Maybe it is in her poems, which are written out by hand in a journal in loopy teenager’s script and include lines like: “Lost in my mind I discover secrets/Secrets are like diamonds, shiny and special.”
Or from her beloved Shih Tzu, Chip, who has remained at her side since Carly was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of seven in 2003.
It came as an utter shock, said her mother, Lisa Horner.
“She was the healthiest, most physically fit little seven year old you’d ever meet,” said Horner, who lives in a tidy Middle Village home where Carly was raised with her younger sister Juliana.`“Devastation would be an understatement.”
The diagnosis set Carly on a painful path of chemotherapy, missed school and hospital stays that continue to this day. Most of all, it forced her to confront questions of life and death that few elementary school students can fathom.
“It’s kind of hazy,” Carly said of her memories of the difficult first days and weeks she spent coming to terms with her illness.
The quiet, well-spoken teen, dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and colorful fleece slippers, was seated on the couch in her living room beside her mother and Chip, who lay fast asleep on a nearby cushion.
She paused, choosing her words carefully.
“I do remember asking a lot of questions," she said. "The main question was am I going to live. That was always a scary one because I didn’t know what cancer was, really.”
By now, Carly and her mother know enough about her form of leukemia to write a textbook, or at least a well-informed poem or three.
Carly was removed from the School of Heroes in Maspeth before starting second grade, and underwent more than two years of chemotherapy.
The treatment seemed to work; she went into remission, and even returned to P.S. 58, where, with the help of a professional assistant, she was able to graduate with honors.
But in December of 2008, Carly relapsed. The news was a second blow for Carly’s family, even harder to stomach, in some ways, than learning of the initial diagnosis five years earlier.
Once again she was forced to drop out of school, and begin an aggressive, high-dose chemotherapy treatment. Carly, her mother and her father, Carlos Nieves, chose this method over a bone marrow transplant.
The chemo was painful, and losing her hair was not easy. But Carly, who possesses uncommon patience for someone her age, said even the thought of going bald wasn’t what worried her most. Missing school was the worst part.
“My social life was kind of going down because I was in the hospital” more often than not last year, she said. And “when you’re home it’s kind of depressing because you don’t feel good.”
Yet somehow, despite the odds, Carly rallied again.
Her cancer has since gone back into remission; the end of her chemotherapy treatment is in sight. A full head of dark curly hair has grown back. And best of all, as an outpatient at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center, the days of extended hospital stays are over.
Most teenagers would use that as an excuse to distance themselves, as quickly as possible, from the world of doctors, charts and waiting rooms.
But Carly returns, in order to volunteer with other leukemia-stricken children. She has formed lasting friendships, and the work seems to have ignited a new spark of hope in Carly’s family.
Earlier this year, they began organizing a blood and bone marrow drive.
It will take place at Christ the King High School, located at 68-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, on December 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. If it is successful, said Horner, Carly’s mother, it could become a biennial event.
“I will never have an answer for why she got leukemia in the first place, let alone relapsed after three years of no treatment,” said Horner. But “we have to make a positive out of the nightmare she’s been in.”
For more information about the blood drive, or to make an appointment to donate, please contact Lisa Horner at email@example.com