DEL MAR — As a cancer survivor, Chelsea Street knows the importance of funding research to find a cure. But she has no knowledge of the pain, fear and anxiety that accompany treatment, which is why she is devoted to raising money to fight the disease.
Diagnosed with leukemia when she was 18 months old, Street spent the next year and a half of her life in the hospital.
At 3 she was declared cancer-free and has been in remission ever since.
“I definitely remember a lot of the follow-up and maintenance but I remember none of my treatment,” said Street, now 23. “I don’t remember the actual chemo or being in the hospital, which is a blessing and a curse.
“I spent a lot of time not understanding why it was important, that it was part of my story,” she added. “Also there’s a disconnect from the community. Walking around saying I’m a survivor feels very different to me and almost unearned compared to other people who do remember their story.
“When people are sharing their experiences, going through chemo and having their families with them and remembering what that was like — I have absolutely no ability to relate to that, so fundraising is my way of making it real,” the Del Mar resident said.
Street said her family didn’t talk much about her ordeal while she was growing up.
“But whenever we did it was with a lot of grace and a lot of joking,” she said. “I have a bunch of scars all over me. When I was younger we used to make up stories for why those scars existed.
“Scar from ‘The Lion King’ attacked me one day but I won the fight,” she recalled. “I was a Frankenstein experiment and I survived. I got attacked by an octopus, but I survived, of course.”
She also didn’t talk about it with her classmates.
“In high school some people knew but I never really told anybody,” Street said. “I purposefully wore clothes to cover everything up.”
It wasn’t until she and her father began touring college campuses that she truly understood the severity of her early childhood situation.
“My dad showed me a video he made immediately following my treatment,” she said. “It was a thank you to my supporters. It showed video clips of when I was a baby, when I was in the hospital and my parents.
“Seeing yourself in a video in a way you can’t really relate to is pretty surreal,” she added. “But as I moved into this new phase of college my dad thought it was really important that I actually knew what my story was, which I really appreciate.
“At that moment it became real and it became really clear to me how important it was that I make that part of my more verbal, vocalized story because I never talked about it up until that moment.”
While attending San Diego State University, majoring in communications and international studies, Street began advocating for cancer patients.
“I’ve always been called Mamma Chelsea,” she said. “I just love taking care of people, serving people. Ever since I was in junior high people called me that. So moving into a more formal role with it was kind of natural.”
During her sophomore year she became involved with Relay for Life, which raises funds for cancer research.
“Our team raised over $2,500 in four weeks,” she said. “It was awesome because we found out about it last minute. We were stoked.”
That same year she started a club called Blankets for Patients.
“We would make blankets for people living at the Ronald McDonald House,” Street said.
“I was mentoring freshmen at the time and running a Bible study with them. I wanted to do something service-oriented and this was a really easy thing we could do together and give back.
“That was born because when I was going through treatment a third-grade class heard about my story and they made a quilt for me,” she added.
“Every student drew or wrote a message on a quilt square and the teacher sewed it together. I still have it.”
Street spent one semester studying at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. While there she participated in the Letters for Santa campaign, in which Macy’s donates $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for every letter written to Santa Claus.
“We got 2,000 people to write letters,” she said. “It was crazy because there were only about 4,000 (undergraduate) students at Dartmouth at the time, so we got nearly half the student body to write letters, which is awesome. We had such a fun time with it.”
Her most recent fundraising effort is the Woman of the Year campaign for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She is one of six female nominees trying to raise the most money during the 10-week completion, which culminates with a May 14 gala at the Hard Rock Hotel downtown.
With the slogan #100kbymay, her goal is to make history by raising $100,000 by then.
“I want to set a San Diego record and raise the most funds,” she said. “I want to be the youngest person to win it in San Diego.”
She organized a “Padres vs. Cancer” night during the April 22 home game, selling about 250 tickets. Street also has a yoga event planned in Encinitas and she hopes to raise more money during the gala.
With no need for medications or constant follow-up appointments, Street said her day-to-day life is not the same as many people who are fighting cancer. But she does live differently because of her history.
“Everyone has a story,” she said. “Looking at me on the street you have no idea what I’ve been through, so that makes me look at other people in a different way. I’m more curious about meeting people because you really have no idea what somebody else is working on or has been through.
“I’m a big advocate for recognizing the importance of each story, whether it’s in regard to a medical issue, like mine, or a family issue or cultural heritage or a traumatic event,” she added. “It’s all important and it’s necessary that it’s shared in due time.”
She also has a message for families going through experiences similar to hers.
“Reach out for help and support,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to lean on people. God has a way of making that memory beautiful and positive, especially for a younger person. I think He has some sort of masterful plan for erasing the negative somehow.”
She recently shared her story with the family of a 4-year-old who is now remission. The mother said Street’s story of only remembering the positives gave her hope.
It is an overall message of hope that drives Street.
“If you’re going through this, there is hope on the other side,” she said. “There’s hope beyond it Erase the fear that this is something you’re going to live with your entire life. Live through it. Live because of it.”
Email email@example.com or visit mwoy.org/sd and click on Street’s picture for more information or to donate to her campaign.