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  • Amber's Story: Photo Queen to Sweet Sixteen

    Amber DaRosa with Red Sox player David OrtizIn 2004, Amber and Ortiz were a lucky duo. 

    Ten years ago, her face seemed to be everywhere. Amber DaRosa was a 6-year-old with a big smile and beautiful bald head, and a 2004 photo of the young cancer patient posing with Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was spread across banners, billboards, and advertisements — a powerful symbol of the Red Sox-Jimmy Fund relationship.

    Fast forward a decade, and DaRosa has a full head of hair that she draped down over one shoulder at her recent Sweet Sixteen party. She's a high school sophomore, a dancer, and the acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) she battled at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is in complete remission.

    She still, however, has a soft spot for Big Papi.

    "Every time David Ortiz does something great, my friends will all be like, 'That's your boy,'" DaRosa says with a laugh. "I don't remember much about taking that picture, but people kept seeing it in different places for years. It's a fun part of my life."

    DaRosa prefers to focus on the "fun" parts of her ALL treatment, which began in August 2002. Her mother Amy, of course, remembers the scary side, starting when she took a lethargic Amber to her pediatrician's office a week before her fourth birthday.

    Amber DaRosa with friends when they were youngerAmber (right) met fellow patients Julia Levine (left) and Carly Laverty in the Jimmy Fund Clinic, and they have been friends ever since. 

    "They did a blood test, looked it over, and immediately sent us across the street to Boston Children's Hospital," says Amy DaRosa. "We found out she had leukemia the next day and needed two years of treatment. It was like our world was turned upside down."

    For Amber, however, there were still special moments — like a surprise in the Jimmy Fund Clinic on her fifth birthday. "My nurse Katie and doctor Elly Falzarano brought in a birthday cake for me, and gave me a Polly Pockets doll," she remembers. "They were so nice. I couldn't wait to come into the clinic for my appointments and to look for Katie and Lisa."

    That's nurse Katie O'Shea Munroe, RN, CPON, and Director of Patient and Family Programs for Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Lisa Scherber, both of whom loved seeing the photos of a grown-up Amber in her Sweet Sixteen dress.

    "It's very satisfying and uplifting how far Amber has come, and instills the feeling of hope," says Munroe. "Seeing her going through natural milestones like this is awesome, and I want to share pictures like this with some of my current patients – because when you're in treatment, it's hard to look that far ahead."

    Amber DaRosa with friendsAt her Sweet 16 party this summer, Amber posed again with Laverty (left) and Levine. 

    Among the older photos, the iconic August 2004 image at Fenway served as a good luck charm for all involved. Amber finished her ALL treatment a month later, and Ortiz led the Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years the month after that. Two more titles came in 2007 and 2013, and he's still smashing homers for the Sox today.

    In January, 2005, Amy gave birth to another daughter, Tori. She doesn't understand much about her big sister's cancer journey, but as a 9-year-old is planning to cut off her own long hair for a donation to Locks of Love — a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada suffering from medical hair loss. "I'm proud of her," says Amber.

    These days Amber only needs to visit Dana-Farber once a year for check-ups at the Perini Family Survivors Center, but thoughts of Dana-Farber and Boston Children's are never far from her mind. Two of her closest friends are fellow survivors she met during treatment, and her dream is to return to the Institute someday as a nurse.

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