We are constantly blown away by the large number of people that submit their powerful and important stories, so we created “Candid Stories” as a way to share people’s stories that we don’t have the privilege of meeting with in person to photograph and capture their story in our usual format. 

Each of these stories are equally important to every story we have the honor of sharing on 7 Billion Ones, and we strongly believe in the power they have to connect people all over the world to real hope, healing and community.

Melanie "Little but Fierce, My Stella"

I have held the hands of many mothers experiencing grief and despair for their child. As a Trauma Surgical ICU nurse for 8 years, the patients that stood out with me were often teenagers and young adults. Typically any trauma patient older than 12 is sent to the adult ICU. The high school football player that didn’t survive the traumatic brain injury. The 16 year old whom only been driving two weeks and lost control of the car and never celebrated another birthday. The 19 year old that suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident on the way home from a mission trip… it was 9 days before she woke up and beat the odds. The suicide attempts, motorcycle wrecks… I could go on. I connected well with the parents of these young patients. They were young enough to be relatable personally and their love and dedication for their children inspired me as a parent.

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About two years ago I had to reach into the strength and hope I had witnessed as a nurse when my eldest daughter, Stella, was diagnosed with cancer. She was 5. Ganglioneuroblastoma, ever heard of it? Me either. An estimated 5 in 1 million cases are diagnosed each year. One morning I had a child with a fever, that evening we were being admitted to the St. Jude affiliate in Tulsa at St. Francis hospital for additional scans for a stomach mass. Horror and devastation doesn't even begin to describe what I was feeling. My knowledge and experience as a nurse was terrifying as my mind went running with what my first born baby would be experiencing in the coming months. Her mass was in her abdomen and adhered to her abdominal aorta, inferior vena cava, right kidney and spinal nerve sheath. March 23. 2017 was the day my husband and I handed our daughter over to the nurses and surgeons to remove the mass. The surgery took four hours. FOUR HOURS! We were so terrified with each hourly update, praying to see her as soon as possible. Nothing prepares you for seeing your baby out of surgery. Her little five year old body that still had baby fat and round cheeks now had a scar across its abdomen, a tube coming out of her nose to drain and rest her stomach and now a surgeons description of a malignant tumor encased by benign cells. Basically, a cancerous tumor had formed when she was younger and as the cells matured, they actually became benign and wrapped around the cancer cells so they couldn’t spread. He was 98% sure he removed all of the cancerous cells from her body.

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Stella’s first night after surgery was awful. She was in so much pain, they were administering morphine every two hours. She would wake up and attempt to move and be paralyzed by pain and fear. I cry even today thinking about the look on her face, it was heartbreaking. Within 2 weeks she started inpatient chemotherapy every 3 days, for 3 weeks for a total of 4 treatments. She is the oldest of 3 girls. Maya was two and a half and Annika was six months old when Stella was initiating treatment. Our family life was disrupted to say the least. My husband and I often let Stella decide who she wanted to stay with her during treatment and were fortunate to have the luxury of living locally and being able to alternate. We would pack our things as if we were going on a weekend trip and only it was to have our baby injected with toxic medicine that not only killed cancer cells but also healthy cells too. Her little body tolerated the treatment fairly well but there were weeks we had to be extremely cautious with food choices and outdoor activities. Stella’s absolute favorite activity is swimming but our neighborhood pool was off limits during treatment. Her dad and I bought an inflatable water slide for the backyard so she could still enjoy playing in the water and sunshine.

We definitely tried to make the best out of a scary time in her life. She broke into tears the night we told her she would lose her hair but never shed another tear over it. My lap would be filled with strands upon strands of her hair, on the rare occasion that I was brave enough to comb it, and she would turn around and start giggling at the sight of it all. When I first noticed her hair loss, I took her to a hair stylist and let her pick what color she wanted to dye it. If it was going to fall out anyway, why not have fun with it? She picked several different colors and absolutely loved her rainbow hair until it all fell out! Stella was a fighter throughout all of her treatments and only suffered a few side effects of tummy aches and vomiting. After her last round of chemotherapy though, she contracted an intestinal infection that made her very sick and she had to be hospitalized for several days. Unfortunately it was over the 4th of July, one of her favorite holidays, but we had a big fireworks show on her first night home, so all was forgiven. A couple weeks later she developed an intestinal obstruction from scar tissue around her incision and had to be hospitalized again. My girl was in so much pain that she asked to go to the hospital. The obstruction wasn’t resolving on it’s own and she was in continuous pain so the surgeon recommended surgical intervention after 3 days of waiting. On the morning of her surgery date, she woke up feeling great! The obstruction had resolved and she no longer needed surgery! We were SO thankful!

