Cancer survivor Makayla Claflin now a freshman celebrating life


photo courtesy of Claflin family

Freshman Makayla Claflin shows off her “Team Mak” shirt designed by friend and fellow freshman Madelyn Genovese.

Going from being diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 9 to enjoying what she loves, freshman Makayla Claflin sets an example for living life to the fullest. 

“It’s in no way easy,” she said of her cancer journey.

In August of 2016, Claflin started to experience some cold symptoms. Her family did not think anything of it because “Mak” would always get sinus infections. Yet concerns arose when a mysterious bump above her left eye appeared.

After staying a couple of days at the hospital and undergoing extensive testing, Mak was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). 

According to the National Cancer Institute, ALL is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow by having too many lymphocytes, a specific type of white blood cell. This can lead to a fever, fatigue and easy bruising or bleeding. The chance of a child being diagnosed with any type of leukemia is 7.3 per 100,000 children, according to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

A month into the diagnosis, Claflin started her many treatments, which included numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to attack the cancer. 

Claflin said her greatest challenge during her battle with cancer was “probably not being able to do things that my friends and peers did.” 

Her diagnosis happened at the start of her fourth-grade year. Claflin said she absolutely adored her teachers that year, Ashley Rimmel and Rhonda Ondash, who visited her in the hospital before the start of school. 

Fourth grade Defer Intermediate teachers Rhonda Ondash and Ashley Rimmel visit Makayla Claflin during her time in the hospital. “When we were at the hospital, she said ‘Look at the beautiful view. If I have to be in the hospital at least I can see all of that.'” Ondash said. “She was happy to watch the Blue Angels from her room.” 

“My favorite thing about having Mak as a student was seeing such a positive attitude from such a young student,” Ondash said.

During Claflin’s time at Henry Defer Intermediate School she joined the juggling club and became very close with Defer’s P.E. teacher, Chris Skeels. 

“I found out that Makayla had intentions of being in juggling club as a fifth grader so I went to her house to show her some juggling tips,” Skeels said. “I made several visits there throughout the summer and realized what a determined young lady she was.”

Claflin was an active child before her cancer diagnosis, participating in her favorite sport: soccer. After the diagnosis and treatments that followed, her body was too weak to continue playing.

After two and a half years of treatment, Claflin’s cancer went into remission. At the end of her sixth-grade year, Claflin’s teachers, Michelle Kravetz and Michelle Anderson, planned a celebration. 

“I was filled with pure happiness and joy,” Claflin recalled. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the support and kindness from my community. It truly was one of the best moments in my life.”

Claflin entered her freshman year this fall and joined the girl’s soccer team. While she had grown up playing and loving soccer, she did not realize how much her body had changed due to the cancer. She was heavily affected by the treatment and it left her weaker than she had realized. 

Claflin suffered a small stress fracture in her foot this past season because of weakness in her bones. 

Her teammate, freshman Grace Thomson, said, “Mak’s most valuable trait is that even though so much happened to her, she is always such a positive person.” 

One of Claflin’s sixth grade teachers, Michelle Kravetz who is now a principal at Defer Intermediate School, remembers her as a student with a great sense of humor. 

Former sixth grade teachers Michelle Kravetz and Michelle Anderson celebrate Makayla’s remission with a party. “The whole sixth grade was in attendance along with the Mayor of Streetsboro, Director of Curriculum and Superintendent. Her classmates juggled, made speeches, played the violin and made a slideshow for her. It was awesome!” Anderson said.

“My favorite thing about Makayla has always been her silly sense of humor. Despite the obstacles she has faced, Mak finds ways to laugh about daily life and is such a prankster.” Kravetz said, “One time she put potatoes all over my classroom, including in my coat pocket!”

Other than the occasional doctor’s appointment to check her levels, Claflin is fully back doing what she loves. Only between 15 to 20 adolescents who are treated and are in remission will have the disease return, according to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

She is now considered in the survivorship stage of the disease.

Even with Claflin’s extensive battle, “She’s a fighter and never gave up hope,” Rimmel said.