“To be a survivor means so much more than surviving the battle and claiming victory. “
I became a survivor at three days old, on September 11, 2001. It had nothing to do with cancer. My family home is five blocks away from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. After the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, as my mother cradled me in her arms, we were rushed from our home through a toxic dust cloud to a waiting tugboat and evacuated to relative safety across the Hudson River. We were survivors. We were the fortunate ones. Seven years after breathing in that dust as an infant, I was diagnosed with a rare cancer that some doctors think may been linked to the toxins in the air that day. Life during treatment was terrible. The cancer had spread throughout my body and it was painful and uncomfortable, but most of all, it was frightening and confusing. I had many surgeries, gallons of chemo, and hundreds of needles, but my worst memory was the nausea. My parents tell me that I got sick every 20 minutes for six months. It was awful. Today, thanks to the doctors and nurses and scientists at Memorial Sloan Kettering, I am cancer-free. Yet again, I am a survivor. Again, I am the fortunate one.
Since my last treatment nine years ago, the impact that my new-found awareness of cancer has had on me has been extremely positive and always full of hope. In the unfortunate world of cancer, I am one of the fortunate ones – I survived, and because of this I have a new sense of purpose. During the months of treatment my situation seemed hopeless, but with each passing cancer-free day, I am increasingly filled with hope and strength, and I am always looking for ways to share this positive energy with those less fortunate than me. Since the last blast of radiation, and that congratulatory high-five from Dr. Steinhertz, my outlook has evolved. Rather than consider myself a victim, I am now a warrior and a supporter. I am no longer a patient, I am a patient advocate. I have gone from being helpless to being helpful. I do everything I can to raise money for pediatric cancer research and awareness. I ride bike races with Livestrong (I met Lance!), I cheer for Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Fred’s Team runners as they run by me at the NYC marathon (I will run it someday myself), and each year I lead a team of walkers through Central Park with the Kids Walk for Kids With Cancer.
To be a survivor means so much more than surviving the battle and claiming victory. Cancer survivors have a responsibility to turn back and help those in need, to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and aid in the struggle to create awareness. I am prepared for this lifelong responsibility. Through my struggle I learned and grew so much. As my tumors were shrinking, my heart, my compassion, and my knowledge were growing. In college, I will be studying atmospheric science. My interest in this field is directly related to 9/11 and its impact on my life and health. I believe that I can make a difference in understanding how toxins enter our air, and how they should be treated and neutralized before they become harmful. I believe that someday I will understand where scientists went wrong on 9/11 and I believe I can help to ensure it doesn’t happen again. As a survivor of both 9/11 and also cancer, this is how I will make a difference. Surviving is only the beginning. I’m very excited about the challenges that await me. I’m excited about sharing my experiences with those in need. And if I’m ever faced with the fight again, I know that I will win.
If you would like to help Patrick and other children battling cancer, donate today!