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Stella is now 7 and in the 1st grade. She was granted a wish trip to Disney World last year through the Make A Wish foundation and we had the time of our lives! If you met her today, there isn’t a single sign of what she has experienced. She’s feisty, inquisitive, smart and gorgeous. She has the most contagious giggle of anyone I know. This amazing girl has endured chemotherapy and surgery and I still require more naps than she does. Stella Marie Kinter made me a mother and I will never forget how she has made me a better woman. The strength and determination our little princess warrior has shown throughout this whole process is incredibly humbling and inspiring. Our family, friends and medical staff made those nightmarish few months tolerable with their amazing PRAYERS, love and support! We are incredibly grateful to have the chance to spend everyday with our little girl because we know that not every child's cancer journey ends the way hers did.

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You never know where your strength and hope comes from until you’re faced with adversity. Live your life with an open mind and never underestimate the impact a person can have on you. Whether it be the people you work with, friends, family, or a 5 year old little girl.

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Riley "Cancer Does Not Have You"

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On January 26, 2015 I went into the ER for pain in my abdomen and I wasn’t eating or drinking. I was seventeen weeks pregnant with my daughter at this time, and I had even gotten to the point that I wasn’t peeing anymore and when I did, it was so bright orange and only twice a day IF I forced myself. I thought I was extremely dehydrated, so I went to go get fluids and called it a day. I left work that Monday and told everyone where I was going and said I would just see them Tuesday. When I got to the doctor’s, they did an ultrasound on the area I told them that was hurting, and they saw something strange like a mass. They were also confused as to why they couldn’t even get urine from me even putting in a catheter. The doctor came back in and told me that I had what appeared to be a twisted ovary or a cyst, but that they can fix it laparoscopically. They said that it’ll be about forty five minutes long, but not fixing it would cause more harm to myself and the baby than if we didn’t do anything. My boyfriend and father of my our baby was deployed at the time so I sent him a message to tell him what was going on and that I would message him after everything was done. I called my parents and they met me at the hospital and waited for me to be taken back. When I woke up, my mom was at my bedside crying and I found out it had been five hours since I had gone into the operating room; much longer than the forty five minutes that had said it would take. The doctor said that they still didn’t know what it was, they just assumed it was an infection that they removed most of, but not all, as some of it was still left in my abdomen. I was told that antibiotics would get rid of that no problem.

Fast forward five days to January 31, 2015. My doctor told me I had cancer, asked me if I had any questions, then he got up and left as I stared back at him in shock. I was transferred from where I live in Florida, to Lubbock, Texas since I was pregnant and diagnosed with colon cancer; they didn’t know what to do with me in my small town.  While in Texas, they said they couldn’t do any type of scans because of the pregnancy, so instead they did a chest x-ray and ultrasounds on my organs to see if it had spread. All those tests came back negative (thank goodness!) My new oncologist came into the room to tell me that she had spoken with the surgeon and with the way he described everything it sounded to be stage IV but she was going to a tumor board later that week on Friday to discuss the case, so she would come by afterwards to tell me what they had come up with. That was the longest four days of my life. I had a breakdown and just started crying the day before because I just wanted to go home but I was stuck in that hospital, still in too much pain to walk anywhere worth walking to. Finally, Friday came up and the high risk OBs came in the room first to tell me it WAS determined I’m stage IV and that they can get me through the pregnancy; but that my boyfriend James was going to have to prepare to be a single dad because they don’t know how long I’d have after the baby is here. The oncologist eventually came in to talk to me and told me that we could start treatment, but that they don’t know which treatment is best because of the pregnancy (I didn’t need radiation, so that was why we discussed treatment while being pregnant).


They explained termination options to me, but also assured me that they had treated patients while pregnant before. I asked if terminating would give me a higher chance of living or change my treatment at all, and the answer to both of those questions were “No”. So I said, “If I am meant to have it, God will get us through this together” and chose to go ahead with treatment. From there I was sent to MD Anderson in Houston for another opinion since I was pregnant, and it was seemingly a dead end because the oncologist there didn’t have a clear answer either. I chose to go with FOLFOX chemotherapy because my tumor tested MSI high so 5FU alone wouldn’t do anything to my tumors. I came back home and waited to get my port placed at the end of February 2015 and in March we started chemo. I did four rounds of chemo, then had two seizures due to eclampsia I had developed. I was taken to the ER by my boyfriend James, and my brother, which is where both the seizures happened. I was transported to another ER because the one in this town doesn’t handle pregnant women. The ER I was transferred to then called for the helicopter to be lifted to Lubbock, TX and I naturally delivered my daughter the next day.

