Childhood leukemia survivor is determined to be a counselor for future campers
Rappelling up a rock-climbing wall was Akilah Lopez’s greatest challenge at MD Anderson’s Camp Family Fun Day in August 2022.
“They had a zigzag route, which was easy,” says the 14-year-old, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia almost two years earlier. “But I went up the hard way. I was scared I was going to fall or get stuck.”
She didn’t. Akilah made it to the top, and her reward, once there, was access to a zipline.
“I’ve ziplined before,” says the ninth grader, who attended the camp with her dad and her younger sister, Amaria. “I knew how fun it was.”
Camp H-Town provides connection with other kids facing cancer
The sisters also spent six days and five nights — without parents — at MD Anderson’s Camp H-Town. Held at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston, the camp transforms hotel suites into bunks and fills the week with activities for pediatric patients and their siblings. Under the watchful eye of MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital Support Programs staff, doctors and nurses, along with hotel staff and volunteers, the camp offers arts and crafts, swimming and field trips in the Houston area.
Camp H-Town was Akilah’s first opportunity to spend a large block of time with other kids undergoing cancer treatment.
“My whole cabin, we’re all friends now,” says Akilah, who is in the maintenance phase of her treatment. “We text, and we call each other all the time.”
That feeling of community — of being understood and supported by friends — was hugely comforting to her.
“Nobody should have to go through the pain and trauma that comes with cancer,” Akilah says. “It’s not fun at all. And you have to watch your loved ones worry while you are still fighting the disease.”
Motivated to be there for other kids with cancer
The thought of helping other young people with cancer is what drives her to support MD Anderson’s mission.
“Whenever I’m old enough to be a volunteer or counselor at the camps, I will be the first one to sign up,” Akilah says. “I want to go and share my story so others can hear it and know that they are not alone.”