Celebrating EmmaLeigh’s End of Chemo

If you are going to Perry, FL looking for EmmaLeigh, the locals will tell you that all you have to do is listen.  “They know I’m back when they hear my truck coming down the road,” she says.  And if you’ve heard her truck you would know, you can’t miss her!

EmmaLeigh’s idea of a good time involves being outside, whether that be meeting up with her friends and driving out to the woods for a bonfire or finding a creek on the side of the road to pull over and fish for bream, catfish, or even snag the occasional gator on her cork line.  EmmaLeigh always embodied a survivor, but this last year brought her warrior status to a new reality.

Hurricane Idalia ripped through EmmaLeigh’s hometown at the end of August in 2023, necessitating her evacuation to her local church.  While trying to hurriedly unload the car, EmmaLeigh felt weak and realized she was not strong enough to lift her family’s belongings out of the car.  Jamie, her mother, realized something was wrong because EmmaLeigh is always the first one to help.  Enduring long days with no electricity in the week following the storm, EmmaLeigh experienced heart flutters and the inability to walk between rooms without losing her breath.  On September 2, 2023, she went to the hospital in Tallahassee where she received a bone marrow biopsy (without anesthesia!).  As she recovered from the invasive procedure and sat in the uncertainty of her diagnosis at the hospital, her mom stayed by her side.  And then the pathologist came back with the results.  “You have leukemia,” he said.

A selfie of Emmaleigh in her hospital gown

EmmaLeigh recounts her cancer diagnosis and transfer to UF Health as a whirlwind.  Things moved fast as she tried to process her prognosis.  She only knew of one person who had leukemia, her cousin, and he did not survive.  What would that mean for her?  Upon coming to UF Health, EmmaLeigh was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  The good news: her cancer was different than her cousin’s cancer.  The bad news: her treatment involved months on end of indeterminant hospital stays hours away from home.

EmmaLeigh says the hardest part of treatment involved the waiting.  After finishing her chemo, it took her weeks and sometimes months for her counts to recover.  Time passed slowly, and it felt painful to miss out on special days like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and normal rituals like going to church.  Spending so much time in the hospital taught EmmaLeigh lessons, like to appreciate things that were normal to her like the joy of being with her animals and the comfort of sharing card games during her weekly family nights. 

Emmaleigh and her mom

EmmaLeigh coped with the long stays by looking forward to visits from family, watching movies on Netflix, and opening up to share stories with her care team.  EmmaLeigh encourages anyone going through treatment to allow yourself to become friends with the people who care for you, as they actually become your family too.  She also found the will to keep going by having regular conversations with God.  Through prayer, EmmaLeigh found inner strength and revelation, sharing this reflection early on in her treatment:

I know this might sound crazy but the lord laid this on my heart and I want to share it. Life is like a tree, you have to put your roots into him. If a tree doesn’t get water, it will turn brown and die. If you don’t keep yourself rooted into Him you won’t shine like a pretty green tree. Matthew 5:16-17 says “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

I’ll use my gma or sis Corliss for instance. When I’m around them I personally feel God around them so I know their roots are planted into him that’s how we have to be. Colossians 2:6-7 says “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” And as y’all know I’ve been diagnosed with AML but I am proud to say that the chemo is workin and I only have three more treatments instead of four. When I heard that I just wanted to thank god cause I know it was him that’s makin it work. I’ve been thru a lot in the hospital but now I can see and understand that you need to be planted in him. I had a 50/50 chance of livin but I’m here today to say that I want my roots fully planted in him and only him, So I can shine and have a wonderful home in heaven. I want to thank all of you for your prayers, please continue to pray. I start my next round of chemo tomorrow so wish me luck. Love y’all.

Now that EmmaLeigh stands at the finish line with all of her chemo completed, she feels ready for the next chapter.  She is still the girl who loves to go four wheeling, sing, and eat swamp cabbage, but she is wiser now.  She says, “I feel the same, but a different mindset.”  EmmaLeigh says she is stronger mentally and she knows that if she can get through this, she can get through anything.   EmmaLeigh aligns herself with the trees that surrounded her throughout her growing up: with roots planted firmly in the ground, faith enfolding her, she extends upwards and will continue to grow to be a pillar of strength for herself and everyone around her.