Mighty Blog

Isadora’s journey from cancer at age 15 to double majoring in college

Isadora Swann’s story sounds like the plot of a movie. A teenager with the goal of becoming an award-winning actor begins landing roles on the stage and screen. All her hard work and dedication is paying off. But then, at age 15, she’s diagnosed with cancer.

What sounds like a movie, was Isadora’s reality. However, with the customized care provided by the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer program at Children’s Minnesota, Isadora is working toward her dream again.

Cancer diagnosis

Isadora’s first sign something could be wrong was when her face began swelling. For about a month, she thought she was allergic to something. She switched laundry detergent and stopped eating peanuts. But then, when her pediatrician recommended getting an X-ray to look for something more. Turns out Isadora wasn’t allergic to anything – instead, they found a tumor in her chest.

“It was so scary. I remember my mom told me we need to go to the emergency room and my only response was, ‘What should I pack?’ It was so overwhelming,” said Isadora.

At the emergency department (ED), Isadora met Dr. Julie Chu, AYA program director at Children’s Minnesota, whose first goal was to figure out what was going on. After a few biopsies, Dr. Chu shared the unfortunate news; Isadora was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s b-cell lymphoma.

Isadora’s voice during treatment

The diagnosis came during Isadora’s junior year in high school. Unlike younger cancer patients, she was old enough to understand what was happening. Though her parents were understandably invested in their daughter’s care and would ultimately need to sign off on the treatment plan, Isadora had her own authority and voice. It was her, her parents and Dr. Chu all joining together to come up with a treatment plan.

“I knew that Isadora needed to have a say in her care. A lot of times we only talk to the parent. But since she was just a few years away from being an adult, we wanted to make sure she was involved. It’s what we do for all our AYA patients,” said Dr. Chu.

The initial plan called for four rounds of chemotherapy. The first treatment hit Isadora the hardest. But when a scan showed a few remaining spots, she went through two more rounds. Thankfully, that was enough and she is now cancer free!

Care connections

One of the most helpful aspects of Isadora’s care journey was the relationships with the doctors, nurses and other members of the care team. They would play card games with her, ask about traveling and her favorite shows.

“Everyone did such a great job building a personal relationship. I’m still excited to come in for check-ups,” said Isadora.

Dr. Chu and the AYA team take pride in building connections with their patients. “The favorite part of my job is meeting new people, explaining what their disease is and the journey we’re going to go on.”

Isadora is now 19 years old and attending college at the University of Southern California (USC). She’s double majoring in acting and social change and on the Latin dance performance team.

Isadora Swann co-hosting with "The Dude" in Star Studio

Isadora’s Make-A-Wish event at Children’s Minnesota

Isadora was given a wish from Make-A-Wish Minnesota because of her condition. Isadora’s wish? Give back to the Children’s Minnesota community, staff, patients and families with a Hollywood-themed celebration!

On May 25, 2022, Isadora visited our Minneapolis campus and co-hosted Kids Clubhouse in Star Studio. The event featured two food trucks, a digital photo booth, music and more fun. Isadora also gave gift bags out to our patients.

Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer program at Children’s Minnesota

The Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer program at Children’s Minnesota is specifically designed to meet the needs of cancer patients between the ages of 15 to 30.

According to National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), teens and young adults with cancer often do better with treatment approaches that are tailored to children rather than those designed for older adults. Our multidisciplinary, AYA care team will work with you and your family to create a treatment plan personalized to your cancer and your life.