It was a sunny afternoon in June 2005, and like many San Pedrans, Alicia Cline lined up excitedly to accept her high school diploma at Pirate Stadium, her family watching proudly from the stands. But unlike most graduates, as she made her way on crutches across the stage, rows of her classmates slowly rose to their feet and applauded her.
Only a year earlier, when most of her peers were worried about what they’d do over summer break, Cline faced a decision that could mean the difference between life or death: she had been diagnosed with stage four bone cancer after breaking her femur, and had to decide whether to have her leg amputated, or undergo a procedure that would save it, but at the cost of wearing a brace for the rest of her life.
Caught between the opinions of two doctors and her torn mother, the strong-willed 16-year-old opted for the choice with the best odds of survival. A few weeks after her seventeenth birthday, her right leg was amputated above her knee, and her life forever changed.
“Becoming sick makes you grow up really fast, and I think cancer really changed the person who I was. I was hell-bent on staying strong for my family,” says Cline, now 25 and finishing her bachelor’s degree in sociology at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
She still has the strong, witty, infectious and bluntly honest personality that helped her face cancer as a teen. It would help her again when her cancer returned twice in college: once in her lung, and again in an ovary. Today, Cline is officially in remission.
“When I found out, I just cried; it was such a huge relief. Thinking I might have cancer again every time I had an ache or pain for the past eight years was not fun.”
But despite all she’s endured, Cline will be the first to tell you that it could’ve been worse. While in treatment at Kaiser Permanente in Hollywood, she became friends with another teen in the pediatric ward named Joanna Cervantes. Sharing photos, they realized that they both went to San Pedro High and they both hung out in senior court.
Cervantes would also lose a limb in her fight against cancer.
“I chose to have my leg amputated, but she didn’t have a choice,” says Cline. “One night, it got really bad, and they had to take her arm. Later on, we both had recurrences, and unfortunately, she passed away.”
After months of chemotherapy, Cline returned to school for her senior year on crutches and a prosthetic wearing a wig and jeans. She got involved with a new club organizing SPHS’s first-ever Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The experience boosted her confidence and she decided she wasn’t going to hide beneath her wig and jeans anymore, boldly coming to school one day in a dress and no wig.
“People who knew my situation were supportive, but it wasn’t easy being open. High school kids can be mean.”
That May, Cline and her father, who had overcome Hodgkin’s lymphoma himself, were among the first group to complete the survivor’s lap at Relay. It’s an event she and her family still participate in today. Later that summer, they went on a family vacation to Disneyworld through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“It was hard to see her go through something like this and not be able to just fix it,” recalls her mother, Cathleen Cline Dovolis. “If it weren’t for our family’s support and especially our sense of humor, I don’t know how we would have survived the whole thing together. Laughter was a huge part of keeping us all sane during that time. Alicia is one special young lady. She is my true inspiration and the epitome of the word ‘survivor’ for sure.”
Cline also participates in Relay for Life at CSUDH, where she’s a member of several clubs and the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority. She’s taken an interest in disability studies, and is considering graduate school.
“Regardless of what I do with my degree, I want to help people. It would be cool if I could get involved with the American Cancer Society or some type of nonprofit that helps amputees or cancer patients,” she says.
Entering adult life as an amputee and three-time cancer survivor is an experience Cline doesn’t sugar coat. In the real world of student debt, a competitive job market and steep medical costs, she sometimes catches herself second guessing her decision, but ultimately knows she might not be here if she hadn’t bravely made it.
“My patience might be tested, I might get sad, but I know I can handle it and at the end of the day, I’m not dead,” Cline says. “My mantra and something I tell my boyfriend all the time is that it might not be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.” spt
Relay for Life will be held May 18 at San Pedro High School. For more info, visit www.relayforlife.org.