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Louisiana cancer survivor likely to become first Cajun in space

9 months 2 weeks 9 hours ago Tuesday, February 23 2021 Feb 23, 2021 February 23, 2021 6:30 AM February 23, 2021 in News
Source: The Advocate

BATON ROUGE - A native of Baton Rouge with an impressive story of survival and determination has announced that her next feat is literally out of this world. 

Hayley Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor turned physician assistant at St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis is taking on outer space by becoming the youngest-ever American to fly into space, and probaly the first Cajun to make the trip, with SpaceX.

According to The Advocate, SpaceX recently announced that it would send four civilians into orbit aboard its Crew Dragon capsule, marking the first time that a crew without a single professional astronaut would fly into space.

As one of those private citizens, 29-year-old be Hayley Arceneaux, will be among the group venturing beyond terrestrial boundaries. 

The secret is finally out! Later this year I will be part of the first all-civilian mission to space! ??‍???? I am so...

Posted by Hayley Arceneaux on Monday, February 22, 2021

The trip came about thanks to Jared Isaacman, a billionaire who purchased the debut commercial astronaut rocket launch from SpaceX.

Isaacman donated three seats aboard the Inspiration 4 mission, one of them to a frontline St. Jude's Hospital worker who symbolized hope, Arceneaux was selected as the recipient of this unique position. 

Though now a physician assistant at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, nearly 20 years ago, Arceneaux was one of the facility's patients.

Born in Baton Rouge and raised in St. Francisville, she was only 10 years of age when doctors diagnosed her with with osteosarcoma in her left femur just above the knee.

Her treatment at St. Jude included chemotherapy and a then-breakthrough surgery in which most of her femur was removed and replaced with a prosthetic device that can expand without more surgery as she grew.

While at St. Jude, Arceneaux became an ambassador for the organization, telling her story to raise funds and awareness for the research hospital. She returned to the hospital for continuing care and became a summer intern in the Pediatric Oncology Education program in 2013 before becoming a physician assistant, which she calls her “dream job.”

As previously mentioned, during her 2002 treatment, part of her recovery procedures included the surgical placement of metal rods in her left leg. This means she will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to make the trip to space. 

Arceneaux alluded to this and to her battle with cancer, saying, “Until now, astronauts have been physically perfect. This mission is changing the mindset of what an astronaut has to look like. Not only is it going to mean so much to the kids to know that all of the people that are donating are helping them but also being able to see a survivor in space.”

The proud St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital spokesperson also says she feels honored to have been selected for the upcoming trip to space, saying, “It’s an incredible honor to join the Inspiration4 crew. This seat represents the hope that St. Jude gave me—and continues to give families from around the world, who, like me, find hope when they walk through the doors of St. Jude.”

Arceneaux went on to say, “When I was just 10 years old, St. Jude gave me the opportunity to grow up. Now I am fulfilling my dreams of working at the research hospital and traveling around the world. It’s incredible to be a part of this mission that is not only raising crucial funds for the lifesaving work of St. Jude but also introducing new supporters to the mission and showing cancer survivors that anything is possible.”

Isaacman has yet another seat available on the upcoming SpaceX flight that he intends to award to a yet-to-be-selected entrepreneur.

For a chance to join Arceneaux and Isaacman, donate through the inspiration4.com/donate portal in February.

“I just know how lucky I’ve been in life,” said Isaacman, who has no childhood cancers in his family. “Some don’t get a chance to grow up and experience anything like what I’ve been fortunate to experience, and that bothers me. That’s a big problem, and I feel like we need to do something about it.”

According to The Advocate, Arceneaux said she's had no second thoughts since agreeing to the trip.

“There is nothing they could have told me that would have kept me from going,” she said. “I realized how monumental it was but also what a big honor it was and what an incredible honor this is for St. Jude.”

Arceneaux has spent time with Isaacman twice at SpaceX headquarters in California going over plans for the mission. SpaceX will guide the mission from the ground, but Isaacman will be in charge should the spacecraft need to be controlled while in space, The Advocate reports.

“He’s making safety his No. 1 priority,” Arceneaux said. “He’s just such a natural commander and leader. He was born to command a mission in space. I just completely trust him.”

But official training for space flight begins once the final two astronauts are chosen, Arceneaux said.

During the mission, Arceneaux said she expects to contact her patients from space, so they can see the wide range of possibilities available to anyone, including those who are battling cancer.

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