The beads are draped across the biggest stuffed unicorn of them all on a couch in the living room of Addison Rivera’s house.
They symbolize different hospital stays, surgeries and appointments for Addison, an 8-year-old Valencia resident who feels the necklaces — and the weight of her predicament — get heavier each day.
But she’s facing her struggles with as much determination as any sick kid could.
Since October, Addison has been fighting acute lymphatic leukemia. From day to day, despite the pain, she tries to keep her focus not on her condition, but on the strength that these stuffed unicorns adorning her couch give her.
“They have magical powers,” she said of the unicorns. There’s a pink plush one, a larger white one with huge eyes, Pillow Pets and more, all supporting her in her battle.
“I’ve always liked unicorns, because they heal people,” she said. Thus, Addison and her mom have begun a campaign to make sure she can “‘fight like a unicorn” for the remainder of her battle.
“They heal people, and as long as I believe in them,” Addison said. “That means I’m gonna get better.”
Addison’s journey began after her grandfather died in July after an accident on a road trip. Between traveling around the United States preparing the proper accommodations, Addison’s mother, Cassandra, assumed Addison’s complaints about leg pain were just from the stress of travel.
“There’s no way to tell if it’s leukemia from the get-go,” Cassandra said. Addison has b-cell leukemia of the acute lymphatic sort. There is a decent rate of remission, Cassandra said, but Addison would have to go through a lot to get it.
Addison began to fight. She kept her spunky attitude as best as she could.
“It’s nice because, even though I want to go back to school and I get bored, there’s other good parts,” she said of her sickness. “I get to sit home and watch TV, too. And at least I don’t have to eat that cafeteria food, because it’s gross!”
“Addison knows how to say, ‘I wish I could do this,’” Cassandra said. “But then she’ll bounce back and say, ‘I also get to do this though.’ She has a very positive attitude toward the whole thing.”
For Addison, her ability to keep up the positive attitude each month was a little different, as she had to go through different rounds of treatments and surgeries. She has had nine so far — they are usually painful and involve injecting the chemotherapy into her spinal fluid. Some days, she was her spunky self, as chatty as always. Other days, she was tired and cranky. It was hard.
But things were looking up, Cassandra said. Addison met her personal hero, Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, after the congresswoman heard of Addison’s predicament. The two were able to eat a mac-and-cheese lunch and they talked over FaceTime on Addison’s birthday.
Other ways the community has stepped up have mattered, too. Cassandra’s college friend made a design of a “dabbing” unicorn, posing in an action of putting its arms above its head while facing down. This popular gesture was meant to convey a silly moment for these healing creatures, Addison said.
She got the design screen printed on a pink shirt, but soon enough, “Everyone in town wanted one!” she said.
The pink, “Fight Like a Unicorn” shirts are on sale for $18. Each time Addison is nervous about undergoing treatment, people have sent her pictures on Instagram and Facebook in the pink shirts.
“It gives me strength,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m not alone!”
Shirts can be bought at Addison’s Facebook page, found here.