Astronaut-in-Training Hayley Arceneaux Shares Message for Kids with Cancer: You Can Go to Space Too

The St. Jude physician assistant underwent a year of intense chemotherapy and several surgeries at the age of 10

Astronaut-in-Training Hayley Arceneaux
Photo: Courtesy St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Hayley Arceneaux is heading to space — and along the way, she's taking PEOPLE readers inside her out-of-this-world experience by sharing her personal diary entries. Though the 29-year-old has a career as a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she beat cancer at the age of 10, Arceneaux is adding astronaut to her resume by training for the first all-civilian mission into outer space alongside billionaire Jared Isaacman (the Shift4 Payments CEO who is sponsoring the SpaceX flight), Christopher Sembroski and Dr. Sian Proctor. Together they are striving to "inspire support for the lifesaving work of St. Jude," the hospital says of its $200 million fundraising goal. Before the Inspiration4 crew blasts off to space for a three-day mission this fall, check for more entries from Arceneaux's diary.

When I got back from training at SpaceX a few weeks ago, I did one of the most special things I've ever done at St. Jude, which is where I was treated for childhood cancer and it's where I work now as a physician assistant. I was invited to speak to some of our patients who attend the grade school program on the hospital campus. The school is where our patients can keep up their studies and have as much of a normal life as they can, even as they face challenging health journeys.

The teachers and students have been really supportive since my involvement with Inspiration4 was announced. Over the months, they've sent me a bunch of art and lots of little stories the kids have written about space and space exploration. When the school administrators approached me to come visit the students a few days before their "Space Week," they were like, "No pressure. Monday is astronaut day if you'd want to be part of it." It took me less than a second to answer: "I will drop everything to be there."

I was so honored and excited, especially because I work with a lot of these awesome kids every day. I wanted to look the part of an astronaut, so I made sure to wear my Inspiration4 flight suit. Over three different classes, with kids aged 5 to 10, I told them about the mission, but also kept saying, "I'm doing this, and you can too."

I know what they are going through because my diagnosis of osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, at 10 years old had me at St. Jude in treatment for a year of intense chemotherapy and several surgeries, including the placement of an internal prosthesis in my leg (making me the first person to go to space with one!). I understand these children, I see them, and want to give them hope. My seat on Inspiration4, after all, is the "Hope Seat."

Astronaut-in-Training Hayley Arceneaux
Hayley Arceneaux. Courtesy St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

One of the cutest memories of the day was all the alien talk. They were very concerned about me meeting aliens in space, and we went down this alien rabbit hole. They told me aliens give really good hugs and they said if an alien followed me home, I need to put up a sign on the pantry that says "Aliens Eat Here," so the alien will go inside and I can lock it in the pantry and I'll be safe. You can tell they've really thought about this.

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At the end of my visit, I asked them, "Hey, who's going to go space?" All the hands went right up. One girl said she couldn't wait to go. Now there's no "if" they're going to space, it's like alright, they're ready to do this. That's the hope I want to give to them. If I'm going, one day they can too.

To learn more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Inspiration4 mission and ways you can support and participate, visit Fans can also follow Hayley's personal journey into space on Twitter.

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