Alex Smith: A Four Diamonds child 'pays it forward'

HERSHEY, Pa. — Aleksandra “Alex” Smith is, in many ways, your typical 14-year-old.

Upon meeting her, you quickly realize that she’s also unique. Alex was adopted from Russia when she was 7 months old and now lives in Carlisle with her parents and little brother.

She is funny and artistic and her mother describes her as delightful, engaging and entertaining. Although she has autism, she is mainstreamed and attends Carlisle Christian Academy.

All of that is part of the uniqueness that makes the avid Hershey Bears fan “Alex.” One thing that really sets Alex apart from her peers is that she is a Four Diamonds child, dealing with pediatric cancer.

On Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, Alex visited her pediatrician’s office because her joints ached, her lymph nodes were swollen and she had a low-grade fever. She returned home and collapsed from a fever spike. A blood test at a local community hospital emergency room led to a transfer to Penn State Children’s Hospital — something was seriously wrong.

“We had the weekend to mentally prepare ourselves,” said her mother, Laura Smith. “On Monday they took her in, they did the bone marrow and within minutes the doctor was there. He pulled up a chair, sat next to her and took her hand and said, ‘you have leukemia.’”

Her preliminary diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Within 48 hours of her diagnosis, the family’s social worker, Aubrey, introduced them to Four Diamonds and helped guide them through what is referred to as the “zombie state” of the first few weeks.

“Four Diamonds has been remarkable,” Laura said. “There really are insufficient words to describe how involved they have been through this entire process.”

When they first got the news, neither Laura nor her husband, both in their 50s, realized the substantial strides that had been made in childhood cancers since they themselves were children. They feared the worst. They now understand it’s through organizations like Four Diamonds and its dedication to research that helped make an 80 percent survival rate possible.

“They didn’t just give us a diagnosis on that Friday night, they actually gave us hope,” Laura said. “They gave us hope that at the end of two years, or three, or however long it takes, they will look at her and say ‘this is gone.’”

Learn more about Alex’s journey — and how Four Diamonds has helped Alex and her family to "pay it forward" — in this Penn State Medicine article.

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Last Updated September 13, 2017