"I just felt the courage that I could do it"
Cierra McCauley, Elizabethtown, Ind.
When she was only 6 years old, Cierra McCauley from Elizabethtown, Ind., was brave beyond her years. She stepped onto the stage for a dance competition with a bow carefully taped to her bald head.
She was not about to let cancer keep her from the activity she loved.
“I just felt the courage that I could do it, and if people made fun of me, I didn’t care,” explains Cierra.
Cierra was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November of 2012 after her doctor became concerned about a growth on her neck. She immediately began six months of chemotherapy treatment at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
“Hearing the ‘C-word’ is probably one of the worst things you want to hear for anyone you know, but when you hear it for your child who’s 6 years old—it’s not an easy thing to hear,” says Cierra’s mother, Marci McCauley. “Of course the first thing you think about is, ‘Is my child going to make it through this?’”
Riley pediatric hematologist/oncologist Grzegorz Nalepa, M.D., Ph.D. led Cierra’s care, and was inspired by her determination during her tough treatment course. “She continued to dance, she continued to do what she loves,” says Dr. Nalepa. “She refused to stop. It was amazing.”
Cierra and her family were grateful for the way Riley’s team of Child Life Specialists helped ease her fear and anxiety. Cierra recalls how a Child Life Specialist helped her choose a personalized scent to add to her mask before undergoing anesthesia for a port placement procedure. “They came in with a huge box of scented ChapStick, and I picked out flavors I would put in my mask,” said Cierra. “I felt a little nervous, but it was kind of fun.” Marci was impressed with the way Child Life soothed Cierra’s nerves, and helped minimize her anxiety. From her perspective, “They’re amazing. They make the kids and the parents feel so much more comfortable.”
Cierra responded well to treatment, and today she is 9 years old and cancer-free. She continues to compete at the national level in dance. This year her dance solo—which she performed on stage during the IU Dance Marathon in support of Riley—is dedicated to a group of friends from Riley Hospital who also battled cancer. Four of those friends did not survive.
Cierra and her family are passionate about spreading awareness about childhood cancer, and raising funds. Her parents, who raise thoroughbred horses, worked with the Jockey colony from Indiana Grand to arrange a Riley Hospital visit and a donation to Riley through IU Dance Marathon in honor of Cierra.
“You hear so many people say how Riley saved their child’s life,” says Marci. “Without a doubt not only did they save her life, but they’ve given her a completely different outlook on life.”
Cierra says she is glad to have the chance to give back by sharing her story as part of the February “My Heart Belongs to Riley” campaign for Riley Children’s Foundation. As she says, “My heart belongs to Riley because of the way they treated me, and how I’m going to treat them back.”