“My undying adventure in a hospital bed has given me a critical life lesson: it is not how long one lives that matters, but how he or she lives.”
At 14, I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma before my freshman year of high school. Having relapsed twice, my last four years have consisted of hundreds of chemotherapy treatments and three sessions of radiation, as well as two stem cell transplants.
During my junior year, I was glad to discover that the treatment had worked and that I was officially cancer-free. Over the past year, I have had time to reflect on my survivorship, and have highlighted its importance to my life and my future. After extensive interactions with oncologist Dr. Stanley Marks, my purpose for life was illuminated: to become an oncologist.
The work Dr. Marks conducted during my time at the hospital ultimately resulted in the restoration of my health. The relationship we developed transcended what cancer survivors would describe as patient-doctor boundaries. For example, he once called my family and I while he was on vacation to update us that my scans were clear. The commitment he continues to demonstrate to all his patients allowed me to discover that oncology has as much to do with emotional connection as it does with medicine. To me, survivorship means that I will have the empathy to personally connect with cancer patients on a level that most physicians cannot. I promised myself that if I were fortunate enough to pursue a career in medicine, I would treat patients in a manner that incorporated my past experiences. I believe that being able to relate to both the physical and emotional struggles of my patients will afford me the ability to connect with them in a very unique way. Therefore, my survivorship will allow me to help the world in a way that could be as simple as influencing a 14-year-old cancer patient to never give up.
Oncology, which began as a mere interest for me, has now developed into a burning passion. In high school, I completed two career shadows at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. During my sophomore year, I shadowed Dr. A. Kim Ritchey, who specializes in stress management for families and cancer patients. His constant effort to distract patients away from worrying about their cancer gave them and their families the hope they truly needed during an uncertain time in their lives. During my junior year, I shadowed Dr. Craig A. Byersdorfer, who specializes in blood and bone marrow transplants for cancer patients. The research he conducts in his lab about graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) has been instrumental in helping cancer patients. My shadowing experiences allowed me to understand both sides of oncology, and have only solidified my passion for the field that I know will only be expanded upon during my undergraduate studies.
My undying adventure in a hospital bed has given me a critical life lesson: it is not how long one lives that matters, but how he or she lives. Unlike most people, I fully understand the value of life. Health is the one thing people frequently take for granted, but we are not guaranteed tomorrow. That is why I will strive to live life to the fullest by pursuing excellence in the field of oncology. After high school, I will attend either the University of Pittsburgh’s Honors College or Case Western Reserve University to pursue a pre-medicine track of learning. Because of my interactions with Dr. Byersdorfer, I plan to research the origins of GvHD to ascertain the best treatment options. Following completion, I plan on attending medical school to become an oncologist. My residency will focus on pediatric oncology to develop the underlying skills required to not only be as great as the doctors who conducted my treatment but also to save lives. Once I become an established physician, I will fulfill my promise by treating patients with empathy to ensure that they have someone fighting cancer right alongside them. In retrospect, despite the hardships, I am grateful for my journey. Interactions with countless medical professionals revealed to me the life-changing capacity of medicine and provided me a preview of what I want in my future. Ultimately, survivorship means that I can become an oncologist and give back to the same medical community to which I owe my life.
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