We were in the hospital for five days due to my daughter having jaundice for a couple days and to monitor my blood pressure. I had about a month and a half and during that time we went back to MD Anderson to get my first CT scan done and to discuss the next step. After seeing the results of my scan, my oncologist decided to change my chemo to a stronger one, so that the tumors will shrink fairly quickly because there was a surgery and procedure done there that could raise my chances of beating this significantly. The regimen was called FOLFOXIRI; oxaliplatin, irinotecan, leucovorin, 5FU and avastin. My oncologist warned me that it was a very toxic chemo and that I will likely have a lot of side effects, but due to my age I shouldn’t have an issue recovering. I started that new chemo and the first infusion wasn’t too bad, I had some nausea, but it was easily controlled by the medication, but I was so tired and dizzy.  Every treatment after that just got worse and worse and I was more and more sick after each time. I was in bed for over a week, I couldn’t take care of my daughter unless my boyfriend had to go on a trip for work or was flying that day/night. I would just lay on my living room floor with my daughter and change her diaper and feed her when needed. I could barely get up to throw away her diapers. I couldn’t take my anti-nausea meds when I was alone with her because they would make me sleep and I didn’t want to be asleep and unable to wake up if she woke up before I did from a nap. I had to stop that chemo for about a month and a half because I was in and out of the hospital with gallstones and pancreatitis. We were trying to get back to Houston to get the big surgery done and remove my gallbladder in the process, so we didn’t want a surgery before a surgery, especially done out in my town. We went to MD Anderson again and they determined by the scans that I needed to do four more rounds of chemo because one of my tumors was so close to a blood vessel they didn’t want to chance anything going wrong. We came back home and started that chemo again and I was so sure I was going to lose my hair (I didn’t though!). After finishing my chemo on January 22, 2016, we were getting my next procedure scheduled in Houston to see if I was a candidate for the HIPEC procedure. We went to Houston to get the laparoscopic procedure done and they determined I was a good match for it (praise the Lord!) and I expected to have to go back that next month for the surgery. It turned out it was only two weeks after that!


We had to plan to be in Houston for a month and get our daughter in daycare since my parents were going to watch her but they both work full -time and it was stressful. We got out to Houston for the big surgery with everyone there for this; my parents, daughter, boyfriend, and one of my close friends came out. I was in surgery for eight hours. They removed the cancer, appendix, ovaries, uterus, gallbladder, omentum and more of my large intestine, reversed the colostomy, gave me a temporary ileostomy and did the HIPEC procedure. Recovery was very difficult. Surprisingly I was only in the hospital for a week and not the anticipated two weeks. I was discharged to go home after a week of being in a hotel, so we were home two weeks earlier! The ten hour drive home was not easy though. It took me about six to eight weeks to heal to the point of walking more than fifteen steps without having to stop to catch my breath. It took awhile for me to be able to go anywhere without having to stop for a break after a few minutes because it was painful to walk still. Once I was finally feeling better, my boyfriend James whom became my husband April of this year (2018), had to deploy again, so he left and the following month I had my ileostomy reversal and my parents and daughter were with me for this one. Everything went great and I was out of the hospital sooner than anticipated again. Since then, I was getting CT scans every three months until February 2018 and now I have been moved to CT scan every four months until February 2019, then to every six months until I hit five years in remission; then it’ll be yearly checks.

Today, I am now working as a mental health therapist for an agency in New Mexico, remotely from my home in Florida. I am also a Licensed Master of Social Work in the state of New Mexico and working on my clinical license here in Florida, for social work. I spend my spare time volunteering with the local Relay for Life, and speaking at different cancer related events. I have traveled to different states to learn how to be a better advocate in various seminars specific to colorectal cancer and have even gone to Washington D.C. this past March to lobby at the Capitol to ask for representatives to vote “yes” on bills that will provide increased funding and better care for cancer research and cancer patient care. I was featured, along with other survivors and caregivers in a magazine called “On the Rise” telling everyone’s story that was affected by colorectal cancer under the age of fifty. This has become a passion of mine and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I hate when someone new is diagnosed, but thankful I have gone through all I have so I can provide the support I wish I had when I was first diagnosed. Almost everyone would say that being diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at the age of twenty four and at seventeen weeks pregnant is one of the worst things that could happen to you, but if I’m being completely honest, it is actually one of the best things that has ever happened to me! I have met so many amazing people that I KNOW would not have happened had I not been diagnosed. I learned so much about my strength and resiliency and I know that what I thought was my “limit” before on what I could handle, was only scratching the surface.


My daughter is three now and perfectly happy and healthy. She has had no complications due to me having chemo or the first surgery while I was pregnant or me having eclampsia and seizures before I delivered her. She is so full of life and energy, it is addicting! She comes with me to all my appointments for my CT scans and blood work and is so comfortable in hospitals and loves the doctors and nurses. She has no idea the strong young lady she already is, even prior to being born! She makes me beyond proud, I just can’t even put it into words! I have a lot of last side effects from chemo such as numbness in the tips of my toes and sometimes my hands, cold sensitivity, fatigue, dizzy spells at times, gastritis, and vision changes; and she reminds me that I have endured much worse and so has she. Unfortunately, being diagnosed under the recommended screening age of fifty (which was recently changed to fortyfive) is not that rare. It is happening more and more often and there isn’t an answer yet as to why this is happening. With the rate of those diagnosed under the age of fifty rising, I know people will need support and I highly recommend if you have Facebook, finding a support group on there and connecting with those in similar shoes. This goes for any situation, not just colorectal cancer, by the way. Know that it is normal to be sad and depressed when a grim diagnosis is given, and have yourself a little pity party as I call them but do not stay there! Pick yourself back up, turn that sadness into anger, get mad and channel all that anger into fighting that beast!! Remember that YOU have cancer, cancer does NOT have you.