Not ready to give up

Source: Daily Sparks Tribune | January 29, 2013

When 14-year-old Stephanie Avalos was diagnosed with Lupus she did not bother to let her emotions and thoughts get the best of her. Her mind had millions of thoughts rolling through it but the single-syllable idea she chose to hold on to was hope.

During the long, painful hours of treatment and therapy at Renown Children’s Hospital, Avalos clinged to hope; her hope that a cure for her Lupus would come, and a hope that has allowed her to battle the disease.

Avalos chose to express her hope through art and in doing so she has become one of 10 finalists in an art competition generated by White Cloud Facial Tissues where the winner’s art will be printed on tissue boxes sold nationwide. The 10 patients’ art has been posted to Facebook and the patient with the most votes online by Jan. 30 wins.

“I still can’t get used to the fact that my drawing actually got chosen,” Avalos said Friday, adding that she checks Facebook daily to see where she ranks among the competitors. Throughout the week she has been vying for the top spot with another child from Las Vegas (also named Stephanie) and whichever patient’s work is chosen, the Children’s Miracle Network will donate $15,000 to the hospital where they received treatment.

Avalos’s artwork displayed the word “HOPE” within various colors and she mixed in more meaningful words such as “smile” and “enjoy life.” She said her goal was to pass along the strength she found while at Renown.

“I always had hope that they are going to find a cure for the Lupus I have and I wanted to let other people know not to give up,” she said. Avalos finished her treatment in December and will possibly return to Sparks High School as early as next week.

Angie McEvers, Child Life coordinator at Renown Children’s Hospital, spent plenty of time with Avalos during her treatment and recovery periods at the hospital. She said Avalos endured some very excruciating days to get to where she is now.

“She was actually in the hospital for a while because she had some blood in her lungs, which is a side effect of the treatment and the disease,” McEvers said. “She was actually in a coma for about a week and it was very serious. She has had a pretty rough go but she is a trooper and she is very strong and always very positive.”

McEvers said Avalos could often be seen wandering through the halls on the second floor of the Reno hospital, greeting familiar staff members. She said the hospital allows children and teens to express themselves in various ways to gauge how they feel and learn more about them.

“Child Life is very founded on modality of play so we use play to help kids cope with anything. We can do art therapy, play therapy or music therapy,” she said. “For teens we have an expression board in the teen room that they can draw on and make pictures. What they draw in their art will tell you so many things. The colors they use and picture choices can tell you things and it is just another way for them to tell you what is going on inside.

“They are not like adults and they are not going to just sit down and talk about it. We kind of have to pry it out, and sometimes if they are playing a video game, they are distracted enough that they will open up and tell you things because they don't feel like the spotlight is on them. It helps with communication but it also helps with boredom and regular hospital visits and pain.

McEvers said Avalos’s art always showed optimism and portrayed bright, playful colors, suggesting she was in good spirits. She said handling the months of treatment, and now getting ready to return to school, is a testament to her character.

“As a teenager who is struggling a chronic diagnosis, she has never really had any negative art,” McEvers said. “She has always been very positive, very optimistic and very bright. She is quiet, but her art is beautiful and it is always positive.

“I asked her one time ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ and she said I want to be a specialist on Lupus. So for her to want to go into the medical field and find a cure for Lupus or find out how she can help other people with Lupus, is just remarkable and says so much about her.”

Avalos said she continues to fill her room with artwork made of words and quotes she finds, inspiring to help remind her how far she has come.