For many teens, high school years are about proms, homecoming, Friday night football games, basketball games and plenty of fun. For Kayla Romero they were filled with countless doctor visits, trips to Denver for treatments, and hospital stays as she battled re-occurring Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
But Romero has refused to let the devastating disease get the best of her. On Friday evening, Romero will join her Mora High School classmates and receive a diploma that she worked tirelessly for despite battling the disease not once but twice during her four years of high school.
“It was just always a little bump on the road. I always wanted other things to do instead of treatment,” Romero said in a recent telephone interview from Denver as she was waiting for her daily radiation treatment.
Romero had not even hit her Sweet 16 when she was first diagnosed with cancer.
Between her freshman and sophomore years, the then 15-year-old underwent four cycles of chemotherapy and radiation medical treatments and found herself in remission. She soon got involved with the school’s Business Professionals of America program, was active with her church, attended prom and was crowned as part of the homecoming royalty.
The remission was short-lived, and her battle against cancer turned her senior year upside down. Doctors say she needs additional treatments and surgery.
Hearing the news that the cancer had returned was difficult for Romero, but she says she has not lost hope that she will beat it again. This time around the treatment will include a stem cell transplant, chemo and radiation treatments.
“I was mad at my doctor and couldn’t believe what she was saying,” Romero said.
Romero soon found herself missing practice and basketball games coached by Mark Cassidy. Romero waited for years to play for the well-known coach. Right in the middle of her senior year basketball season, she was diagnosed with the cancer. Her dream of sporting the white and green uniforms was soon on hold because of the cancer.
She found herself watching her friends and fellow Rangerettes from the bench even if she was a starter for the talented team.
“It wasn’t fair … All I wanted to do was play,” Romero said.
But her dream of playing would soon be realized as her blood counts got better through the help of transplants, and she returned to her team. In a district championship against Santa Fe Prep in early March, Cassidy called her name. With roughly a minute left to play, Romero was able to get onto the stat books with an assist. Her contribution helped land her beloved Rangerettes the District 2-2A girls’ championship.
“I told my team that I would meet them at the state tournament,” Romero said. “But I met them just a little before that.”
On April 9, Romero underwent stem cell surgery after six days of intense chemotherapy. She has since mostly been in Denver getting daily radiation treatments.
Academically, she continued to thrive with her studies.
“My teachers worked really well with me to make sure I got my assignments. Everyone made sure that I stayed on track with my academics,” Romero said.
Romero’s next goal was to be home for graduation. Late Sunday morning, she joined her classmates for the baccalaureate at St. Gertrude’s, a place she credits with helping get her through her battles. Clad in a white graduation gown, a gold 2013 shimmered next to a green and white tassel on her cap as she and her classmates and supporters gathered for baccalaureate.
She stood proudly among her peers, demonstrating that cancer did not break her spirit.
On Friday evening, she will walk across the stage of Montoya gym to receive her diploma, which she earned despite numerous hospital visits, travels to Denver, chemo and radiation treatments.
“It has been life-changing and makes you (see) everything differently,” Romero said.
Her next goal is to attend the University of New Mexico to become a pediatric oncologist.
“I hope to inspire people through my journey,” Romero said. “I hope to encourage those fighting cancer and those who have someone fighting the ultimate fight.”