“Don’t give up hope” teen leukemia survivor wins essay contests sharing her battle

“Don’t give up hope” teen leukemia survivor wins essay contests sharing her battle

Okinawa Shogaku High School senior Kimika Katayama wins first place in two essay contests. Photographed on campus in Kokuba, Naha City, in the afternoon of November 9.

November 10, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Kumiko Yoshihara

“I wanted to share my story to encourage sick and hospitalized kids going through a difficult time”—17-year-old Kimika Katayama, a third-year student at Okinawa Shogaku High School, explained her motivation for writing about her battle with acute lymphatic leukemia. Katayama won the Japan Registered Clinical Laboratories Association’s 21st essay contest titled “What Testing Taught Me,” and placed first in the student division of the Love and Grace Welfare Aid Foundation’s 21st Aikei Essay Contest.

Katayama was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia in December 2016, during her second year in junior high school. After hospitalization and continued outpatient treatment, Katayama came close to remission, virtually free of leukemia symptoms and cancer cells. However, in April 2019, she was diagnosed with osteonecrosis, a side effect of the steroids she received as a part of her treatment. The condition progressed into multiple osteonecroses, which affected her entire body, forcing her into a wheelchair.

In the beginning, Katayama could not accept her leukemia diagnosis. During her hospitalization, Katayama attended hospital school, witnessed other children battling diseases, and finally found the courage to face her diagnosis. She also watched other hospitalized children participate and shine in sports events, which helped Katayama shift her perspective. She wanted to “encourage others through writing that, ‘you don’t have to give up hope because of a disease.’”

Katayama shared her own experiences in her two winning essays, under two different themes: the Aikei Essay Contest theme was “disability.” She wrote about her realizations as a wheelchair user and compared them with wheelchair experiences in other countries. The “What Testing Taught Me” essay contest theme was “disease and blood tests.” Katayama shared an episode on leukemia treatment and blood testing, an essential tool in patient monitoring.

Katayama said with a beaming smile, “I didn’t expect to win first place. The people close to me are happy for me too. I’m glad I entered the contest.”

Patients who stay in complete remission for five years are considered fully cured. After continuing her treatment, Katayama achieved complete remission in July 2019. She is currently in her final year of high school and is preparing to take college entrance exams. As Katayama moves towards her dreams, she shared her vision for the future: “I want to share my experiences through AI (artificial intelligence) research.”

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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