Fighting for her life

Freshman survives intense cancer treatment


Photo courtesy of Lily Dotson

Freshman Lily Dotson cuddles with her dog. She underwent two and a half years of intense treatment. “We are so thankful she continues to be a warrior even when people don’t see the battle,” mother Susie Dotson said. “We are proud of all she has overcome.”

Camille O'Neill, Sports Director

At the age of 5, freshman Lily Dotson was complaining of leg and stomach pain. Additionally, abnormal bruising appeared in random spots across her body. Upon a visit to the pediatrician’s office, Lily’s mom, Susie Dotson, was devastated by the news that Lily had cancer. Specifically, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. 

Over the next two and a half years, Lily Dotson would go through over 900 days of chemotherapy treatment, which came in many forms including a pill and an IV. She also had to get shots in her leg muscles because she was allergic to one of the drugs used in chemotherapy, and that was the next best option. 

“I was in disbelief when I first found out Lily had cancer,” mother Susie Dotson said. “I knew there was no time to have a meltdown and I went into robotic mode looking for ways to save my daughter’s life.”

Lily Dotson’s story is atypical, but not uncommon. Nationally, one in 185 children are diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday. 

In addition to the chemotherapy Lily Dotson endured, she also received over a dozen spinal taps, a procedure that put her to sleep and injected chemo into her spine so that it travels to her brain. They added several platelet and blood transfusions to save her life, all given by anonymous donors. Since she was high-risk, chemotherapy and blood transfusions were the only treatment options when it came to saving her life.

After two and a half years of chemotherapy, Lily Dotson was tested and she was cancer-free. Despite being cancer-free, there were still many side-effects that persisted long after chemo ended. The side effects can vary depending on which drugs are used during treatment.

“Sometime after chemo, she developed peripheral neuropathy, where her leg pain would keep her up at night or not let her engage in sports right away,” Susie Dotson said. “Also, chemo brain fog happened for a year after treatment. At her survivor clinic we learned her main drug used methotrexate (Lily had this in IV form & pill form) causes learning delays, ADD, anxiety and depression. We continue to check her heart and organs every couple years.”

Despite all of the treatment and the side effects, Lily Dotson takes life by storm and is involved in activities outside of Millard West. She plays on a girls flag football team and enjoys hanging out with her best friend, freshman Lizzie McCann. McCann and Lily Dotson have known each other since kindergarten, and have always been by each other’s side when they needed it most.

“We do a lot of fun things together,” McCann said. “We go to TopGolf, have sleepovers at her house and go to Vala’s. I don’t believe cancer has changed her that much. She has always been the main friend I have, and she is a really fun person to be around.”

The Dotson family also does a lot of fundraising to help find a cure for kids like Lily. They host two blood drives a year where donors can donate blood that is given to kids in need. Lily has also participated in two studies that raised $100,000 for pediatric cancer research. One of the studies is about the side effects of chemo and one of the studies is about pediatric cancer.

“I just want to say thank you to all the donors who have saved a life like mine,” Lily Dotson said. “I’m grateful for them because without them, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Lily Dotson has a 50% chance to get cancer a second time, and she will continue to get tested for cancer every year for the rest of her life. Despite what she has gone through, she is thriving and enjoys every second of what life has to offer.