Pamela Davis has a few tips for any parent facing a child’s life-threatening disease: “Don’t Google while your daughter is in the hospital on a morphine drip and you think she’s asleep … Don’t get the tape measure out to see how big three centimeters is, because that three centimeters went to nine-something, almost 10 centimeters (with a different scan.) Seriously, you can make yourself crazy on Google. Don’t do it.”
Her daughter, 16-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ocampo has a few tips herself for coping with cancer: “When I put makeup on and nice clothes on, people look at me and wonder if I chose to be bald … Ice cream and cereal got me through chemotherapy … Surround yourself with positive people. And open up and talk to people.”
It was that last bit of advice that Lizzie had trouble with before she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last spring. She’s not much of a talker normally. “When I met Brian (Gagnon, a social worker at the California Cancer Center) I just opened up and my life story came out. I felt like a weight was lifted… I know now that I want to be an oncology social worker.”
Although Lizzie started her cancer treatment at a Valley Children's Hospital, she finished it at California Cancer Center, where Brian Gagnon was a member of her care team.
Radiation isn’t part of most pediatric cancer treatment, but when it is necessary, as it was for Lizzie, the Cancer Center coordinates with children’s hospitals, providing expert radiation oncologists and the latest in expensive, specialized technology. About 4-5% of radiation patients at the Cancer Center are younger than 19.
Davis was thrilled to see how seamlessly her daughter’s care was coordinated between two hospitals so that Lizzie who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in April could return to Exeter High School this August for the start of her senior year. “We got awesome care. Everyone was on the same page with no waiting between anything,” Davis praised.
Lizzie prepared for her treatment by ruling out any consideration of blood or bone marrow transfusions in keeping with her faith. Her parents left the decision to sign a medical directive card entirely up to Lizzie.
“I had no doubts. I’ve grown up in the church and it’s what we believe,” Lizzie said. “But when I signed the ‘no blood card’, it hit me that something was seriously wrong with me.”
Still Lizzie was stoic about going into the hospital to biopsy the mass sitting on her aorta. Davis says she was the one that may have reacted more like a teenager with tears and questioning why cancer had hit her family. "She had almost too healthy an attitude about this. It’s just her nature to put one foot in front of the other and do what needs to be done.”
The one time Lizzie did break down was the day she decided to shave her head before chemotherapy could claim all her long locks. “We went to Super Cuts and I told them to shave it all of ... I started crying and crying. When we went to the register a young man had already paid for us and he said to tell me I was still beautiful.”
Before Lizzie could dispute the compliment from a stranger, her mom made her pose for a selfie outside the shop.
Lizzie said, “When we went outside, I felt the breeze on my bare head. I thought, ‘This will feels good. It’ll be okay.’”