EARLY YEARS: Roanoke Valley childhood cancer survivor continuing to advocate for young cancer patients

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Cancer survivor-turned-advocate Juanita Prada encourages young patients to speak up for themselves
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 5:41 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -When you meet Juanita Prada, you can tell right away that she’s a force.

The Roanoke Valley native survived two rounds of childhood cancer.

“About 20 years ago, because it was August 28, 2003, I got diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a very common type of childhood cancer,” says Prada.

Now 30, Prada says she spent much of her childhood and adolescence in a hospital.

Her treatment came with some major ups and downs.

“When I went in to get my portacath, the treatment, the procedure went wrong, very wrong. And they cut a vein that they were not supposed to, I got an infection. Many things happened during that procedure,” she says.

Afterwards, she was in a coma for a month. Then she sustained a stroke, and had to re-learn how to to do everything. Once she was well enough to return to school, Prada still struggled.

“And I just noticed how challenging it was going back to school. I wasn’t the same person anymore. Again, my brain was of a four-year-old, not a 10-year old. So, that meant doing everything over again,” says Prada.

Treatment messed with her body, physically and emotionally.

“I think my anger was why can’t I be with my friends, at the same level as my friends, in the same classes as my friends?”

Unfortunately, her battle with cancer wasn’t over. Prada relapsed, and had to go back to the hospital. After another two and a half years of treatment, she was able to resume her education.

Through hard work and determination, Prada ended up graduating from high school, and then college. Events she calls her “Behold, Be Gold” moments.

“Behold, Be Gold. It’s to perceive an unstoppable force of positivity, ambition and resiliency that arises within you while undergoing the late effects and challenges that come with surviving childhood cancer,” says Prada.

What she says many people don’t know is that the late effects of childhood cancer go beyond the physical, and can affect every aspect of a young person’s life.

Prada’s movement, “Behold, Be Gold” advocates for young patients, and encourages families to always speak up.

“Always ask questions and advocate for yourself. Advocate for your child. That’s really what Behold Be Gold is about,” says Prada.

If you want to take part in Prada’s fundraiser for her awareness movement, you’ll find a link here to purchase a “Behold, Be Gold” t-shirt.

You can also listen to our entire interview with Prada in our latest “Early Years” podcast here.