Photo credit: Columbian.com
Ayden Mills is a 14-year-old middle school student residing in Vancouver, Washington. It’s easy to wonder how someone could be an inspiration at such a young age, but what Mills has gone fought through is nothing short of amazing. Mills’s story shows how it is possible to fight through even the worst of situations and still find the energy to give back to others.
Ayden's life has been a rollercoaster of different trials and tribulations. When Ayden was only a year old, he contracted pneumococcal disease, a severe infection caused by certain bacteria. The disease carries with it symptoms such as ear infections, meningitis (inflammation around the brain and spinal cord) and even sepsis (when the immune system overreacts to bacteria, causing a life-threatening condition).
Eventually Ayden would recover from the infection, but its lingering effects would only cause even further complications. Ayden's kidneys were significantly damaged during the infection, so much so that his entire body was beginning to shut down. Ayden was forced to use a medical procedure called dialysis (removing waste from the body like the kidney would normally) for over 3 years before finally becoming eligible for a kidney transplant.
Once the transplant was completed, you would think Ayden's medical problems might have ceased. However, the situation got even worse after he was prescribed a regimen of anti-rejection and immunosuppressant medications to support the function and assimilation of his new kidney. The medications were supposed to be safe, but 5 percent of those who take the drugs do end up diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (a rare type of lymphoma). Ayden, unfortunately, was to become one of those five percent.
To go from surviving two life threatening conditions to getting diagnosed with another (due to medication for the last condition no less) is unbelievably heartbreaking and demoralizing. Ayden and the Mills family could have easily given up, but they refused to do so.
Ayden began undergoing chemotherapy to try and fight the lymphoma. He experienced significant hair loss in the process. He finally completed his therapy this March, and has been in remission since then. He was sent back to school only to be met with constant teasing due to his lack of hair. Even through the constant bullying, Ayden began one of his favorite hobbies again, karate. He recently has graduated to the honorable position of a junior black belt. With his cancer in remission and his life seemingly back in order, you may think the story of Ayden's journey has finally ended. But there is more (positive aspects) to the story.
Ayden gives back
The Mills consider themselves very blessed due to the fact that they had good health insurance. Although they were left with very little finances after the countless treatments and therapies, they may not have been able to afford those in the first place with poor insurance. Now that they have fought through their son's diagnoses and recovery, Ayden and the Mills want to give back to families that may not be so lucky.
The Mills became participating members of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's local chapter in Vancouver. This organization provides assistance to affected families and invests in crucial cancer research. The Mills recently attended the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Event. Participants at the event carried brightly colored lanterns in support of the society. Some lanterns were white to celebrate survivors. Others were red to support those still fighting the disease. And others were gold in remembrance of those who had passed on as a result of the disease. The Mills say that their participation in this event is just the beginning of their efforts to help other families in need of support.
A happy ending
Ayden faced more suffering and adversity than any child should have to face. That is why the Children's Cancer Association, with help from the Austen Everett Foundation, made one of Ayden's biggest dreams come true.
Ayden and his family were very big fans of the Seattle Seahawks football team, but the financial strain of the numerous treatments meant that they simply did not have the means to travel to watch a game in person. The Children's Cancer Association changed that, by sending Ayden and his parents on a long weekend with the Seattle Seahawks. Ayden got to spend an afternoon at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center watching the Seahawks’ practice session before their last preseason game.
Once practice was over, the players came over to meet Ayden and other visiting children. Ayden got to meet his favorite player, wide receiver Tyler Lockett. Ayden got to play catch with Lockett and quarterback Russell Wilson. He also got to meet tight end Jimmy Graham and head coach Pete Carroll. Overall, he got autographs from 28 players, and got his idol Lockett to sign his favorite jersey.
The Mills got to stand on the sideline during warmups the day of the preseason game and got to watch their favorite team in great seats. The family also received tickets to visit some of the most iconic landmarks of Seattle. The Mills were so grateful for the trip, saying they could have never afforded something like it due to medical bills. When Ayden returned to his middle school, the other kids couldn't believe that he got Tyler Lockett's signature. It turned out to be one of the best weekends of his life.
If this 14-year-old can fight through three life threatening conditions and that many rounds of chemotherapy, others should have hope that they can fight through all of their ailments. It also shows that even after the personal fight is over, helping others afflicted with the disease is just as rewarding. Check out our list of the charities mentioned in this article, including links on how you can help those in need. For more information on lymphoma stories, developments, and treatments, be sure to check out the rest of our website.
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society - The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding cures and assisting patients and families fighting blood cancers. The organization has forged partnerships with academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms all in the race to find a cure. The organization also gives free access to educational materials, support groups, all while ensuring that each patient can find quality and affordable healthcare. Lastly, the organization advocates for better healthcare and access to local, state, and federal governments. For more information on the organization and how you can help, visit them at http://www.lls.org/joinlls.
Children's Cancer Association - The Children's Cancer Association is not your typical charity organization. While most cancer nonprofits seek a cure for cancer in the future, the Children's Cancer Association is focused about providing joy and happiness to childhood cancer patients today. The organization mainly provides fun outings for cancer patients and their families. This includes concerts, trips, play dates, and more. For more information on the organization and how you can help, visit them at https://joyrx.org/get-involved/.
Austin Everett Foundation - The Austin Everett Foundation was founded by Austin Everett, a soccer player on the Miami Hurricanes women's team, who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2008. The organization seeks to bring together children with cancer and sports teams around the United States. Everett sadly passed away in 2012, but her organization remains to give back to patients across the country. In order to find out how you can help, visit them at http://www.austeneverettfoundation.org/how-to-help/.