Teen Cancer Survivors Celebrate High School Graduation at Sloan-Kettering

By Amanda Mikelberg on June 14, 2013 9:07am 

 Alexandra Donchak Capellini (r), who had her leg amputated when she was 7 because of bone cancer, wants to become a pediatric oncologist.
Alexandra Donchak Capellini (r), who had her leg amputated when she was 7 because of bone cancer, wants to become a pediatric oncologist.
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Sloan-Kettering

NEW YORK CITY — Packs of Kleenex were provided to the proud, teary-eyed parents gathered at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital to watch as their sons and daughters, who had all battled cancer, graduate high school.

"No graduation tops this graduation," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Thursday, addressing 30 beaming teenagers and their families at Sloan-Kettering Schools graduatuon. 

Natalia Harris, 17, from Manhattan, who was diagnosed with a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma, said she was empowered by her battle with cancer.

"I call myself the Bionic Woman. I have an internal prosthesis, a metal rod in my leg. It's kind of cool." Harris, who plans to attend Baruch College in the fall, told DNAinfo. 

Harris told her physical therapists, "I wanted to learn how to walk again in heels — because I wanted to be a model."

And last year, her dream came true when she walked the runway at New York Fashion Week in designer Terese Sydonna's show, and also was featured in a Dove shampoo commercial.

Sloan-Kettering Schools had a graduating class of 82 students, many of whom live across the nation.

Alexandra Donchak Capellini, 17, was also diagnosed with osteosarcoma when she was just 6, and had her right leg amputated at 7. With the help of a prosthesis, the Brooklyn-native learned to walk, ski, swim and rock climb, while earning her high school degree.

Capellini said cancer, and Sloan-Kettering, made her into a better person.  

"My priorities changed," said Capellini, who was the student speaker at Thursday's graduation. "I learned that there is no time to be impatient and there is no time to waste," Capellini told DNAinfo, who said she will be attending Johns Hopkins in the fall in hopes of becoming a pediatric oncologist one day.

"We did not put our lives on hold to deal with cancer," Capellini added. "We just realized that anything worth dreaming is worth doing."

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