Daija Lawson from South Bend loves doing the kinds of things many 11-year-old girls enjoy: riding her bike, reading books and playing with American Girl dolls with her younger sister. “Daija is forever smiling,” says her mother, Sonsaray Lawson-Jenkins. “And she has a pure heart—she always sees the best in people.”
That upbeat attitude has been an important resource for Daija during the past year. In the spring of 2013, she developed recurring fevers that didn’t respond to antibiotics. After three weeks, when she came home sick from school, her doctor ordered blood tests. When the results revealed she had no white blood cells, Daija was admitted to South Bend Memorial Hospital and soon transferred to Riley Hospital. It was there that doctors confirmed her rare cancer diagnosis: undifferentiated leukemia.
“I was scared for her,” admits Sonsaray. “No one in my family had ever been through anything like this. My main focus was to get educated. I wanted to know what was going on and what we could do to help alleviate a lot of her distress while she was going through this.”
Riley oncologist Terry Vik, M.D., led Daija’s treatment plan, which involved five months of chemotherapy. Her long hospital stays were punctuated by a few weeks at home. The family appreciated the way their Riley caregivers kept them informed and involved with daily decisions.
“When I talked to Dr. Vik, he would tell it like it was,” says Sonsaray. “He was open to my suggestions, and I didn’t feel like he was just doing a job—he was there for us.” Daija formed easy bonds with many Riley Cancer Center staff members including her primary nurse Bridget Grissom, Child Life Specialists, and music and dance therapists. “All of us had fun!” recalls Sonsaray. “They made videos, danced, sang— they had a ball!”
Daija had very few problems during her cancer treatment, and kept that trademark smile on her face. Today, she is in remission, finished with her treatment and doing great. It’s no surprise, though, that the bubbly girl who earned the nickname “social butterfly” is staying in touch with the friends she met at Riley Hospital.
“At Riley, they really look out for the children,” says Sonsaray. “I wouldn’t have wanted her to be anywhere else. It’s the best hospital ever!”