Serena Bonneville

Serena Bonneville

Every inch the fighter

Sixteen-year-old South Surrey blogger writes about her road to recovery from leukemia

When describing what leukemia is and what it does to her body, Serena Bonneville sounds as though she is reciting the plot from a favourite television show.

There’s mutation, rogue blood cells and a hell of a lot of fighting.

In the South Surrey teenager’s blog – chronicling the days following her diagnosis on Oct. 10 of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – she writes that she pictures the type of cells that have taken over her body as “mindless zombies like from The Walking Dead.

“Their sole purpose is to kill and infect the living as they senselessly wander about unaware that their fate is threatened by the strength of courageous fighters,” she writes Oct. 16. “I, like Rick Grimes, intend on wiping out each and every walker that dared to threaten the human spirit.”

The 16-year-old may not look like the small-town sheriff/main protagonist from the hit AMC show but – like Grimes – she’s every inch the fighter.

Sitting in her home, where she has been resting after four full days of steroid treatment, Bonneville recalls when symptoms first began.

After a bout of walking pneumonia, followed by the removal of all four of her wisdom teeth, the avid soccer and field hockey player expected a bit of a hit to her fitness.

But while walking up the stairs at Southridge, the high school senior became winded.

“I was getting out of breath and I thought, ‘OK, this is not right’,” she said.

Days later, she became winded going up the stairs in her home, followed by pain in her bones and night sweats.

“After that, we decided to take her to the doctor,” her father, James, told Peace Arch News Thursday. “They took an X-ray and did the blood work. The next day, I got a call at work.”

The family was advised to take Serena to the BC Children’s Hospital, where it was confirmed she had leukemia.

“When they first said it was leukemia for sure, I didn’t even know what leukemia was. I wrote in my blog that the first thing that came into mind was the movie, A Walk to Remember, and then the girl dies in it,” she said.

The next day, following a lumbar puncture and bone-marrow testing, she was told the specific type; ALL is the most common leukemia for children.

“(The oncologist) said of all the types of leukemia to get at my age, this is the best. It was a big relief,” she said.

While the diagnosis provided some respite, like all cancers it requires treatment. In Serena’s case, that means six to eight months of intense chemotherapy, followed by two years of maintenance.

Because of the timeline of her “roadmap to recovery,” Serena expects to miss many days of school during her grad year – a devastating blow.

“The moment when I lost it was when she said that most people do graduate, but it is tough. They usually are home-schooled. When she said that I won’t be going to school regularly, I just lost it,” she said. “School is my life. It’s not just school for me. I’m there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., whether it’s soccer, student council meetings – it’s a really big part of my life.”

After what her dad describes as “10 seconds of losing it,” Serena regained composure, grabbed her computer and began to blog.

Her first entry on www.breedingoptimism.blogspot.ca began on the day she was diagnosed, and has since included posts on chemotherapy, steroids and medication, as well as how she maintains her positive outlook.

Appropriately titled A Change in Perspective, the blog’s tagline, Breeding Optimism, is exactly what Serena plans to do.

“I thought, when people first hear (about the leukemia), it’s going to be pretty tough and they’re probably going to expect the worst. It’s leukemia, it’s a blood cancer, and I just thought they need to know it’s the best type of cancer I could have gotten,” she said. “And I’m going into it with a positive attitude.

“I wanted for the most part for people to feel comfortable. I didn’t want there to be a negative atmosphere. I did it with the intention of making other people feel comfortable but also to create a more positive atmosphere so when I do hit my low points, I do know that I have created a more positive atmosphere for myself and other people.”

Since her first post, thousands have logged on to read about Serena’s thoughts, her food cravings – including Chipotle and White Spot – and her road to recovery.

While the sheer number of people who have reached out has been overwhelming and unexpected, Serena said it has also brought her comfort.

“I’ve received so many stories from people going through similar things, like Southridge alumni, which is so cool, and parents who have gone through similar things. People connect with you and you learn more about other people than I would have ever known before. It gives me hope too, you know, they tell me these positive stories and that really helps,” she said.

Friends and family have also rallied to provide financial support, donating in Serena’s name towards research for cancer, which, she noted, is of utmost importance.

“I don’t think people realize that they are not just raising the money to show their support for me, but they’re raising money because it actually makes a big difference – specifically, I thought, for teenagers and kids who are going through it,” she said. “Just the fact that I don’t have to be in the hospital for the majority of my chemo makes it so much better, it’s amazing. It’s a big difference for me and my studies and social life. It’s money for research that does all that. If I can do anything to make it easier for other people that go through it too, I’ll be all over it for sure.”

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hugh Dobbie’s South Surrey-based tech business Yare Media was recently acquired by California’s Visaic Inc. (SFU photo)
South Surrey tech company acquired by California business

Hugh Dobbie founded Yare Media in 2016, and ‘will remain involved’

Joy Johnson, seen here during an installation ceremony on Oct. 22, is Simon Fraser University’s 10th president and vice-chancellor. (Submitted photo)
SFU’s Surrey campus tackling COVID-19-related research

‘We can learn now,’ SFU president Joy Johnson said, ‘so should something like this happen again we’ll be prepared. We have to learn from this current pandemic’

Mayor Darryl Walker gives a welcoming hug to Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell at the inaugural meeting of the current White Rock council in 2018. (Alex Browne photo)
White Rock council under fire for inaugural prayer

BC Humanist Association charges city violated Supreme Court ruling two years ago

Chief Robert Gladstone of Shxwha:y Village at a federal flood funding announcement April 24, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress file)
Consortium of Indigenous chiefs seeking a way to participate in cannabis economy

All Nations Chiefs from the Shxwha:y, Cheam, Soowahlie and Sq’ewlets holding online forum Dec. 2

Joined by his family, BC Liberal Trevor Halford is sworn into office as MLA for Surrey-White Rock Friday, Nov. 27. (contributed photo)
Cadieux, Halford sworn in as BC Liberal MLAs for Surrey South and Surrey-White Rock

Ceremony took place virtually this year, in keeping with COVID-19 restrictions

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld is taking heat over using a ableist slur to refer to three Black Press employees. (Paul Henderson/ Progress file)
BC School Trustees Association president keeps heat on Chilliwack Trustee Barry Neufeld

In a news release, Stephanie Higginson called on voters to take careful note of Neufeld’s behaviour

Most Read