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Westfield grad shares story of cancer journey, recovery

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — “You’ve already chosen the harder thing to do,” a physical therapist at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health told Emily Settle as she attempted to walk on a straight line. 

The fact that she’s even walking at all is progress considering what she’s been through the past few years. 

“Doctors told me, ya know, ‘Emily, you might not ever walk again by yourself, you might have brain damage,’ and I was like ‘Hell no. I am not using a walker for the rest of my life, I was a D1 athlete.’”

Settle became sick her freshman year of college while attending Southern Illinois University. She was on the school’s cross country and track teams.

“I ran every meet. But you know, looking back, I’m glad I did I was in a shape physical state where I could — it would save my life,” said Emily. 

In late April 2016, Emily started to fall back on her runs. She was tired all the time. And her neck was stiff. She relayed the information to her mom in a phone call. 

“She was like, ‘Oh my gosh you have meningitis,’ and I was like ‘Really?’” said Settle. “She told me, ‘You need to go to the health center right away.’” 

“The doctor called me within a half hour and it’s like that’s never good when the doctor calls you,” said Sandy Settle, Emily’s mom. 

It was not meningitis. It was leukemia. 

“I cried, I mean, ya know, nobody wants to hear that, but it’s just like you’ve got two ways to look at it, you either going to fight it or sit back and let it happen,” said Settle. 

Emily was sent to a hospital in St. Louis where she spent some time in the Intensive Care Unit eventually received a stem cell transplant. 

“After the first transplant, I wasn’t really sick and I thought and thought ‘Well dang, I can have cancer all the time, I can do this all the time’ and then I relapsed.”

The leukemia was back and so was her fight. 

“I was ready.”

She had returned home to Westfield and was receiving care at Riley Hospital for Children where doctors prepared her for a second stem cell transplant. 

“She had seen so much therapy even before transplant and so she was weak when she started out with us. All of us went into that transplant very nervous that we wouldn’t be able to cure the disease or if we could cure her disease that she would experience potential life threatening or life-ending complications from that therapy,” said Dr. Jodi Skiles, Director of Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant at Riley Hospital for Children. 

Skiles said Settle was very sick during the transplant but is now in remission. 

“She is incredibly resilient,” said Skiles. 

“I’ve been given a second chance, I can go and I can change what I didn’t like before I can, not a lot of people get that and I can try to give people hope because you know, cancer sucks, but it makes you realize how precious life is,” said Settle. 

As the sign next to the Settle’s fireplace says, ‘Life is a journey. Not a destination.’ 

“Through all of this, we’re like yep, this is why God made her the way he did. She’s tough,” said Sandy Settle.

The past few years of Emily’s life have not been easy, but she’s going exactly where she needs to go with every step she takes in physical therapy.