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Patient Story: The Three Words That Changed Her Life Forever   

Photo credit: Getty Images/ ThitareeSarmkasat-+

When you’re 16, where you’ll meet up with your friends or how you’ll spend your summer vacation are usually the top priorities to make a decision about. But, for Ronnie Coyle, 16 was the age she was forced to make some of the toughest decisions in her life. That was the age she was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and the three words “you have cancer” changed her life forever.

What started as night sweats led to sleepless nights and pain she had trouble describing–it was constant. Her next stop was St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. On November 28, 1986, her doctor shared the diagnosis with Coyle and her parents.

“The events on that day, and the long days to follow are forever etched in my memory,” says Coyle.

The days were long but moved quickly, she notes. Coyle was admitted to St. Christopher’s for several surgeries, one to confirm her diagnosis and another to help doctors develop a treatment plan.

“I was in pain, I was scared, I was fearful of the unknown, but I always had a team of family members and friends right by my side to encourage and inspire me,” she says.

It wasn’t an ideal way to experience her junior year at Archbishop Wood High School, but each day after school, Coyle and her mother would spend their afternoons in the hospital for radiation treatment. Through emotional pain and the physical challenges, she stayed tough through her treatments. Whether it meant she was skipping a friend’s party for treatment or needing help trying to style thinning hair, Coyle powered through each new obstacle.

“Cancer is a transforming experience,” says Coyle. “It can change your life trajectory in unimagined ways.”

There was one day in particular that Coyle’s life took a turn.

“One day when I was walking the halls, I saw a little boy, maybe age four or five, and he was alone in his hospital room–he too was battling cancer but he was doing it without the constant love and nurturing of his mom and dad,” she says. “I watched in awe as the nurses treated him as if he were one of their own children and I made a promise that I would give back to children who have to do this alone.”

That’s why Coyle returned to St. Christopher’s Oncology Department as a volunteer.

“When I spend time with the younger patients, I simply try to distract them and make them laugh, when I speak to the families, I advise them to have trust in the care their child is receiving at St. Chris because it is unparalleled,” says Coyle. “I will forever be beholden to the amazing group of people I have met at St. Chris.”

For more information about the oncology team at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children visit them online.