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Karina Willis

  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

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Six-year-old Karina loves cooking so much, she has a YouTube channel where she shares her very own cooking videos. Her big personality often shines through anything she is doing, and she also enjoys arts and crafts. 

In August 2020, Karina was suddenly lethargic and complained of arm pain. Her family thought she had COVID, until she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia that was Philadelphia chromosome-positive. Karina received one year of intense frontline chemotherapy treatment and one year of maintenance chemotherapy — both which involved month-long stays of planned and unplanned inpatient care. 

Karina was one week from the end of treatment when she experienced a significant relapse. The leukemia spread to her spinal fluid, and her family chose to transfer her care across the country to Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. There, she was enrolled in a clinical trial that helped Karina become NED (no evidence of disease)! 

It was a long two-and-a-half years since diagnosis. But Karina was brave every day, and is a hero to her mom, Jessica, because of her positive attitude. Whenever she needed her port accessed, she would take a deep breath, close her eyes and tell the nurse to “just do it.” When Karina relapsed, her mother couldn’t hold in the tears, and at just 6 years old, Karina said, “Mama don’t cry. You have to stay positive. I got this!”  

Jessica hopes that as Karina’s life continues, she can participate in “normal” kid things like going to school and swimming without worrying about infections, and travel! To families who may also be facing a childhood cancer diagnosis, she says to “let your child inspire you. And always have faith.” 

Karina and her family do what they can to help childhood cancer research continue. They participated in Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF)’s 5K Walk/Run in October and had so much fun raising awareness and funding research to end childhood cancer. 

“I am so grateful to the emerging research in childhood cancer that is quite literally saving the lives of our children,” said Jessica, “Only a few years ago, my daughter probably would not have survived, however thanks to newer and better treatment and therapies, she is doing great!” 

“Be brave enough to be different.” - Karina, after she lost her hair 

Information provided by Jessica S., Karinas mom 
Updated January 2023 

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