Adela (Class of 2020)


“Hello, I’m Adela! I joined Sacred Heart in 2018, Grade 11. I’ll be attending the University of Tokyo this fall. 

I would like to share a personal story that made me who I am today.

On a rainy February day seven years ago, leukemia arrived at my door. I had only heard about it on a Wikipedia page, over the radio. Then suddenly, I would experience what it felt like to be a bald and feeble patient, seemingly of another distant world.

After several failed treatments and a relapse, I came to Japan in 2017 seeking a final chance at survival: a cord-blood transplantation. There I met the warm-hearted, responsible Dr. Tsukada who found me a matched donor.

On the day of transplantation. Dr. Tsukada walked in with a medical cart and a conspicuous test tube filled with crimson-colored fluid, “Adela, here are your stem cells.”As Dr. Tsukada pushed the injection tubing slowly through my veins, I felt the crimson fluid gradually penetrate my entire body. I did not understand how someone else’s stem cells could become a part of me forever. At the time, I was not interested in biology at all. But there, I felt a fresh, unfamiliar craving to understand my illness and myself. 

After the transplantation, various side effects appeared: severe waves of nausea, acute headaches, and high fevers. But I felt reassured because Dr. Tsukada would always be there to render a microbiological explanation for their pathological causes and when they would disappear. 

When I had a severe skin rash that covered my whole body, Dr. Tsukada explained it was the new stem cells from the donor’s cord blood replacing the old dying skin cells. When my 41-degree-fever lasted a week, he explained the fever was due to a low white blood cell count, but it would subside in a few days. When I asked why I was not taking steroids to reduce fever, he told me their effectiveness to suppress side effects was only temporary and would exert a potential long-term consequence of inducing cancer cell regrowth. I was puzzled. Why did my blood type change from O to B? Why was I not turning into a boy if the donor was a male infant? What positive effect would graft-versus-leukemia (GvL) have on eliminating the cancer cells?

My dream to become a scientist was awakened by my destined battle against leukemia. And now, I am grateful to be given the chance to further pursue my dream at ISSH and the University of Tokyo.

I have fought leukemia long enough to know the truth behind the story. For me, leukemia was not a calamity, but a painfully heavy gift. Through its trials and tribulations, suffering, and cure, I came to understand leukemia, myself, and other patients. I can step into a vivid, pathological world and solve medical riddles. Now, I have a life-long desire to save others from that same abyss.

So here is my message to every ISSH student: You will encounter many many unfairnesses, struggles, and dilemmas. The future is unknown and chaotic. (Here you go, Second law of Thermodynamics!) But as long as you always look through everything using your positive polarizing glass and keep looking for the meaningful positivity in your world, you will be just fine.

In my dreams that first night at home, I saw myself a grown woman, wearing the same white coat as Dr. Tsukada, imbuing another 18-year-old girl with crimson fluid.” – Adela