From cancer child to distinguished graduate
Published: Thursday June 02, 2011
Cleveland - Alique Gabrielle Topalian continues to remain the consummate poster child for her generation.
As a child of 4, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia --- a rare cancer that starts inside the bone marrow and usually targets children. Her prognosis was not favorable. Doctors felt she would need a bone marrow transplant to survive and a match couldn't be found.
After nine months of chemotherapy treatments, some of which was experimental, she went into remission and has been cancer-free ever since the loss of vision in one eye and a learning disability in math and science has only heightened her ability to excel.
Come June 5, she will graduate with distinction from Beaumont High School, an elite private Catholic all-girls' school in Cleveland Heights. Although the school doesn't rank its students, her near 4.0 GPA would have qualified for valedictorian status.
She's been playing tennis ever since her post-cancerous days, even receiving awards from the sport. But more the scholar as evidenced by her Cum Laude on a National Latin Exam and editor of her school paper.
The list goes on, reading like a veritable Who's Who with Shakespearean recitations to Congressional commendations, a Capitol Hill lobbyist and Armenian community activist like her prominent dad Mourad and her dedicated mom Michele Seyranian.
No fewer than six universities throughout the land have offered scholarships with Ohio University winning her acceptance. She will soon embark upon an undergraduate degree in Psychology while working toward a doctorate and her ultimate dream.
More than anything, this 17-year-old coed has yearned for a career to help others in the same manner she was helped.
"I tend to be very compassionate and care deeply for others around me," she says. "I want to make a large difference in the world. You meet people who have gone through the same treatment and it helps to realize that people do survive and thrive afterward."
Much of it has to do with the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry which she has promoted over the past decade. As a Leukemia Lymphoma Society Girl of the Year, she has held her title proudly, speaking at teachers' workshops and offering inspiration to other childhood victims and survivors.
"School is a way for me to further my education," she emphasizes. "As a cancer survivor, I've had to work much harder than most kids to achieve these grades. My dream is to impact the world and help others who have gone through similar situations, perhaps help find a cure for cancer. It may sound like a cliché because I know so many others who wish the same thing."
An uncle is fighting a 3-year battle with bone cancer and Alique is there on the front lines, working with doctors and hospitals. Mike Topalian stood by his niece when she was faced with the ordeal. Now she's doing the same for him.
"Because of her work with patients and their families, Alique was selected for an internship at The Gathering Place, which researches cancer," said her dad. "Mike's cancer is in the late stages and he's suffering a lot with it but never complains or tells anyone about the pain. Alique is by his side doing all she can to ease the torment."
As a passionate spokeswoman, Alique addressed the Armenian Bone Marrow Registry's annual benefit this past year. It was nothing new for the teenager. She's been making these speeches right along.
Her talk was motivational. Alique told of how she valued her heritage and the importance of being a donor. She spoke about people helping people and how the younger generation can make a difference at an age when many like her are getting a bad rap.
"People wonder why there must be an organization specifically designated to Armenians," she told the gathering. "We are a strong people with a beautiful history of survival and a unique genetic makeup, making it difficult to find matches within the international registries."
There was the time when she was that little girl needing a bone marrow transplant. Her parents were told she had a 20 percent chance of survival. A match was never found, even with her own family. As it turned it, her cancer went into remission through extensive chemo treatments. As a fifth-grader, Alique was named Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Girl of the Year and has been touted by the Bone Marrow Registry for meritorious service.
"Many other Armenians in my situation were not as fortunate," she said, thanking all those who stepped forward to register. "Your dream of helping to save a little girl has grown into this organization. Now it's become a large part of my life."
Since its inception in 1999, it has grown to great extents. Six years later, the Mariana Kazarian Center opened in Los Angeles. In 2007, the Registry opened its new Stem Cell Harvest Center in Yerevan, which offers transplants to may Armenians with cancer, diabetes and heart ailments. Last year another Harvesting Center was launched in Armenia.
"Everything in the world happens for a reason," Alique pointed out. "The nine months of suffering I endured along with my family has helped save the lives of multiple Armenians around the world. By seeing the progress over the past 11 years, I can only anticipate greater things to come."
The youngest of six children, Alique speaks about cancer in much the same way an authority on the subject might. She addresses teachers' workshops and converses with friends on the street. The ambassadorship in her knows no boundaries.
She's even spoken on Capitol Hill in Washington, lobbying for dollars to gain support for pediatric cancer research.
"I talk to them when a student has cancer and how to help them return to school when they're out for treatments," says Alique. "Cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence. In fact, it's made me stronger. You can only hold a grudge for so long and learn to live every day to the fullest."