My name is Katie Ortega. I don’t know Amanda personally, but her WONDERFUL mother Maria was one of my nurses during my long stay on the pediatric floor of Kaiser Permanente in sunny California.
On June 8th, 2012, at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) a rare blood cancer that, according to statistic, is only common in elders (I’m an old soul at heart). It comes as a shock going from doing normal teenage things to being cooped up in what seemed like a jail cell. But I became close friends with all of my nurses, including Maria. We shared a love for God, our families and Disney. She always talked about how she admired her daughters and the wonderful young ladies they have become. I got the chance to meet her beyond beautiful daughter Natalie, while taking a trip to our favorite place–Disneyland!! We had a blast!
Many side affects came along with the chemo treatments I received – some long term and some short. Short term, you know the norm: puking my life up, losing my locks, major mood swings (what else is new with a bratty 17 year old), fatigue, etc. Long term: heart complications, and infertility. At 17, freezing my eggs for the future just in case kids came into question was the last thing I really thought about. So we decided to proceed with the treatment without question.
While I was sick, my hometown came together to do whatever it was that my family and I needed- bringing us meals, fundraising, donation of blood/platelets etc. A little hair salon downtown was having a little fundraiser with fliers hanging everywhere in the shop. Well this guy named Stephen went to get his hair cut that day not knowing the significance. As he was getting his haircut, he asked his hairstylist who the girl was on the flier (me). She explained to him the situation and why they were raising money. As he was leaving, he told her “I don’t know her, and I’m not sure if you do, but if you see her tell her I’m in love with her”.
After constant treatment from June to October, I was CANCER FREE! It still feels great to say that. I was released from the hospital November 1st, 2012.
During Christmas, the child life program collects toys to give to the children in the hospital on Christmas morning (Santa delivers them). Ever since I left the hospital I have tried to participate with this in any way possible–donate, wrap presents, organize, etc.
I went to the hospital on Christmas Eve in 2013 to help wrap the gifts the parents had chosen for their kids. As I’m sitting in the hall wrapping each gift I see a beautiful bald little girl about the age of 2 walking the hall with her mom. My heart broke and I instantly felt for her. She was very shy at first, but once I started trying to get some words out of her, we became the best of friends. She too, had been diagnosed with AML (acute myeloid leukemia) after a wrong diagnosis at another hospital.
I was only focused on her for the rest of the time. We played McDonalds guest and cashier, I asked her how old she was, what her favorite animal was and what her name was…Sophia. I instantly fell in love with her and asked her mom if we could keep in contact so I could keep updated on her health. We became close friends and I visited the hospital here and there when she was feeling up to it.
After awhile, we found out she had to have a bone marrow transplant as a last resort because chemotherapy was not doing anything to cure her. After being in the system for quite some time, the doctors decided to use her father’s stem cells, who only came to a 50% match. They went through with the transplant and waited and waited for her counts to return to normal to determine whether the transplant was successful. Her counts were taking too long so they decided to use neupogen to help her white blood cells recover. Once her counts were back up, the results came back that the transplant failed and her whole body was being taken over by the leukemia cells. At this point there was nothing else that they could do to keep her going; she was exhausted.
She passed away in April 2014. I was devastated, but I knew her light would live forever.
In March 2013, I got my first job at a family restaurant in my hometown of La Verne, CA. Little did I know, I would meet the love of my life in that same little restaurant. Remember the random guy from the hair salon who fell in love with me after seeing my flyer, Stephen? Well he ended up being the manager at this restaurant. After months of flirting and attempts to hang out with me, I decided to give him a chance and I hung out with with him after a long night of work. We made some cookies, put on a movie and talked the whole time. We connected so well. He is a recovering alcoholic. He chose to no longer drink at the age of 29 after getting in trouble a few times. Each of our journeys made us better people. We both look at life as a blessing and take nothing for granted. And after getting to know his sarcastic, hilarious, genuine personality, I fell in love. I didn’t know about the whole flier thing until we’d been dating for about 6 months. He knew who I was but never mentioned it. I believe my employment at Red Devil was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
After about two and a half years of dating we talked about having a family. Knowing that it may not be possible due to the chemotherapy I went through, I decided to just pray that God had plans for me to become a mommy but I definitely didn’t want to get my hopes up. I ran to CVS pharmacy and grabbed some fertility “sticks”. These determine when you are most fertile, and they work just like a pregnancy test. After using about three of them, the result came back fertile. We tried only three times and on New Years Eve I felt that it was time to take a test and I WAS PREGNANT! I fell to my knees crying my eyes out after the LONG three minute wait! I have never been so happy in my entire life! I was going to become a mommy! I felt so blessed to be able to be carrying a life inside of me.
