WATCH: BR local becomes youngest American in space Wednesday; see the SpaceX launch here
BATON ROUGE - Life hasn't always been an easy ride for 29-year-old Hayley Arceneaux.
At age 10, she was diagnosed with bone cancer.
"When I got that bone cancer diagnosis I was so scared. After the doctor told me I had cancer I just kept saying 'I don't wanna die. I don't wanna die.' And at age 10, everyone I knew with cancer had passed away," Arceneaux said.
Arceneaux spent a year at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, undergoing rigorous chemotherapy treatments and surgeries.
"I had surgery that was able to save my leg and ultimately my life," Arceneaux said.
Fast forward nearly two decades later, she's working her dream job at the same place she found hope as a child.
“Ever since I was a patient at St. Jude, I knew I wanted to grow up and work there. I just felt so close, part of the St. Jude family, and I was given so much hope that I wanted to share that hope with other kids going through the same thing.”
On Wednesday, she became the youngest American and first pediatric cancer survivor to go to space, among the first all-civilian crew without a professional astronaut aboard. Arceneaux was selected by billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman.
“I got a phone call out of the blue. St. Jude said they had something to talk to me about, a unique opportunity is what they called it, and then they started telling me about this mission. And how this first all civilian mission to space is being used for good and to bring awareness and fundraising to St. Jude.”
The mission, called Inspiration4, was pioneered by St. Jude Hospital and SpaceX to raise awareness and money for the hospital. They have a goal of raising 200 million dollars altogether.
Training for the mission began in March. Training was primarily academic, but the crew also spent a lot of time in a spacecraft simulator, spent a weekend training in fighter jets and underwent traditional astronaut training exercises, including centrifuge, water-survival and hypoxia training.
Like the name of the mission, she hopes to serve as an inspiration for children who are battling cancer.
“What I’m most excited about is being the first pediatric cancer survivor to go to space because I’m thinking about all these kids that are gonna come after me because just like me going through something difficult and then knowing that they can do big things," said Arceneaux.
If going to space wasn't enough, Arceneaux will also star among her crew members in a Netflix special called Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space. The first four episodes are available now with the finale airing later this month.
The Inspiration4 crew blasted off in a SpaceX dragon capsule spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Click here to see more information on the mission.
Click here to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which treats children around the world at no cost to their families.
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