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Skyler Faulkner isn’t one to get sick.
The 17-year-old is in her 13th year of perfect attendance at Williamstown Independent Schools.
She’s never had strep throat.
The high school senior is a picture of clean health.
That all changed three weeks ago.
It all started when Skyler, who had previously discovered she had an irregular heartbeat, noticed a knot on her neck.
She initially didn’t think much about it, but when the knot remained several weeks later she showed her mother.
“At first we just thought it was a swollen lymph node from an infection,” Skyler said. “We thought my heart problem and that were two different issues.”
While antibiotics decreased the knot slightly, it eventually started changing textures.
Searching for answers, Skyler’s mom, Deanna Faulkner, a cardiac nurse at St. Elizabeth-Florence, told a doctor at her work the symptoms Skyler was experiencing.
A few weeks later, the doctor pulled Deanna aside and said she may want to consider the possibility that her daughter could have lymphoma.
“So, she looked it up and I had six out of the eight symptoms,” Skyler said.
The official diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma came Oct. 14.
“I was just really shocked,” Skyler said. “I’ve never dealt with any kind of sickness before. Then, I was just thought, ‘I have to do this. I have to push through.’ I know that I can’t let it stop me. I’ve seen cancer survivors all the time so why can’t I be one?”
With the news, Deanna dropped everything to be with her Skyler every step of the way.
“She is my only child so my first thought was full attention and treatment immediately,” Deanna said. “I have not been back to work since her diagnosis because I want to spend as much time as possible with her plus I’m her best advocate and number one cheerleader and motivator.”
The initial diagnosis was stage-two lymphoma because the cancer was in Skyler’s neck and chest.
Two days later, a full-body CAT scan showed that she had it in her abdomen and pelvic area, making the cancer stage three.
Further test results confirmed last week that traces of the cancer were in Skyler’s bone marrow, making it stage four lymphoma.
“They told me I had a 95-percent cure rate,” Skyler said. “It doesn’t mean it’s any less curable (with stage-four cancer.) It just means it’s going to take a little longer and there’s a little more aggressive treatment.”
No time was wasted getting treatments started to battle the cancer.
In a three-day span about two weeks ago, Skyler saw two different doctors and had surgery to remove lymph nodes.
Two weekends ago, she spent three days in the hospital receiving her first chemotherapy treatments.
“The first day it was four hours,” Skyler said. “The second day it was three hours. The third it was two. It honestly wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. I was very fortunate that I didn’t throw up or anything. No nausea. It wasn’t until (the first day home from the hospital) that it all hit we. That’s when I started feeling bad. Just extremely achy.”
When she returned home from her stay in the hospital, Skyler was welcomed with a surprise from her friends and teachers at Williamstown High School.
The yearbook staff, supervised by teacher Sonya Linder, decorated the front of Skyler’s house with a banner with the phrase, “Though they are stormy, my Sky will NOT fall,” on it.
Countless numbers of Post-it notes were also scattered across the house with personal messages for Skyler. As editor-in-chief of the WHS yearbook, Skyler came up with the idea of using Post-It notes as a theme for the yearbook.
“I wasn’t feeling good and I just wanted to get home,” Skyler said about the surprise. “As soon as we pulled in the driveway, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I told my Mom to stop because I just wanted to get a picture. I was just staring at it and thinking about all the time and effort that went into it. There were middle schoolers who don’t even know me that signed it and high schoolers and teachers took the time. I started crying. It’s amazing to see that many people come together for one person to make them feel loved and important and knowing that they were behind you.”
Skyler underwent her fourth chemo treatment last weekend during an outpatient visit.
Along with taking medicine and being monitored daily, she will continue chemo treatments every 21 days.
Skyler is still getting used to adapting to having cancer and dealing with side effects of the treatments.
“Even though I feel good there are still certain things that I can’t do,” she said. “That’s what’s frustrating for me right now. I realize that I can’t push my body as quick. Getting ready for school I usually allow myself an hour. I guess I’ll need an hour and 45 minutes now. I got into the hot shower and I passed out because my body can’t handle that extreme temperature change anymore now that I’m on chemo. It’s little things.
I’m still figuring it out.”
Physically, Skyler still looks as healthy as ever, but it is her charismatic personality that remains unchanged as well.
From her constant smile to the unwavering positivity that she possesses, Skyler is determined to not let her diagnosis get her down.
“There’s no need to be like, ‘Oh, I’m the person with cancer,’” she said.
“That’s just so unnecessary. Yeah, I have cancer, but I beat it. That’s what’s important to me. To my knowledge, it’s not very common that we have childhood cancer patients here at school. If you show that you can overcome anything, that’s going to inspire others. That’s real important to me. If I have people looking up to me, I don’t want to be the one that wilted. I don’t want to be the weak one that barely made it. If I can attack this with a passion that doesn’t die, I know I will be fine.”
Skyler said she is not scared of the fight she is beginning.
Despite her strength and determination, however, there is one thing that she is not looking forward to.
Losing her hair from the chemo treatments.
“I know that sounds really silly and materialistic, but, as a girl, that’s really important,” Skyler said. “By no means does that define who I am, but that’s when people know you’re sick. You can’t hide it anymore. I feel like seeing me right now you wouldn’t know I was sick.”
Doctors told her to expect to start losing her hair seven to 14 days after her first chemo treatment.
Deanna said she has already been amazing at her daughter’s strength.
“In just two weeks she has endured two surgeries, two CT scans, a PET scan, multiple IVs, two admissions and four doses of chemo,” she said.
“She has never expressed any sadness, pity or anger. She just says she has to kick cancer’s butt, grow her hair back and wants to go to college next fall.”
School is important to Skyler, as shown by her perfect-attendance record.
She is a member of the tennis team, FCCLA, the pep club and the yearbook club.
Although she will attend school as much as her body allows as she goes through this battle, Skyler will maintain her perfect attendance by being designated a homebound student.
She attended school like always on Monday, but because her counts were too low she was out the following two days.
If the numbers increase enough, Skyler will return to class Thursday. School is where she would rather be without a doubt.
“Once you get everyone around you again, everything clicks and it works,” Skyler said. “It’s awesome. I feel like I’m right back in the swing of things. Having your friends behind you does wonders.”
As Skyler’s fight continues against cancer, each day is a step closer to beating the lymphoma.
Each day is also a step closer to graduation day, a moment Skyler refuses to miss no matter how she is feeling.
“Oh, I will be there,” she said. “I don’t care. If I have to wear a mask, I’ll be there. I will do whatever I have to do to be there.”