Ariana Grace Arntson’s senior photo. The Pelican Rapids High School Class of 2021 graduate went from commencement ceremonies to a leukemia diagnosis in less than 30 days.

Pelican students diagnosis with rare form of leukemia came within a month of commencement

Tears of joy were hardly dry for a Pelican Rapids 2021 graduate and her family—when tears of fear, aprehension and sorrow began. 

Earning her diploma on May 26 at the Pelican High School commencement, Ariana Grace Arntson was diagnosed less than 30 days later with a rare form of Leukemia. 

Feeling tired and achey, Ariana was concerned as she worked at the ARCO convenience store.  Her mother, Irina Christenson, also determined that her daughter was noticeably pale. 

It was  an unfamiliar condition for Ariana, an active student who had been with Pelican dance programs since age 4.  She also danced with the Valkyries competitive varsity squad. And—she was looking ahead to a possible career in special education 

At an initial medical appointment in Fergus Falls June 24—the young graduate was hospitalized almost immediately in Fargo. 

Further testings confirmed Acute promyeloctyic leukemia (APL).  It’s an aggressive form, but the family has a bright ray of hope, said Irina last week. 

Rather than chemotherapy, this form of leukemia is treated with “straight poison, with a form of arsenic.” 

Frightening as that sounds, the bright side is that the APL variant generally responds better to treatment. 

“We have a glimpse of good news …that’s what we are hanging onto,” said Irina. 

As Irina explained it:

The goal of her medical team is to get her in remission in 28 days. If that does not happen they shoot for 56 days. 

In 28 days she will have another bone marrow biopsy and blood draw to see how she is responding, that would determine if she would need another round of 28 day treatment or she can go to 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off treatment.

Irina described it as the “perfect plan” if all goes well—and the prayers for Ariana keep coming. 

“The goal is to get her in remission so we don’t need a bone marrow transplant,” said Irina.  Ariana has been at Sanford Fargo since June 25.

Under the best case, “perfect” plan the family is praying for, the young lady has an 80 percent chance of beating it—as opposed to 20 percent. That is a bit of an over-simplification, but it is a scenario that bolsters  family optimism. 

Sanford has encountered only a few cases of this form of leukemia in the last  couple years.

Even under the perfect plan, four months of alternating outpatient and inpatient treatments are likely.

Ariana had just completed training and testing to be a para-professional at the Pelican Rapids schools.  She had worked as a student aide with special needs classmates, and was well-suited. 

“We always knew she was one of a kind,” said Irina of her daughter.  “She is a special kid, with a big heart.  She’s always been there for others.  She loves working with the special education students … and it really shows.” 

“That kind of work is not for everyone, but she has the heart to go in that direction,” said Irina. 

Ariana has a solid plan for her future.  She intends to work as a special ed para for two years, gaining experience—while earning and saving money–with the goal of attending college for a special education degree. 

When she overcomes this “beast,” as he mother described it, Ariana will be ready to move onward. 

“We want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support, the flowers, the prayers, the baskets of goodies.  It is really brightening her spirit,” said Irina. “Continue praying. It’s a long road.”