Published in the May 31, 2018 edition


NORTH READING — Over the past seven years, North Reading High School senior Anna Jones has participated in Relay for Life, a community-wide fundraising event focused on ending cancer.

Every year the event is dedicated to one cancer survivor, but Anna never thought she would be chosen. This year, she was. The event will be held on Friday, June 1 from 6 p.m. to midnight at Arthur J. Kenney Field at NRHS.

“I am honored and humbled,” said Anna, who survived an aggressive type of leukemia. “It’s a very special night and means so much to me.”

Anna’s mother Kathryn Jones believes the committee chose Anna because she is graduating the following week from North Reading High School.

THIS YEAR the Relay for Life fundraiser to benefit the American Cancer Society is dedicated to NRHS senior Anna Jones who was diagnosed with an aggressive type of leukemia when she was 9 years old. She is shown at left while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The photo at right shows her five years later. (Courtesy Photo)

“The community really rallied behind Anna when she was sick,” Kathryn said. “The schools, soccer program, churches, businesses, friends and neighbors all supported our family. It was humbling and overwhelming. We are fortunate to live in such a wonderful town.”

Anna calls Relay for Life “an amazing community event” and said that most people have been impacted by cancer through the lives of someone they love, if not themselves. For Anna, a National Honor Society member, the event is an opportunity to come together and celebrate survivorship and all the lives that have been lost to cancer.

Anna’s own bout with the disease took place when she was 9 and a fourth-grader. According to her mother, she had a “really rough winter,” and it was about to get worse.

“She was sick all the time and had strep throat three times in a row,” recalled Kathryn. “Then she started to get very tired. We were hoping it was mononucleosis, but it wasn’t. She was diagnosed with a mature and aggressive type of acute myeloid leukemia.”

Following her diagnosis, Anna spent more than six months at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her type of leukemia was not the common form of childhood leukemia. The protocol for treatment was five intense rounds of chemotherapy that required hospitalization. Kathryn stayed with Anna during the week; her Dad was there on weekends.

“Either her Dad or I slept on a windowsill ‘bed’ during the six months of her hospitalization,” said Kathryn. “We also had a son in grade 7 and dog to take care of at home.”

Chemotherapy and its side effects are not pretty, she continued. “It practically kills you in order to save your life.”

One of the few times Kathryn cried during Anna’s hospitalization was when her head was shaved after her hair started coming out in clumps.

“Then it was on to the business of beating cancer,” Kathryn said. “She was such a great patient. She endured most of the typical side effects without much complaint, but when she developed pancreatitis, it was heartbreaking to see her so sick and weak.”

Kathryn said she is proud of her daughter, calling her “one tough kid.”

“Her experience has made her an incredibly strong young woman who is happy and confident,” she said. “Anna embraces life. She is a role model and offers hope to others.”

While Anna was hospitalized, the Jones family made the best of it. Kathryn said they were fortunate they were at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The staff made it easy for them to be there for six months, with resource rooms where activities and computer games, weekly pizza and ice cream parties and all kinds of distractions for both patients and their families were offered. Kathryn referred to Anna’s team of doctors and nurses as “phenomenal.”

“They became like family to us,” she said. “One doctor painted Anna’s fingernails after her long shift.”

Anna agreed with her mother and said that every hospital room she occupied ended up covered with art, get well cards and “crazy” décor.

“I became acquainted with everyone and everything in the hospital,” Anna said. As an example, a chef in the cafeteria always made her cheese quesadillas even though they weren’t on the menu. She and other patients and volunteers also spent hours in the resource room playing Mario Kart. They also discovered secret gardens hidden on different floors.

One day, Anna watched Spain win a soccer game during the World Cup, and the attending physician stayed in her room rooting for his home team. And when the Fourth of July came around, Anna had an incredible view of the fireworks in Boston from her hospital bed.

In spite of the good times, Kathryn said it is terrifying for anyone to be told they have cancer.

“Fifty years ago, Anna’s diagnosis would have been a death sentence, but we have access to some of the best hospitals in the nation. Massachusetts universities and medical research facilities are at the forefront in the quest for a cure,” Kathryn said, adding that as cliché as it sounds, Anna’s illness forced her to appreciate every moment and not worry about life’s little inconveniences.

Anna advises anyone newly diagnosed to “do what you have to do.”

“There will be dark days with physical and mental suffering, but there are also lots of opportunities for laughter, love and hope,” she said.

Anna and Kathryn agree that anyone diagnosed with cancer should accept help from those who ask if there is anything they can do.

“Sometimes it can be difficult, but friends, family and communities really do want to help,” Anna said.

Today, Kathryn said she tries to live life looking at the big picture. She hopes that Anna’s story inspires people to donate money to the American Cancer Society, to think about how they live life, and to give hope to anyone who is currently receiving or facing cancer treatment.

Kathryn continued, “There are many types of cancer and therefore many treatments and possible cures. More and more types of cancer eventually will be able to be cured. New treatments like stem cell transplants and gene therapy are being approved for more and more types of cancer.”

As for raising funds for the ACS, Kathryn hopes this year’s Relay for Life produces a record amount of money.

“The ACS does such great work, from valuable research to patient support,” she said.

In addition to Relay for Life, Anna volunteered for two summers at Boston Children’s Hospital and has volunteered at the Dana-Farber Jimmy Fund Clinic. She played varsity soccer and was a member of the varsity swim team and has worked as a lifeguard and babysitter.

When Anna looks at her future now, she remembers the nurses who cared for her.

“I’ve decided to pursue a career in nursing and have been accepted to the University of New Hampshire nursing program,” she said. “I saw how someone could have the power to positively impact someone else’s life when they need it most. I want to give back.”

To donate to the North Reading Relay for Life event, visit For additional information and volunteer opportunities on Friday night visit the North Reading Relay for Life Facebook page.