Emma Strait is celebrating end of leukemia treatment

Shawn Hardy
Emma Strait joined her family for sister Kristen True's graduation from Greencastle-Antrim High School. From left: cousin Brady Shiflet, grandmother Carol Smith, sister Ellie Strait, Emma, Kristen, sister Ashley True and mother Missy True. Back: grandfather Leon Smith and stepfather Jay True. SHAWN HARDY/ECHO PILOT

Emma Strait is ready for her life to start becoming normal again.

On May 16, the 15-year-old completed treatment for leukemia after being diagnosed on Jan. 17, 2018.

"It feels weird to have finished treatment. It feels like the longest, but also shortest years of my life," said Emma, who was termed in remission in 2019, but endured more bumps along the road during her final year of maintenance phase treatment at Hershey Medical Center.

Emma marked the end of treatment with a sign that tells the tale:

849 days

15 X-Rays of lower extremities

10 Hospital stays

9 Lumbar Punctures

9 MRI's

3 Bone Marrow Aspirations

2 Chest X-Rays

2 Renal Ultrasound

2 Abdominal Ultrasounds

2 EKG's & Echocardiogram

The bottom of the sign says #emmastrong, the message of family, friends and community members who rallied around Emma, who was a seventh-grader at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School when she was diagnosed.

Another significant symbol for the end of treatment will have to wait until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted — celebrating with her family by the ringing of the bell at Hershey Medical Center.

She is part of a blended family that includes her mother Missy True, father Brock Strait, stepfather Jay True, and siblings Ellie Strait, Eli Strait, Ashley True and Kristen True, as well as older stepsiblings, Danny True and Kelly Longerbeam.

"Unfortunately, our lives have not changed much since her end of treatment due to COVID-19," her mother said via email. "Instead of being able to celebrate, see family and friends, we are still social distancing, still being careful, not leaving our home. Emma is a social distancing champion, she understands the risks. She is unable to ring the bell because the clinic and hospital have restrictions in place. Once restrictions are lifted, we will celebrate as she rings the bell."

1. From Emma 

"My friends and family were great at making me feel more normal! Sometimes I just felt like a ‘sick kid’ but they always made me feel better, "Emma said via email.

"It was hard. I did not feel good most days, but I just kept pushing on. It feels weird at first 'cause the idea that you have leukemia is crazy," she explained. "When I lost my hair, I felt a little self-conscious and sick, but my friends and family did great with making me feel normal again. Having all the support from the community was also helpful. It made me feel less alone and lifted my spirits. I usually felt awkward though, I am not good at being the center of attention, but everyone was super nice and comforting. Overall, 1 to 10, though, would not recommend lol."

Emma missed half of her seventh-grade year and all of her eighth-grade year, receiving homebound instruction and even doing homework in the hospital. She was excited to start at Greencastle-Antrim High School last fall, but again spent much of the year out of school.

"She started ninth grade, was having fun with friends, experiencing a somewhat normal life again then her counts fell," Missy said. "We joked with her that she is allergic to school."

"I only went to school for like three months," Emma said. "I was supposed to attend the entire year, but my body could not keep up with that. So, I mostly still did work from home. My teachers and the district were all super awesome though! They were very understanding and lenient with everything I had going on.

"My favorite thing about high school was definitely lunch. Weirdly enough, I really love the school’s food plus I got to hang out with my friends, so it was a win-win. I also really liked my English class. It is my favorite subject," said Emma, who plans to attend college to get teaching degree in English and minor in either psychology or special education. "After I graduate college, I want to travel a lot, maybe teach abroad, before I settle down. I would love to live by a beach somewhere or at least have a beach house.

"I also loved drama club. I only got to attend one or two meetings because I was usually out sick, but the ones I went to I loved it," Emma said.

"I look forward to hanging out with my friends and going back to school! I miss my friends a lot and online school is way harder in my opinion. I also cannot wait to join drama club this school year and the softball team. I cannot wait to get my port out and be able to ride roller coasters and go on vacations. During quarantine, my sisters and I have been hanging out a lot watching movies, getting ice cream, and we plan to geocache in the future."

Emma wasn't confined to her home during her entire treatment. She and her family went to Hawaii through the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the spring of 2019 and later that year, she went on a Sunshine Kids trip to New Orleans.

"I loved it down there. I also got to meet more kids like me who were sick and made a ton of great friends." Emma said. "Even though I popped my knee out playing laser tag, I do not regret going because it was awesome!"

The family also has vacationed at Chincoteague and Emma was able to join family members for sister Kristen's graduation from Greencastle-Antrim High School and the graduation procession.

Her advice for other young people enduring hardships:

"Just try and keep your head up! Lean on your friends and family to help you through it, you will need them. Also, it is OK to be upset and mad about it and let out your emotions. Keeping it bottled inside does not feel good."

From Emma's mother 

Emma's mother recalls the nurse who accompanied Emma to New Orleans calling from the emergency room at 11 p.m. It was another snarl in Emma's life over the past two and a half years due not only to leukemia, but side effects of the treatment.

"Emma gets every rare side effect," Missy said.

One medicine she was on made it seem as if she were having a stroke, she's suffered C. diff. and other infections, fevers and the side effects of steroids that sometimes put her in a wheelchair.

"Over the past two and half years, Emma has missed holidays, birthdays, family get-togethers, time with friends. Her oncologist told us that there will be more holidays, birthdays, picnics, and she would be at them," Missy said.

"As a parent, you want your children to be happy and have fun. Seeing what Emma was going through was very hard. We watched our happy little girl grow weak, depressed, and angry. She had many different moods, but we knew that when she got angry with us, it wasn’t her and we didn’t take it personally.

"She endured many trials throughout this journey and we thank God every day for giving her the strength that she needed.

"Family, friends and even strangers prayed for Emma, for our family and every day we made it though," Missy said. "No matter what you are going through, with God all things are possible."