Williamsburg—Sierra Jones, of Pine Knot, a University of the Cumberlands sophomore public health and human services major, has a tattoo above her scar that says “Survivor” with a cross next to it to represent her faith and that she defeated cancer.
When Jones was 15, she was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), a type of leukemia that attacks the red and white blood cells, specifically in the bone marrow.
“Whenever you’re young, you don’t think stuff like that could happen to you,” said Jones. “You think you’re invincible. I never thought something like that could happen to me. Whenever it did, it was life changing but I didn’t let it get me down. I just went on with my life and I continued living the way I was. I still tried to do everything that I could.”
Jones was admitted to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to be treated for a six-month period. She was put in isolation and couldn’t see her siblings, friends, or go to school or church. Everything that she loved to do was now a part of her past. She went through numerous rounds of chemotherapy and received several different medications. Over the past five years, she has endured many hospital stays.
“It seemed like an eternity,” said Jones. “During this time, I received a bone marrow transplant. This transplant was the very thing that granted me another shot at life which allowed me to return back to school, attend senior trip, prom, graduate high school, and give me the ability to stand here where I am today. It has been a struggle, but I’ve managed to deal with it. It’s made me want to work harder and be the best person that I can be.”
When Jones finally received a bone marrow transplant, which she had been waiting for because the donor was from Germany, she knew that God had given her a second chance at life. She was no longer scared. She knew that she was going to survive.
In February 2011, Jones was put in remission. She’s now a four-year cancer survivor and still goes to see doctors regularly because even though the MDS can’t come back, she’s at high risk of other cancers.
However, this doesn’t worry her. Jones has a positive outlook on life because her faith became a lot stronger during her experience. She now prays day-in and day-out because she knows that God is there to help her no matter what.
“I was very independent, so it just changed me completely,” said Jones. “It was really hard to get my energy and everything back afterwards, but I mean it’s made me who I am today and it’s made me a lot stronger, and it’s given me a passion to do what I want to do with my future.”
Her friends and family have been a great support to her and a part of making her faith stronger. Especially because of the faith-based campus at Cumberlands, her friends at UC have helped tremendously in strengthening her relationship with God. Even through all of the stress that the Jones family has experienced because of her health issues, they have grown stronger and closer together because of it. It was really difficult for her to be in isolation from her five younger siblings.
“I’m just glad it was me and not one of them,” said Jones about her siblings. “I could not imagine it. I would go crazy because seeing those children in the hospital broke my heart.”
Particularly, one young girl named McKenzie, who was down the hall from her in the hospital, inspired her and gave her a passion to be a child life specialist. McKenzie confided in Jones and called her, a big sister. Even after she got out of the hospital, McKenzie would call her whenever it was time for her to take her medicine or something else came up.
Jones has always had a compassion for working with children. A child specialist goes to the different floors of a children’s hospital and does activities with children in the hospital to get their minds off of what’s going on. She desires to work in this field after getting her masters in clinical social work.
The professors in human services and public health at UC have helped Jones to prepare for her future as a child life specialist. Her professors not only mentor for her career, but in her faith as well. The continued support has been so important to Jones.
Linda Carter, dean of student life, has been very understanding of Jones’ situation. She makes sure that Jones has everything that she needs, such as rides to doctors’ appointments and occasionally sick trays.
Jones has given back by speaking at UC’s Relay for Life. Speaking has also helped Jones see how much it’s helped her family because of all of the funds raised for the American Cancer Society, and it has given her an outlet to be a voice for others who’ve survived or are experiencing cancer.
“During this time of trial, my family and doctor’s stuck by my side and never let go of hope, they never gave up on me,” said Jones. “Without the support I had from my family, doctors, and the American Cancer Society and my faith in God, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome all I have throughout the years.
“UC has definitely helped me find who I am. It’s helped shape me, along with my cancer, and be who I am today. It’s given me new hope for my future,” she said. “Being at UC has given me a whole new outlook on life.” (UC)
By Lydia Huggins