When 11-year-old Ella Beach was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on Valentine’s Day in February 2018, her family had been hoping it was something else. Ella had been experiencing bone pains, and had recently been scratched by the family cat, so they thought maybe it was cat scratch fever. That wasn’t the case though. After various tests and blood work in the hospital, the diagnosis was confirmed as cancer.
“Initially we told Ella she had a problem with her blood and she would be in the hospital for a bit while they took care of it,” recalls Ella’s mom, Mary. “But about a week later we told her it was a type of cancer. I remember she got very upset. We made a promise to her that as we learned things we would tell her everything that we were told, whether it was good or bad.”
“I knew what cancer was,” explains smart and vibrant Ella. “I knew people lost their hair and some lost their lives. I was mostly scared because I didn’t want to be known as the girl with cancer. I didn’t want to go back to school with no hair and be made fun of.”
Fortunately, Ella has some wonderful classmates in Fredonia, New York and never had her fear realized. When she did go back to school, her friends all bought hats and hid their hair in them. Ella says having all her friends wearing hats with her helped her feel not so alone.
Making friends who also have cancer has been another way Ella has coped with her unfair journey. And making friends must come easy to her because she has quite the list!
“There are so many friends I’ve made from hospital stays, Courage of Carly events, and through my mom becoming friends with their moms on Facebook.”
And for Ella’s mom, those “momcologist” friendships have been tremendously helpful.
”It’s a club no one wants to be part of, but I’m thankful that they are there. We all find a lot of hope in each other. When they are experiencing things that are going well with their child, we all feel that huge celebration inside of us. And when something doesn’t go well, we all feel that defeatedness and hurt. No one else really understands if they aren’t going through it.”
Those valuable friendships didn’t happen easily though. At first, Mary couldn’t even think about anything other than what her daughter was going through.
“I was very closed off the first 30 days in the hospital. I couldn’t even handle what was going on with Ella, much less hearing someone else’s sad story. It’s almost like these women forced it,” Mary says with a laugh. "‘You will be my friend! You will talk to me in the hallways!’ I’m so glad they did that. I needed them.”
Mary feels grateful that her daughter has a great care team and a great prognosis, and that there have been beneficial changes for her whole family, including her husband, 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
“Another mom gave me the best piece of advice: there is always something positive, so find that positive thing and focus on that, even on the worst day. I think in a lot of ways this experience has brought all our children closer together. It’s made us all a lot more patient. I think anybody faced with a diagnosis like this in their family learns to look at life differently. You value time and people and moments a lot more than things. As sad as it is that these three kiddos have had to face something like this so early in life, I think it’s going to benefit them a lot.”
Ella shares her mom’s positive attitude and has a lot to look forward to.
“I would tell another kid going through cancer that it will get easier. And there are ways to enjoy stuff still. I like doing art when I’m here for chemo. It’s really fun. Mostly I paint with Ginny, a volunteer here. Ginny is very fun to paint with and it makes the time go by faster,” Ella shares. “And even though right now I can’t do any sports or any PE stuff, when I get my port out this spring I’m going to play softball.”
Ella has even more exciting things to look forward to since she will be the honorary tree lighter at this Friday’s Tree of Hope lighting ceremony. Among all the activities — like face painting, visits with Santa, hot chocolate and donuts — Ella is most looking forward to the carriage rides! If you want to join her on her big day, be sure to RSVP at RoswellPark.org/TreeofHope.
In the meantime, Ella will keep doing what she does best — making art and inspiring others.
“What word would you use to describe yourself? “
We agree, Ella.
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.