Senior refuses to let cancer define her

Emily Mayfield, senior in family studies and human services, wears her cancer survivor shirt on Dec. 9, 2015 for support of those who are living with cancer or who have entered remission. (Jessica Robbins | The Collegian)

Over 20,830 new cases of acute myeloid leukemia were estimated to be diagnosed in 2015, according to the American Cancer Society. Emily Mayfield, senior in family studies and human services, said she was diagnosed with the aggressive form of cancer in October 2012.

Mayfield said that when she first heard the news, she only told her family and four of her close friends.

“I went from knowing that I was sick but being a somewhat-healthy college student to finding out that I have cancer,” Mayfield said. “How am I even supposed to process that? My friends all drove up that first night that I was in the hospital to see me – the connections that you make at school are so cool. The next morning, I started chemo.”

Mayfield said her chemotherapy treatment involved three different rounds. During each round, two to three anti-cancer drugs were administered over 14 days.

According to Mayfield, her first round of chemotherapy was the easiest; however, this was the round that her hair began to fall out.

Mayfield said that her parents tried to make the best out of the situation.

“When we shaved my head, my parents made it more of a party rather than it being a negative experience,” Mayfield said. “We had music on and we FaceTimed some of my family members that lived in Florida just to show them what we were doing.”

Mayfield said that her parents influenced her perception on the situation and she believes that is why she has such a positive attitude today.

“There were definitely some parts of the situation that were really hard to make positive, or you just couldn’t make positive, because the fact of the matter is cancer is not a positive thing,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield said that during her third round of chemo, her friend from Nebraska arranged for K-State’s mascot to visit her in the hospital.

“The unit that I was on was on lock down, meaning that everyone that wanted to come through had to scrub their hands before entering,” Mayfield said. “But Willie the Wildcat, dressed head to toe in his mascot gear, got to come in and see me.”

Mayfield said that she received an overwhelming amount of support from her friends, family and the K-State community.

“It was really awesome, because that was during the time that I was at one of my lowest points,” Mayfield said. “Third round is when all of the side effects from chemo came into effect.”

Mayfield did not want her cancer to define her from the moment she was diagnosed. During her journey with cancer, she said she so badly wanted to feel like a normal college student.

Mayfield took three college credits while she was in the hospital.

“I had this one professor … for my anthropology class,” Mayfield said. “He made it possible for me to take the class while I was in the hospital.”

Mayfield said that the ability to take class in the hospital was very helpful.

“It was nice to be able to focus on something other than just having cancer, to have something that made me feel normal,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield was in the hospital from October 2012 through January 2013. She was released from the hospital two days before her 21st birthday.

Mayfield’s birthday is Jan. 5, but she said she also has another birthday to celebrate.

“When you get a bone marrow transplant, you get a new birthday because you are getting a new immune system and are essentially becoming a new person,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield received a bone marrow transplant from her 20-year-old brother, Alex Mayfield, on Dec. 5, 2012.

“This past weekend, I celebrated my transplant birthday with my friends and family at my cousin’s wedding,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield said that her brother’s bone marrow transplant is the reason she is alive today. Prior to the transplant, Mayfield’s brother was having health complications with his spleen.

“He risked the health complications to proceed with the transplant,” Mayfield said. “My brother said something that I will never forget. He said, ‘I can live without my spleen, but I cannot live without my older sister.'”

Alex said that what he did was not extraordinary.

“Anyone who found themselves in the same situation that I was in, would have done the same thing,” Alex said. “It was amazing that I was a perfect match for my sister. I would hope anyone on the bone marrow transplant registry would do the same thing if they were the perfect match for someone.”

Emily said that she is very proud of her brother.

“It is so cool to know that I will always have a part of my brother within me, no matter what happens,” Emily said.

Alex said their family has always been close-knit.

“While we were already a very close family,” Alex said. “The situation we were in brought us together even more and was a reminder that miracles do happen.”

Mayfield’s story does not end there. Yes, she is a cancer survivor – but the cancer does not define who she is as a person.

“I did not want cancer to define me,” Mayfield said. “My father instilled this phrase in me: ‘Cancer is a string in my woven fabric, but it is not my story.'”

Mayfield is on the track to graduate this May after starting her college career in 2010. Post-college, Mayfield said she aspires to become a child life specialist.

“Child life specialists help children and their families cope with whatever is going on in their life,” Mayfield said. “It is mostly in the hospital setting. They explain medical procedures in a developmentally appropriate way.”

Mayfield also said she was in a severe car accident going into her freshman year of high school.

“I have been in and out of the hospital a lot due to my accident and cancer and there have been many people that have been there to help my family,” Mayfield said. “Just to be able to give my hand to families and help them in some form is something I really want to do. I want to pay it back.”

Bianca Mount, freshman in anthropology and Mayfield’s friend from the residence halls, said that Mayfield is one of the strongest people she knows and that she has overcome many obstacles.

“I am so proud of her,” Mount said. “She has taught me that it is okay to take a little extra time to grow, as long as you are happy with the outcome.”

Mayfield said that she enjoys drawing cartoons.

“I draw animal figures,” Mayfield said. “I can’t really explain it. Do you have a piece of paper and a pencil? I’ll just show you.”

Mayfield also said that she enjoys writing raps and poems.

“It is sometimes hard to verbalize how I am feeling, so writing raps and poems is a way for me to get my thoughts and feelings out,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield enjoys running, listening to music and is involved in the Women’s K-State Choir, Student Mobilization, Young Life and is on the hall governing board for the Strong Complex.

“She brings an incredible amount of energy and positivity to every room she walks into,” Elle Wiltfong, sophomore in biology and a friend of Mayfield’s, said.

Mayfield said that she enjoys traveling.

“I’m scuba certified,” Mayfield said. “My parents thought I should learn how to scuba dive. We went to a pool and learned how to do everything and then went to Key West to get certified.”

Mayfield has traveled to Vienna, Prague and the Czech Republic. She said that she hopes to travel more in the future.

Mayfield said that she has learned a lot from the experiences that she has been faced with. She said one of the biggest lessons that she has learned is that you shouldn’t ever judge people based on how they appear, because you never know what is in their back pocket.

Mayfield said often asks herself, “How many people do I walk by, that is struggling with similar things and just needs someone to talk to?”

Mayfield said that she has realized how important it is to constantly show others love and kindness.

“I’m that weird kid that is probably going to try and talk to you at the stoplight when everyone else has their earplugs in,” Mayfield said.