It’s not often cancer is considered a positive experience. For cancer survivors Hannah Acton and Logan Whitehead, their respective journeys led to a joyful engagement and plans for a future filled with happiness.
At age 2 and a half, Hannah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer that affects the white blood cells. “It all started with a severe cold,” Hannah said. “My brother and I both had colds, and while he was getting better after a couple of days, I wasn’t.”
Hannah’s aunt, who she was staying with at the time, took her to the emergency room at Children’s of Alabama just to be safe. “I ended up with a blood transfusion and getting an official ALL diagnosis,” Hannah said. “That started my two years of treatment.”
It also started her journey in Children’s childhood cancer survivorship program, Taking on Life After Cancer (TLC). Just shy of her third birthday, Hannah got involved with Smile-A-Mile, whose camps and programs help Alabama children affected by cancer thrive during treatment and the years beyond. By age 5, she participated in her first weeklong camp stay by herself. At age 9, Hannah met a boy at camp named Logan Whitehead. “He had just gotten off treatment and we were at the same summer camp,” Hannah said. “We met there and have been friends ever since.”
Logan was diagnosed with cancer when he was 12 years old. Out of nowhere, he constantly felt fatigued. He also bruised easily. “At the time I played soccer, so my doctor kept saying that my symptoms were just from that,” Logan said. “The doctor completely dismissed it. But I kept getting sicker and sicker.”
Following a second opinion, Logan was transferred to Children’s from his hometown of Gulf Shores. “They strongly suspected leukemia and immediately sent me up to Birmingham in an ambulance,” he said. “The doctor was there waiting on me that night when I arrived.”
Blood work allowed doctors to officially diagnose Logan with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, and he quickly began treatment. He endured six rounds of chemotherapy over the span of a few months. “My doctor, Dr. Coleman Bryan, was amazing,” Logan said. “He took care of me like I was his own. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful of a man he was. I remember my first stay. I was in the hospital for 47 straight days. My family really got me through it, and the doctors and nurses were fantastic.”
After about six months of treatment, Logan had his last round of chemo, though he still had to travel to Children’s for monitoring and maintenance. Like Hannah, he participated in Smile-A-Mile camps and programs. “The camp is such a wonderful place,” Logan said. “There’s no judgment because everyone there has been through similar circumstances. There is so much hope at Smile-A-Mile. There is so much love you feel from the minute you step off the bus.”
For Logan and Hannah, that love grew from friends at camp to an engagement. After three years of dating, Logan proposed to Hannah earlier this year at a Smile-A-Mile event. Both 22-year-old Logan and 19-year-old Hannah still attend Smile-A-Mile events—now in the young adults group—and volunteer as summer camp counselors. When they wed in early 2018, it will be on the grounds of the camp at Lake Martin.
“Smile-A-Mile means a lot to the both of us,” Hannah said. “We love the camp, and everyone there is like family to us. We realize the important role the camp played in our lives. Had we not both endured cancer, we never would have been there and never would have met. It’s a special place.”
Said Logan, “While cancer was one of the worst things I’ve ever been through, without it I never would have gone to camp or met Hannah. I wouldn’t trade my diagnosis because I ended up gaining so much because of it.”