Kelsey Feinberg has one message for any teen going through cancer: “You can do it.”
She says this with confidence because when she was 17 and entering her senior year in high school, she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that caused a tumor on her cervix.
A few days before Kelsey was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, she knew something didn’t feel right inside her body. Her mother took her to the emergency department, where doctors discovered a 4cm mass resting on her cervix. The mass was immediately removed and sent to a specialist who confirmed the lump was cancerous.
“I wasn’t expecting cancer.”
“I wasn’t expecting cancer. I wasn’t expecting anything,” recalls Kelsey. “When my mom told me I had to go through chemotherapy for preventative reasons that’s when it really sunk in. All I could think of was how I may not go back to school, that I wouldn’t be able to be physically active, that I couldn’t go to cheer, and that I’d lose my hair.”
Kelsey completed five months of chemotherapy at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute on October 19, 2015.
“Kelsey was determined to get through this cancer,” says Dr. Shivani Upadhyay, her pediatric hematology oncologist. “It wasn’t easy all the time but she made it her point not to let it get her down.”
Knowing a support system was imperative to her daughter’s mental and physical health, Kelsey’s mom Barbara made it a point to rally loved ones around her at all times.
“I never spent a single chemotherapy treatment alone and that made 100% difference,” Kelsey says.
She admits going back to school half way through the chemo was tough, especially after losing her hair and eyelashes.
“I never spent a single chemotherapy treatment alone and that made 100% difference.”
“It was frustrating, but I put on eyelashes every day for school and wore different wigs. That turned out to be fun. I had a black curly one and a brown one with a hat,” says the now 19-year-old. “But there was a part of me that didn’t look like me. It was hard not having hair, especially as a teenager, and especially as a female.”
It’s been almost two years since Kelsey’s last chemo treatment and there have been no signs of cancer. Her hair has grown back and is almost past her shoulders.
She’s is now in her second year at the University of Texas, Austin, energetic as any college sophomore, grateful for how healthy she is, and excited for her future.
“It was always so great to have so many people come together to help you. I will always be so appreciative of that,” says Kelsey.
Passing it on
“Doctors can tell you so much about the medical aspects of your illness, but no one tells you about the life aspects, how to deal with it every day,” Kelsey says.
“I really wanted to let other teens know what I went through so that they didn’t feel alone.”
That’s why she wrote “From My Journey to Yours” as part of her Girl Scouts Gold Award project titled “You Can Do It.” The project is intended to help future patients recognize that they have what it takes to get through this difficult journey and understand how impactful a positive attitude can be.
“I wanted a positive message and that’s why I chose Y.C.D.I. (You Can Do It): because I believe that positivity played a huge factor in my treatment and recovery,” Kelsey says. “I really wanted to let other teens know what I went through so that they didn’t feel alone.”
“It truly is coming from someone who knows exactly what they’re going through.”
In May 2016 Kelsey donated 50 backpacks to Cedars-Sinai patients filled with resources for teens and young adults battling cancer: puzzles, coloring books, playing cards, journals, and for girls—fake eyelashes.
Over the summer, Kelsey partnered with other interns at The Cheesecake Factory Oscar & Evelyn Overton Foundation to put together 100 more kits, which were delivered in August.
“We really do hope these bags make patients feel happy, cared for, and lets them know that someone is empathetic towards them,” says Dr. Upadhyay. “I think that makes the biggest difference because it truly is coming from someone who knows exactly what they’re going through.”