“Survivorship means always keeping courage close to your heart and to show others how it is possible to overcome anything as long as optimism and hope prevail.”
Survivorship was a concept I didn’t comprehend until a few years ago. Representatives of my school district had asked me to speak in front of over 300 of my classmates. For the first time the school was attempting to raise funds for childhood cancer awareness, and with my history with the illness, I was asked to kick off the event. I had felt compelled to accept though every instinct I had was to decline and not to revisit those years of my life. I was not sure I could give my experience the justice it deserved, and I was even more unsure if I had the right to distinguish myself from all of the other childhood cancer victims. My doubts were persistent, and in the weeks preceding the event, I wished I had never agreed. How could I describe what it was like to receive over a thousand doses of chemo or how the copious amount of needles that punctured my skin never got easier with time? Could I even begin to convey how confusing and harsh it was to hear those three sickening and dreadful words, “You have cancer,” when I was just eleven years old or be told my treatment would last three and a half years when I could barely comprehend the time span until the next Christmas? As I tried to write the speech, all my words seemed feeble and inaccurate. Was there a way to describe what it was like to spend over one hundred days in the hospital when my peers were at school or having fun doing what “normal” kids do? Could I articulate the horror I felt the first time I saw scarlet blood transfused into my veins, or how I would watch it happen thirty more times? Could I explain my confusion when the doctors told me yet again that they had to take a painful sample of my spinal fluid and bone marrow, and how the cycle seemed never ending? Was it possible to communicate with my peers that while they had vocabulary and spelling tests, I was learning words and acronyms like ANC, EKG, CAT scan, sepsis. and leukemia – words no kid should ever have to know?
How could I eloquently describe what it was like to slowly come to life again once the treatment stopped and to feel the fear recede and hope win? How could I explain that my curiosity grew as my life expanded outside the hospital walls, and I ardently attacked my school work, not only catching up, but rising to the top ten percent of my class–my success in school was in part because I felt I owed it to all the childhood cancer victims to live well and succeed. Could I portray what it was like to come out of the shell of pain and tests and want to show the world how wonderful being alive is by fully immersing myself in the dramatic and musical arts; being in stage productions allowed me to escape to a world where no child is ever in pain, and how it helped me move on from all I had been through? I was not sure that it was possible to explain how the long days of isolation in hospital rooms inspired a love of reading and that I gorged on books as the written word became a lifelong friend. Could I chronicle the amount of people who surrounded me with support, many I had not meet before, and how each one of them left a footprint on my journey through treatment? Was it possible to explain that while I would give anything to not have had cancer, it was a bittersweet because I would never have met so many fantastic and selfless people?
I was doubtful that I could paint the picture of what my life had been during treatment and dubious of my right to represent the others who have suffered from the same illness. When the day of the event finally came and I stared out at my audience, I realized that I had to speak for all those inflicted with this illness and share our struggle with others. This, to me, is what survivorship means; becoming one with all childhood cancer victims, and allowing your experience with the illness to shape you into a better person, even if you have to push through your own insecurities. Survivorship means always keeping courage close to your heart and to show others how it is possible to overcome anything as long as optimism and hope prevail.
If you would like to help Jacob and other children battling cancer, donate today!