She Beat Cancer at 10. Now She’ll Join SpaceX’s First Private Trip to Orbit.

The Four Percent


Hayley Arceneaux, 29, had hoped this would be the year that she would complete her aim of visiting all seven continents before she turned 30.

She will not have time to do that, though.

She is going to space.

Ms. Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, will be one of four people on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Florida. Scheduled to launch late this year, it is to be the first crewed mission to circle Earth in which no one on board is a professional astronaut.

“I did ask, ‘Am I going to get a passport stamp for going to space?’” Ms. Arceneaux said. “But I don’t think I’m going to. So I’m just going to draw a star and the moon in one of my passports.”

This adventure is spearheaded by Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire who announced in January that he had bought the rocket launch from SpaceX, the space company started by Elon Musk. Mr. Isaacman said at the time that he wanted the mission to be more than a jaunt for the superwealthy, and that he had given two of the four available seats to St. Jude.

Dr. Michael D. Neel, the orthopedic surgeon who installed Ms. Arceneaux’s prosthesis, says that although having artificial leg bones means that she can’t play contact sports on Earth, they should not limit her on this SpaceX trek.

Her mom did not object.

Ms. Arceneaux walked into St. Jude for the first time in 2002. She was 10. Not long before, she had earned her black belt in taekwondo, but she was complaining of pain in her leg. Her mother saw a bump protruding over the left knee. The pediatrician in the small town of St. Francisville, La., where they lived, not far from Baton Rouge, told them that it looked like a cancerous tumor.

“We all fell apart,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I remember just being so scared because at age 10, everyone I had known with cancer had died.”

At St. Jude, doctors provided the good news that the cancer had not spread to other parts of her body. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy, an operation to install the prosthetic leg bones and long sessions of physical therapy.

Even at that young age, bald from chemotherapy, Ms. Arceneaux was helping at fund-raisers for St. Jude. The next year, Louisiana Public Broadcasting honored her with one of its Young Heroes awards.

“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse at St. Jude,” she said in a video shown at the ceremony in 2003. “I want to be a mentor to patients. When they come in, I’ll say, ‘I had that when I was little, and I’m doing good.’”

Last year, Ms. Arceneaux was hired by St. Jude. She works with children with leukemia and lymphoma, such as a teenage boy she talked with recently.

“I shared with him that I also lost my hair,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I told him: ‘You can ask me anything. I’m a former patient. I’ll tell you the truth, anything you want to know.’ And he said, ‘Will you really tell me the truth?’ And I said yes.”

His burning question: “Are you the one going to space?”

Ms. Arceneaux had to dodge. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll see who gets announced.’” she said. “But I think he knew because then he and his dad were like “Yeah!” and high-fived.”



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