“Now my idea of survivorship is to take the experiences developed during my cancer battle and turn them into positive, driving aspects that guide my life.”
The definition of survivor is a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died. What does it mean to me personally to be a survivor? I think it means many things depending on my life timeline and my perspective. I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006 as a five-year-old. This began my multiple month stays in a hospital far away from my home. Every moment, I was not succumbing to the cancerous white blood cells that were over-crowding my body, was me surviving. Many of the chemotherapy drugs had bad side effects and some were horrifically painful. My mom would hold me and sing. My brother would sit in the hospital bed and play games. My dad would sit and guard my bed so I could sleep. I would plead with my parents to take me home. As I struggled to accept that I had to stay, I asked my mom, “How are we going to do this? I can’t do it!” My mom told me, “We would just take one step at a time.” Survivorship back then meant my family banding together. We had an approach called “Ever Forward and Ever Positive.”
In my first 2.5 years of elementary school, I kept taking chemotherapy and death with the trauma of my hair loss and feeling sick. I also struggled with learning basic reading and math skills as the effects of the drugs clouded my brain. It seemed I was always behind. But I had wonderful teachers, good classmates and my brother in a nearby classroom. They all rallied around me to cheer me up, and make me feel included. Then survivorship meant getting through one day at a time. It included getting the courage each morning to go back to school. At this point in my life, I was proud to let people know about my cancer battle. During this time, I was always honored to wear my survivor shirt. I was proud of my accomplishments. It was a central part of my identity as it make me feel strong and accomplished. In middle school, I became more private about my cancer journey. I still struggled with reading and writing. Although my tenacity towards life was still evident, I didn’t want “cancer survivor” to be an upfront part of my identity. I wanted people to know and like me for who I had become. During this time, survivorship meant me doing my best at school, sports and the opportunity to nurture my friendships.
As I entered high school, I realized that supportive friendships had been one of the main reasons my family had endured so well during my cancer journey. I realized that many people had come and sat “on our ledge.” At this point, it became my great desire to return the love. I felt it was my responsibility to support my friends as they struggled. I also felt it was my duty to be open ad welcoming to people who are different as they struggled to fit in. I started training my dog to become a therapy animal so we could go support other people. I became passionate about the college major of anthrozoology which trains people in understanding how animals can support individuals and society in general. Now my idea of survivorship is to take the experiences developed during my cancer battle and turn them into positive, driving aspects that guide my life. A life where I can help others by sitting on their ledge and help them to move forward in positive ways. This survivorship thought pattern was tested once again 9 months ago when my Dad unexpectedly passed away. My mom, brother and myself were brought back to the early stages of survival when all you could do is look at things one moment at a time. Again, we banded together in an Ever Forward, Ever Positive manner. Our previous experiences helped us find our survivor attitudes and approaches this time.
I respect all the forces good and bad that have shaped me. Being a survivor in in-grained in who I have become and I am grateful for its many lessons. I am passionate about learning how to help others with my therapy and service animals. I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life.
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