Salina teen has good attitude as she battles cancer
By Linda Petersen
SALINA—As school draws to a close this week, many local kids are looking forward to summer to sleep in, hang out with friends and just generally kick back.
Lexi Nielson, an eighth grader at North Sevier Middle School, is looking forward to it for a different reason.
At the end of June, she will complete a grueling 38-week chemotherapy regimen.
Then, if she’s blessed to get a clean bill of health, she might be able to think about normal summer activities.
Lexi, 14, was diagnosed with stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma, a very rare childhood soft tissue cancer, after finding what doctors initially thought was a cyst on her body.
When the cyst did not respond to laser treatment, her Gunnison doctor referred her to Primary Children’s Hospital. After extensive testing, the doctors there came back with the bad news—it was cancer.
Since that time Lexi has been in the fight of her life.
“We’re just hoping for the best; we’re living day by day,” her mother, Kandice Nielson, said.
Over the course of the last eight months, along with the chemotherapy, Lexi has endured three weeks of five-days-a-week radiation and a blood transfusion.
While she was initially scared when she found out she had cancer, she said, “It’s a lot easier now that I know what’s going on.”
She has good days and bad days, but she is doing remarkably well, her mom said.
Lexi has mostly been unable to attend school over the months of treatment although she goes occasionally when she feels good. She has completed schoolwork at home as she has been able.
Her class recently made a video of “Fight Song” to show their support for Lexi.
Lexi generally stays home and travels to Salt Lake City weekly for her treatments. It’s a tough schedule for her and her mom—a single mom who has two other children, Ryan, 17, and Jake, 7.
Along with caring for Lexi and her brothers, Kandice has been there for her own mother, Sandra Nielson, who was diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer herself within weeks of Lexi’s bad news. Sandra has also undergone chemotherapy and had 60 percent of her right lung removed. A recent scan showed she is now cancer free.
Kandice, who works at her mother’s daycare center, said it has been a tough road, but she’s enjoyed a lot of support from family, friends and the community.
In February, benefit was held that many local businesses and community members donated to, bringing in some money to help with expenses.
Family and friends also considered launching a GoFundMe campaign but had to abandon that idea when they discovered that doing so might jeopardize Lexi’s Medicaid benefits.
If things go well, Lexi should be able to return to school in the fall. Since she was a 4.0 GPA student before being diagnosed, school officials feel she won’t need to repeat eighth grade and can move on with her peers, Kandice said.
For now, the teen is staying strong for the remaining weeks of chemotherapy. She has a pretty philosophical outlook on the experience.
“I’ve discovered I’m tougher than I thought I was. I never thought I could deal with anything like this,” she said. “I feel like I’ve matured a lot from it. I’ve learned to deal with things being so scary.”
Both Lexi and Kandice are hoping a PET scan at the end of treatment will give Lexi the “all clear” to resume her life. If so, she wants to spend time with family and friends, go camping and maybe even go shopping for makeup with her cousins.
Looking into the future, she hopes to attend Southern Utah University and to someday be a model.
A fund has been set up in Lexi’s name at Zions Bank in Salina. Contributions will not impact her Medicaid benefits.