When you’re a child with cancer, you’re too young to process serious illness and recovery. Molly Prep, a survivor of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), knows this first-hand.
The 23-year-old’s treatment experience inspired her to earn a degree in psychology with a focus on child and adolescent mental health from New York University. She spent the summer working as a nanny to children in her neighborhood.
“Mental health and working with children are my two main passions,” said Ms. Prep. She also loves to write and is working on a memoir of her cancer treatment.
While she received inpatient cancer care at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, Ms. Prep’s roommate was Danielle Cassar, who was receiving kidney cancer treatment. The two formed a strong bond that still holds today.
“Danielle is very active in advocacy,” said Ms. Prep. “She participates in survivor day and she’s always been open about her diagnosis, whereas I had the exact opposite reaction. It took me a long time to be able to talk about my time in the hospital.”
Diagnosed at seven and finished with treatment at 10, Ms. Prep spent a significant portion of her young life dealing with ALL.
Intensive chemotherapy to kill active cells, interim therapy to catch any further cells, maintenance therapy, being unable to attend school or play with friends — these experiences weren’t within her intellectual or emotional wheelhouse.
Ms. Prep is grateful to be cured: “Among the childhood cancers to get, ALL is particularly treatable,” she said. “I was cancer-free within about a month, and everything after that was preventative.” Yet the experience took a toll. “It wasn’t until I was older and heard stories about other people’s childhoods that I realized how different my experience was.”
Finally, as a young adult, Ms. Prep began meeting with other childhood cancer survivors — and becoming more vocal. “It’s been fascinating to make those connections with other young adults. Most of the time when I speak to them, they say something along the same lines of not feeling like they had anyone to talk to about it.”
Ms. Prep began writing her book in her freshman year of college, in November — National Novel Writing Month. “I used the 30 days to write everything down I hadn’t addressed in so long,” said Ms. Prep.
She hopes writing about her experience can make a difference for other children. “I want to show that I did come out on the other side of it, but that it wasn’t so simple.”
This fall, Ms. Prep returned to NYU as a teacher’s assistant.
Ms. Prep made a friend during treatment: Danielle Cassar. Laughing, playing and even decorating their hospital room together, they forged a lasting bond.
“I don’t know if roommates could be officially requested, but when the doctors and nurses saw the difference we made to each other, they made it happen,” said Ms. Prep.
Yet young people in cancer treatment often feel isolated from peers. StupidCancer.org fosters connections with events, local meet-ups, one-on-one peer support, podcasts and an app.
Unique health challenges can come in adulthood, so Cohen Children’s offers Survivors Facing Forward. The program provides personalized health maintenance plans to childhood cancer survivors who received chemotherapy, completed treatment at least three years ago and are now cancer-free.