Meet Will

Meet Will

“I am not a survivor just because the cancer is no longer visible on computer images; I am a survivor because these twenty-one marks remind me that I have a purpose in life.”

 

Twenty-One

Twenty-one is more than just a number. For my friends it represents adulthood: the age they will graduate from college and legally have a drink. From my perspective, twenty-one represents survivorship, determination and hope. Although mostly concealed beneath clothing, twenty-one scars have altered my body and mind and given me a new direction for the future.

As an eleven year-old, I was working toward achieving two dreams: competing in the Olympics and becoming an Air Force fighter pilot. I started tumbling classes before I was a year old and competed on a trampoline and tumbling team. It was exhilarating to fly through the air while twisting, finally landing solidly on two feet. I attribute my goal of becoming a fighter pilot to my dad. He attended the Air Force Academy, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Both of my ambitions came crashing down six years ago when I was diagnosed with truncal synovial sarcoma. Scars #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5 were caused by the surgeries that removed the cancer, along with a large section of muscle, from my lower back. For the first time in my life, limits were placed on my athletic ability.

I was determined not to allow the cancer to rob me of my love of tumbling. I spent hours in therapy and at the gym training other muscles to compensate. What a great day it was when I again performed four back handsprings in a row! I no longer had the precision that competitive tumbling required, but I joined a co-ed cheer team and also became an instructor. I coached a special needs cheer team, and it was incredible to discover that the special needs athletes loved tumbling as much as I did.

My future goals began to reflect my new experiences. I grounded the dream of becoming a pilot and traded it for my ascending ambition, to put an end to the disease that affects millions. I started researching and competing in science fairs. Instead of continuing to take regular classes, I was accepted into the Kenton County Academics of Innovation and Technology (KCAIT) as a biomedical sciences scholar. As an Emperor Science Award winner, I was mentored by researchers in two cancer labs and began understanding the challenges and rewards of research. I currently intern five days a week in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Blood and Bone Marrow Research Department. My mental strength balances out any physical weakness I experience.

When I rub my hands over scars #6 through #20, my stomach still clutches with disappointment. After cancer, the impact force caused by landing twisting fulls and standing tucks became too much for my knees. I experienced multiple dislocations, which led to two medial patellofemoral ligament reconstructions and a tibial osteotomy, putting an end to my tumbling. Not all scars cause me to grieve, though. I smile with amusement every time I look in the mirror and see scar #21 on the bridge of my nose. I earned the gash during an outlandish experiment breathing underwater with a PVC pipe. This scar reminds me that life goes on, and I will continue to goof off and laugh with friends. Everyone has scars that change their bodies and minds. I wear my scars with pride because I persevered through a crisis, and the scars led me down a new path. I am not a survivor just because the cancer is no longer visible on computer images; I am a survivor because these twenty-one marks remind me that I have a purpose in life. I have compassion for other patients, and I offer insight to the mental and physical trials that they face. I want to be a pediatric oncologist and researcher so I can help others when they are fighting for their lives and coming to terms with their own wounds. I understand the impact of scars, and I know that someday I will be able to look a frightened child in the eye and say, “I’ve been there too. We’ve got this. You’re going to be okay.”

If you would like to help Will and other children battling cancer, donate today!

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