Along with the excitement came the “bitter” of the bittersweet. I was EXTREMELY sick up until I was 23 weeks. I lost 20 pounds my first trimester! I was working as a server at a restaurant in Costa Mesa. Due to being so sick (and having to work in the morning) I felt like I was going to faint in the middle of work so I requested to sit down (they knew I was pregnant already). Excuse my language but my POS manager told me that I couldn’t. So I continued to work not feeling too hot.
That night at about 12:30-1 a.m. I laid down into bed and felt a gush. I ran to the bathroom and my underwear was covered in blood and my heart shattered into a million pieces. The ride to the hospital was so quiet, all I could do was cry and pray that my nugget was okay. We arrived at about 1:30 and didn’t get a room until 3:30!! Wouldn’t you think I would take priority!? Nope!
We then waited an extra hour to get an ultrasound. The doctor came in with the machine and I had never been so nervous for anything. As soon as she pressed the probe on my tummy, all I saw on the screen was my little nugget doing backflips and then I wanted to do backflips! I was so relieved. I had to be put on bed rest for at least 72 hours until I could be seen for a follow up.
It ended up being a placental hemorrhage due to stress and over working myself. I definitely left that job with my middle fingers up to the man that stressed me out the most!
At 15 weeks, we found out we were expecting a girl! I was so excited to find out I was going to have a mini me!
I had the longest and hardest pregnancy while everyone around me that was pregnant at the same time had a breeze of a pregnancy! I fell walking out of Stephen’s parent’s house and broke my ankle at 81/2 months pregnant. So I was HUGE, working in a restaurant with a boot on– I ROCK!
My due date was September 8th. Between 1:30-2 AM on September 7th, I had a big contraction that made me get up out of bed to walk off and I felt a little wet, so I went to the bathroom and saw what I thought was my water. I called labor and delivery and they told me to come in. By this time we had had about 3 false alarms, so Stephen of course wasn’t too happy when we get to the hospital, wait an hour to be seen and they tell us that what I saw was not amniotic fluid. But then while we’re waiting to be discharged at about 3:45–MY WATER BREAKS!!
Little did we know that the hospital was at max capacity and I was going to have to labor in a triage room that is as big as your average bathroom. The doctor on call comes in and talks to me about the last ultrasound we had and suggests a c-section due to the size of the baby. She says “you can give a natural birth, but she may be too big to fit through the canal and we might need to break her clavicles”… WHAT?! Why is that even an option?! I ultimately decided to have a c-section that ended up happening at 1:30 in the afternoon due to the influx of babies that wanted to join us in this world that day.
My beautiful Sophia Mae Gustin joined us at 1:28 pm at 8 pounds 13.4 ounces 21 inches long. The second we heard her little cry, we were overtaken with tears of joy.
The second I found out I was going to have a girl, I knew her name had to be Sophia; after the little bald beauty who touched my heart on the cancer ward. It has so much strength behind it. It also stands for wisdom. And I’m hoping Sophia’s light carries on into my baby’s life. Mae comes from Stephen’s side of the family. His grandmother passed away from lung cancer, and her middle name was Mae. It’s a family name that has been carried on through 5 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
I have never felt so complete in my entire life. Being a mom is one of my biggest accomplishments.
My baby turned 4 months old this month, and for what she put me through during the pregnancy, she’s really making up for it now. She has slept through the night since two weeks old!
She’s a sleeper like her daddy. She is her daddy’s twin, but doesn’t it always work like that? We carry them for 9 months in pain and discomfort and they always come out looking like daddy!