Keiko and her mom, Reiko, smile for a selfie during Reiko’s month long hospital stay. (Courtesy of Keiko Ono-Fullard)
Keiko and her mom, Reiko, smile for a selfie during Reiko’s month long hospital stay.

Courtesy of Keiko Ono-Fullard

What it feels like: finding out your mom has cancer

Keiko Ono-Fullard ‘23 opens up about how she coped with her mom’s cancer diagnosis. This entire article is in the first person perspective of Ono-Fullard.

March 8, 2023

Keiko begins by explaining how she found out about her mom’s cancer. 

I found out about my mom’s cancer on Feb. 2, 2022. I had a basketball game (the night before) and my dad was like, “Yo, I got to go to the hospital to see your mom really quick.” I didn’t think anything of it at first. The next day, she texted me during chemistry class saying, “They confirmed it. I do have leukemia.”

Keiko and her mom embrace during her ongoing cancer treatment. (Courtesy of Keiko Ono-Fullard)

It was really dramatic at first. I thought, ‘Why is she telling me now? I’m in chemistry.’ I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I ran out of class and went home. My dad and I talked, and he gave me some more information on the cancer and what was going to happen. After that, I cried in my dad’s arms for a good three days in a row.

She had to stay in the hospital for a month to receive treatment. If she were to fall, she could have bled out really easily and died. She was also immunocompromised, so she wore a mask everywhere. When she was in the hospital, she had to per hospital policy. When she came home, she still had to wear a mask everywhere because of her immune system. COVID-19 added to my worries. If she got COVID-19, it could have made her way sicker. I was really worried about me accidentally making her sick. The cancer diagnosis made me really scared. I forgot it was in the 90 percentile for curability at first. The diagnosis was all I could think about. My grades dropped. At basketball practice, I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t focus because that’s all I was thinking about. I didn’t want to be around people. I just wanted to stay at home, alone in my room.

My dog was the one that made her get tested. She was playing with him, he bit her, and she just bruised right away. That didn’t usually happen before. She also fell a little bit before that, the bruises were raised and she was getting spots all over her body. She went to urgent care and they told her to go to the hospital.

I didn’t want to be around people. I just wanted to stay at home, alone in my room.

— Keiko Ono-Fullard '23

Principal Gross excused me from coming to school the next day because I had a game against Liberty High. I was already nervous about that, because of being a transfer, and he excused me from having to go to school. You normally have to attend school to play varsity, but he excused me from that rule. It wasn’t just my family that supported me, the school did as well. 

I also continued with basketball after the diagnosis because of my teammates. My teammates really had my back, and so did the coaches. They made T-shirts for my mom that we could wear for warm-ups before games. If she was watching a live stream, we’d wave to the cameras. My teammates tried to get me out of the house as much as possible even though I refused to go. It was just the little things.

It was really nice to see how everyone reacted to my mom. Many people helped pick up the slack from my mom’s absence. The McCaffrey’s started a fundraiser for us and my mom’s treatment. They also got us a cleaning lady to come to our house, people brought us meals and my dad stepped in as my therapist.

Now that I’m reflecting on it, it really brought the family together. My brother actually came home more, and actually started talking to us and having conversations with us. We got a lot of support from family friends. Seeing who was out there for us, and who had our backs was beautiful.

My mom is in remission now. She has been since October. We found out the weekend of my birthday, a good birthday present. I mostly just relied on my dad after the diagnosis. I just tried to talk to him about how I felt as best as possible. I tried to see her in the hospital as much as possible. I tried to remind myself that she was going to be okay, that this wasn’t an incurable cancer.

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