in September. Three months later, Felicia's parents learned that she, too, had the disease.

"Dec. 6, 1988," recalled Linda, Felicia's mom. "I remember the hour we got the call. Dr. Nickelsen didn't even believe that she had it, so he checked the test results himself. She was admitted to the hospital on a Tuesday. We started chemo that Thursday."

Shannon had begun treatment about the same time, in the same facility --- Egleston Children's Hospital of Atlanta. Her mother, Jeana, remembers it vividly.

"Felicia's mother was pregnant at the time," she said. "She didn't have any other children but Felicia then. We've enjoyed watching Felicia's four brothers grow up."

Ditto for Shannon, 18, and Felicia, 17.

Shannon's leukemia has been in remission 13 years; Felicia's, 10. They live the typical life of a teen, which for seniors in the spring means gettin' ready for prom.

But Shannon and Felicia aren't your typical friends. They hardly socialize. They don't talk on the telephone hours on end, or hang out on weekends. They even attend different high schools --- Shannon at Grayson and Felicia in Dacula.

Shannon and Felicia hook up at events that revolve around leukemia --- picnics, parties and such. The biggie is Camp Sunshine, a weeklong adventure for cancer survivors that's held every year in Rutledge, Ga. Shannon and Felicia have attended since they were 7. They share a cabin together every year.

Just old friends hookin' up.

"Summer is the only time I see her, and when I do, we pick up right where we have left off," Shannon said. "It's not an awkward thing at all, if you know what I mean. We obviously have a bond that other people don't have."

All due to their leukemia battles.

These girls know what it's like to take a cocktail of drugs or to endure chemotherapy. They know how emotional check-ups can be to see if any deadly cancer cells have made a comeback.

They know what it's like to be a girl --- and hairless.

"I, like, didn't have a single hair at all in kindergarten," Felicia said, laughing. "Looking back at it now, I'm just thankful I am here today--- a blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian --- with four brothers."

And a friend like Shannon.

Barron's Fine Jewelry in Snellville supports the Cure Foundation, a metro Atlanta charity that advocates for leukemia sufferers. Store President Ajay Singadia knows the Colemans because Jeana and Joe --- Shannon's parents --- are Cure board members.

To celebrate Shannon's state of remission and her graduation, Singadia offered to let her wear any of the store's high-end jewelry on prom night.

Shannon politely declined, but she suggested a close friend.

Felicia picks out her jewelry at 3 p.m. today.

Rick Badie's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be contacted at rbadie@ajc.com rbadie@ajc.com

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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