Thyroid Cancer from a Parents Perspective

Mya Roberts, Reporter

To read the first story in this series, from Aly’s perspective, click here
if you would like to donate to Aly’s fundraiser, “Kick Cancer Like a Girlboss”, click the link.

Nobody knows how they will react to a life-changing event until it happens to them. Jessica Arenholz, parent of Aly Arenholz, was absolutely heartbroken when she found out that her 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

As a mom, our kids depend on us to help make everything better- and there was absolutely nothing that I could do to take this pain away from her. I felt helpless,” Arenholz said. “I prayed that it would be me, not her.”

Despite how heartbroken Arenholz felt for her daughter, she was very grateful they found out when they did.  

“While thyroid cancer is very common in adults, it’s rare in kids (1 in a million) and we found out almost by accident,” Arenholz said.

Aly had blacked out the day after Thanksgiving last year and they thought it had something to due with her daughter’s ongoing ear issues.

“Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with her ears, but the doctor just happened to check her thyroid,” Arenholz said. “He could tell that she had multi-nodules, but didn’t seem too concerned and just told us to get some blood work done.”

In the span of seven days, Aly had passed out, had blood work done, an ultrasound, and by the end of the following week, doctors warned that there was a high probability Aly had thyroid cancer.

“We then scheduled a biopsy. On Dec. 17, the cancer was confirmed, and by Dec. 27, she had surgery to have her entire thyroid removed as well as 16 lymph nodes,” Arenholz said.

The Arenholz thought that after the surgery, their daughter’s cancer would be gone and she could go back to being a normal 15 year old. But that was not the case.

“Unfortunately, her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and she was positive for this gene which made her cancer more aggressive,” Arenholz said.

Then, they learned that her daughter was going to need a very high dose of radiation through radioactive iodine due to the severity of her cancer.

“Thereafter, we learned that her cancer had also moved to her nasopharynx and her salivary glands in addition to her thyroid and lymph nodes, but thankfully, it hadn’t metastasized any further than that!” Arenholz said.

Arenholz found it heartwrenching watching her 15-year-old daughter going through so much at such a young age. Her daughter had gone through blood work, ultrasounds, biopsies, surgeries, overnight stays at the hospital, special diets, isolation, radiation, and whole-body scans.

She should be thinking about what she’s going to do with her friends over the weekend- not if she is going to live to see her 16th birthday,” Arenholz said. “This terrified me.”

Despite the terrifying events, Arenholz was amazed by her daughter’s positivity. Her daughter remained strong and positive, made jokes about her cancer veery chance that she got, and never once complained.

 “One day, she said, ‘Mom, I’m glad it was me who got cancer- and not my friends.  I can handle it and I wouldn’t want any of my friends to go through any of this,’ Arenholz said. “I felt there was a sense of peace that day.”

Aly believed that if any child needed to get cancer, she could take it on. She had always said to fake it until you make it. Arenholz believed it couldn’t be more true about her daughter.

  “On the inside, she was terrified, however, on the outside- she would share her jokes and make light of the situation,” Arenholz said. “She tried to stay upbeat and silly so that her friends would not be scared.”

Before Arenholz knew it, everyone surrounding her daughter felt at ease because that is how she portrayed her cancer. Being emotional wasn’t going to take away her cancer. Her daughter needed positivity from everyone, and sometimes she just needed some space.

My job as her mom was to give her all those things. Aly gave ME the strength to be strong,” Arenholz said.

From the beginning, Arenholz wanted to be completely transparent with her daughter because there were going to be decisions that would affect her daughter for the rest of her life. During all the unknowns during her daughter’s cancer journey, Arenholz allowed her daughter to take control of the situation as much as she could.

She asked questions and she made decisions,” Arenholz said. “Decisions that no 15-year-old should ever need to make.”

Throughout Aly’s cancer journey, there was not a day that they ever lost hope. Faith, family, and friends helped the family keep hope.

“ Everything that could go perfect during her cancer battle, did.  We saw and felt blessings in every single day,” Arenholz said.

The love that Aly was getting throughout her cancer journey helped her power through the most difficult days. Arenholz’s family couldn’t be more grateful for all the people who were there for her daughter throughout her tough journey. 

“She had the very best doctors, hundreds of people were praying for her, she has the best friends you could ever ask for, a club volleyball team that cheered her on every step of the way, and an opportunity to be a part of the school musical which brought her so much JOY!” Arenholz said.

The love that the Arenholz family received is something that they will never forget.

“You really see the VERY best in every person you ever met when your child is given a cancer diagnosis,” Arenholz said.

The administration at South was very helpful. Not one teacher made Aly feel bad. She had many sleepless nights and the administration did everything they could to help her throughout the school day.

“I feel like these teachers were part of the “bigger plan,” and for that, I am grateful!” Arenholz said.

During Aly’s journey, she received a $450 check from a family friend and when she was asked what she wanted to do with it, she immediately decided she wanted to buy herself a new pair of converse and donate the rest.

“I asked her how she planned on donating it, and she said, ‘shoes!  I want other kids who are battling cancer the opportunity to design their own shoes, too!’ Arenholz said.

Aly had a goal of donating 15 pairs of converse, so Arenholz helped make a Facebook page and shared it with family and friends.

“Within an hour, we had already received enough donations for 15 pairs of shoes!!!” Arenholz said.

Once Aly got started, she didn’t want to just donate 15 pairs of shoes.

“And here we are about a month later, she has raised over $10,000 and will be able to donate about 180 pairs of shoes so far!” Arenholz said.

Designing shoes brought Aly so much happiness through the dark times. She wanted to give other kids battling cancer to have the same opportunity as she had.

“She said, ‘mom, my shoes are going to be one in a million- just like my cancer.’” Arenholz said.

Arenholz reached out to Converse to see if they would give her daughter some kind of discount and instead of a discount, they donated 15 pairs of shoes. The fundraiser was starting to pick up momentum.

“She has now sent shoes to kids in Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and California!” Arenholz said.

Aly is working with Children’s Miracle Network at KU MED and the Iowa Stead Family Children’s hospital and kids who have ordered shoes can also help to pay it forward.

“Each of the kids who have ordered shoes are also able to “pay it forward” to other friends they have met in the hospital or along their journey,” Arenholz said.

Recipients don’t have to be battling cancer, they can be battling any type of illness.

“While Aly is battling cancer, she also understands that there are so many different kinds of health challenges that kids may be experiencing,” Arenholz said. 

Although most of her donations go to kids with illnesses, Aly has also donated a pair of shoes to another who went through a tough time.

“All of her donations have gone for teenagers and kids, however, she did design a pair of shoes for Officer Clark, who was the Olathe East SRO who was so brave that day and was shot by another student,” Arenholz said.

Photos of the kids who have received converse through Aly’s fundraiser bring a huge smile to her face. 

“She just melts seeing these adorable kiddos and she wants to donate as many shoes as humanly possible to other kids fighting illnesses,” Arenholz said.

Students and staff at South are doing so much to help Aly and her fundraiser.

“Aly is SO grateful that the students at OS are helping her raise donations so that more kids can design their own fun Converse!!!” Arenholz said.

Aly inspires many others, she wears her scars with beauty and pride, has been volunteering since first grade, and has donated her hair four times by the age of 12 to make wigs for those with cancer.

Paying-it-forward and giving back is in her blood. It’s just what she does. She always has,” Arenholz said.