In 2014, halfway through her senior year in high school, Essence White started feeling sick. A combination of persistent fatigue, nosebleeds, vomiting, and headaches sent her to the doctor, who said she had the flu. As the symptoms continued and worsened, Essence took herself to the emergency room. Shortly afterward, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.
Hearing the words, “You have cancer” is life changing. For Essence, the timing was especially tough. “I missed so much during my senior year. I didn’t go on my senior trip, and I missed other senior activities, including my high school graduation.”
It took three rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplantation before Essence’s illness went into remission. The after-effects of treatment caused her to experience other complications, including graft-versus-host disease and an inability to walk. “I went into septic shock and my organs started to shut down,” she recalls. “After a few months in the hospital, I needed rehab for a month. But then I went into sepsis and had to stay in the hospital a little longer.”
For the budding actress and model, who attended a performing arts high school in the Bronx, the isolation of being in the hospital, away from friends and school, was difficult. But Essence was able to enjoy one rite of passage that most high school seniors look forward to – she attended her senior prom. “I had a blast,” she said. “Being in the hospital for so long, it was so good to get out, get dressed.”
Looking forward to the future, Essence plans to enroll in college and pursue her dreams of becoming an actress and a model. But she admits that her journey has sparked a new interest—motivational speaking.
Recently, Essence returned to her former high school and spoke to several groups of students. She enjoyed sharing her story; in fact, she wants to reach more audiences. Asked what her message would be, Essence replied, “People are oblivious to their health, but they need to be proactive. When you are sick, you must explore all possibilities.”
She wants to reach other children and teens, whether it’s at local schools or hospitals. “I think having cancer happened for a reason, it was meant to be my testimony. Maybe God gave me cancer to help inspire a nation. Now I am doing something great by inspiring schools, teachers, children, parents, even strangers.”
Hope & Heroes funds programs and services, free of charge, to patients like Essence. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive treatment experience that gives children the best chance to overcome their disease and lead healthy, happy lives!