Lana Dobson’s love for gymnastics began at three-years-old.
“It was all I did,” she said with a simple shoulder shrug.
After a few years it was obvious that Lana had a future in the sport.
"We were looking Junior Olympics, we were looking UCLA,” her dad, Brian Dobson said. “She had her path planned at eight years old."
Part of Lana’s ability had nothing to do with balance beam skills or bar swings. When it came down to it, she was just one tough athlete.
"Being a gymnast your hands bleed, your ankles hurt,” Brian explained. “You compete with fractures, breaks, you don't say a word because you're a gymnast.”
So in 2015 when Lana had a nagging pain in her ankle, the Dobsons got her an appointment with an orthopedic and didn’t expect to hear anything out of the ordinary.
"It started off as what was supposed to be an injury and then was a tendon, an Achilles tendon, pulled muscle and then her orthopedic actually saw the abnormalities in an x-ray,” Brian said. “The tendon injury didn’t heal right, and we said, ‘dude something is wrong. Find it.’ And, he found it.”
It turned out, the pain didn’t come from a gymnastics injury at all. Instead, at 11-years-old, Lana was diagnosed with Leukemia.”
"I was devastated because since I did gymnastics I was thinking what am I going to do!" Lana exclaimed. “I don’t’ think they’ve had a gymnast before. I mean, they hadn’t had a competitive one like I was.”
"It sucked!” Brian said.
“Big time,” his wife and Lana’s mother Tiffany added.
“We were a gymnastics family 24-7, 365,” said Brian. “It kind of consumed us all to the point of that’s all we wanted to do.
“It's like being in a fog and everything is going on around you and you have no idea what's going on."
Treatments began immediately and through it all the Dobsons still had hope. Maybe, Lana could return to gymnastics when all is said and done.
However, after a couple of years and Lana now suffering from weak bones due to the cancer treatments, her doctor had to deliver the second bit of life-changing news.
"He said I hate to say it, this is the last thing I want to tell anybody, but it's done. It’s over,” Brian said. “We couldn’t run the risk of her doing anything, because if she had tried to vault she would have shattered her leg. And a shattered leg with cancer? No. There’s too many risks that are involved with that.”
So suddenly, Lana and the Dobsons had to find a new path. What they didn’t know, was a guy they had met for a matter of minutes in a hospital room, was about to change everything.
“When he walked in I thought, ‘Who is this burn-out?’” Brian said with a laugh. “When it started, there was just too much. I mean, there were people coming in every five or ten minutes.”
Music therapist Brett Northrup is used to meeting young people on the worst day of their lives – and that was exactly when he was introduced to Lana.
"She had just been diagnosed with cancer so there was a lot going on. It was a really heavy room,” Brett said holding his ukulele in his hands, something he’s rarely seen without. “I remember her being really shy and everyone was just overwhelmed.”
As part of Norton’s “Cancer Beats” program, Brett has seen the power music has I helping pediatric cancer patients tackle the different life now in front of them.
"For Lana, she was a gymnast. That was still her focus,” he explained. “So to think about other things it was kinda like, 'You want me to do what!? You want me to play music? For real? Why would I want to do that!?' And so, I think it’s just a matter of building a relationship and helping people realize that there are other things we can do to help cope with what’s going on.”
"It took him almost 2 years to get her to go,” Brian said. “It finally got to the point where he walked in and said, 'You know what, I'm done, pick it up let's go.' She went from, ‘Nope. Nope. Nope,’ to, ‘this is kinda cool!’
"I thought I guess I'll try it since I didn't have really anything else to do,” Lana said with a smile.
“Once he finally cracked the shell, it was over with,” Brian chuckled.
Lana had never played a musical instrument before, so this was an unexpected connection; and suddenly, that hole that was left by gymnastics started to fill with music.
"Just seeing her just perform again and do what she loves again -- the newfound love per say,” said Tiffany. “It brought tears to our eyes!”
"Now she’s playing the ukulele and UCLA has changed from gymnastics to she's going to pursue a medical degree at UCLA,” Brian said. “It’s just, you know, different stuff that’s happened. The ukulele has brought her back out of her shell.”
"It's hard and everything like if you're going through something, whether it's something small or something really big, it's really hard but at the end it's worth it,” Lana said. “If you can’t do one thing, you can find another thing to do and it’s like, you’ll get through it.”
You can see Lana perform at this year’s “Chili’s Clip for Kids” event held at Fourth Street Live. For more information on that event: www.clipforkids.org
Plus, for more information on Norton Children’s Hospital “Cancer Beats” program: www.nortonchildrens.com/cancer-beats