Sophomore saves sister’s life with stem cell donation

After a life-saving transplant to overcome leukemia, Sophia Nealon teamed up with her sister to create “Bye, Bye, Bad Blood,” a creative children’s story that aims to teach young cancer patients about their diagnosis and prepare them and their families. on what is to come.

For Sophia Nealon, saving her sister’s life was by far the easiest decision she ever made.

“It took a simple swab from me and our entire family to see who had the highest DNA match rate,” said the Osprey, Florida native, who studies chemistry at the University of Miami. “I was a 100 percent match to be my sister’s bone marrow transplant donor.”

When the family traveled to New York City for a younger sister’s birthday, it became clear to them that something was wrong because Cassandra Nealon became ill again. Back home in Florida, she went to see a doctor and the family received the devastating news. Kassandra Nealon, Sophia’s older sister and recipient of the life-saving stem cell transplant, was diagnosed with acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia at age 23, after falling repeatedly ill with flu-like symptoms in late 2019.

“They told her she had two liters of fluid in her lungs, which made normal tasks exhausting,” Nealon said. “Her doctors originally thought it was lymphoma, but after testing her blood count, they told us it was actually a form of leukemia. It was a big shock for everyone.”

After the diagnosis, the daily routine of the Nealon family underwent a drastic change, as Kassandra Nealon’s appointments were located miles away in Tampa. Then the world entered a global pandemic. During this time, Nealon enrolled in her first semester as an undergraduate at the University of Miami and chose to complete the semester remotely.

“My mom was the only one allowed to attend my sister’s appointments, so it took a lot of coordination, but we came up with a system that worked for us — like staying in Airbnbs for a few weekends and using FaceTime to be with her during her chemo. and radiation appointments,” she said.

The type of cancer Nealon’s sister had is often diagnosed in young children and rare in adults. After so many visits to different doctor’s offices, Cassandra Nealon noticed that there weren’t many books explaining the specific cancers that adolescents face.

Motivated by her friends and family, Cassandra Nealon felt compelled to create “Bye, Bye, Bad Blood,” a children’s book that lightly explains cancer to children and their families. Cassandra Nealon looked to none other than her sister, who draws as a hobby, to illustrate the book.

“We decided to sell and market the book through Amazon because that would give us the most profit,” said Nealon, who had no prior knowledge of self-publishing a book.

That profit margin was important to Nealon and her sister because 100 percent of it goes directly to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting blood cancer.

“You don’t know who you’re helping and how much you can change someone’s life with your donation,” says Nealon, who also encourages the campus community to apply to BeTheMatch.com to become a stem cell transplant donor. “Becoming a donor is super easy and takes seconds of your time.”

Nealon’s sister is now in remission. While promoting her book, she is determined to complete her medical school applications — a process that was abruptly halted when she was battling cancer.

Those interested in donating a book to a pediatric cancer treatment center or purchasing the book can visit byebyebadblood.com.

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