Tony Rossi, Director of Communications                                        

November 20

Cancer Survivor Lives in Gratitude

            Thanksgiving is our beautiful annual reminder to be grateful for our blessings. Some

people, however, have learned to live in gratitude every day because of suffering in their past.

Such is the case with Hayley Arceneaux, who was diagnosed with bone cancer 20 years ago

at age 10, after finding a painful lump on her leg. Up until that point, everyone that Hayley had

known with cancer had died, so she feared her fate would be the same. “God must hate me,”

she thought.  

            Today, Hayley works as a physician’s assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has taken part in numerous medical mission trips, and even orbited the earth as an astronaut on SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission. And her perception of God has changed as well. Hayley shares her story in the book “Wild Ride: A Memoir of I.V. Drips and Rocket Ships,” and we discussed it on “Christopher Closeup.”  

            A few days after her diagnosis, Hayley and her parents traveled to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, TN, for her cancer treatments. There, she developed a renewed sense of hope because the staff “made her feel like a normal kid that was going to be okay.” Still, she endured a year of intensive chemotherapy, surgery to remove the bone affected by the tumor and replace it with an internal prosthesis, and many physical therapy appointments. Despite all that darkness, Hayley focused on the light, noting, “Going through cancer…made me who I am, and it gave me so much love and zest for life.” 

            In addition, Hayley came to find comfort in her faith: “My initial reaction was, God must hate me. But I come from this incredible uplifting family, and immediately my mom said, ‘That’s not true. God loves you.’ While it was scary, we found faith as something that we could hold on to…My mom would write down specific Scripture that we would concentrate on and say out loud every day, like mantras. So, faith and prayer helped us through that year.” 

            As she grew up, Hayley pursued a career as a physician’s assistant so she could serve other children at St. Jude’s. She achieved that goal less than two decades later. Then, an unexpected opportunity arose. Hayley’s superiors asked if she wanted to become a member of the all-civilian crew on SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission to space, which was created to be a fundraiser for St. Jude’s. Her adventurous spirit led her to quickly say, “Yes,” despite the grueling training. She said, “I felt incredibly fortunate for this plan that God had for my life…It’s something I never could have seen coming.” 

            Devoted to promoting St. Jude’s, Hayley helped arrange a video conference between the kids being treated at the hospital and Inspiration4’s crew while they were orbiting the earth. Hayley saw this as a way to give the kids hope for the future, telling them, “If I can do this, you can do this.” 

            Hayley’s compassion for her patients is evident. She has even participated in several medical mission trips because she wants to bring hope and healing all in need. She concluded, “One thing that’s struck me from my early days of travel is how much we have in common. Even though the language sounds different, even though the food and the currency and all of that is different, the core of humanity is the same. Also, looking at the earth from space, I was impacted with how united I felt with my fellow earthlings…because from space, it’s all one.”