“Cancer has helped me discover what I love doing.”
On June 18th, 2008, my life was forever changed. On that day I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. I missed the entirety of sixth grade due to surgeries and chemotherapy. I came out of treatment different than everyone else, and because of that I tended to stick to myself. I returned to school for 7th grade, but just as I was beginning to feel confident in myself again, my cancer recurred. This time cancer put me in a wheelchair for a year. Going to school every day in a wheelchair was the most confidence degrading time of my life. Even though I was actively going to school, I was unable to get past the stigma of being in a wheelchair. This followed me through my early high school years as well. Only in the past year have I begun to feel that it is in the past. All negatives aside, cancer has shaped who I am and my interests, as well as opening doors to terrific character building opportunities.
One of these opportunities has been helping the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation raise funds by forming a team for their annual walk and creating artwork for their Christmas card program and annual mailing campaign. Another has been Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. There I meet complete strangers who, over the period of a week, become my brothers. At Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times it doesn’t take long to feel at home. Children with cancer and their siblings come each summer to enter a completely different world, one that even cancer can’t claim.
My first year of camp was the most challenging. I was fresh off of treatment, and still very shy. Camp wasn’t a good experience for me then. Meeting new people wasn’t my strong suit. I almost didn’t return to camp the next year, but I am glad that I did, as I made friends and enjoyed myself. Each year I returned home feeling stronger. l used this strength and applied it to my everyday interactions. This past summer I came home more confident in my public speaking and in my role as a leader.
At my current age in camp, there is a leadership program that teaches teamwork and role modeling that is used at the end of the week to guide younger kids. I tend to avoid these kinds of opportunities and keep to myself, but this past year I took on a larger role in the program and became a leader of the camp. I decided to be myself and not hold back any part of my personality. People responded positively to it, and soon I had kids coming up to me asking me to retell jokes I had told the night before, sing a song, or reenact a funny moment. It was one of the proudest moments of my life knowing that I had entertained the kids and seeing the joy that I brought to them. I know that many of them are having the same feelings about camp that I did my first year, so I do whatever I can to make sure that they leave camp excited to come back the next year, because it will impact their lives as it did mine.
Cancer has helped me discover what I love doing. Due to my limb salvages, I had to stop playing sports that I had played when I was younger. I turned towards intellectual interests, taking photography, art, and ceramics lessons. I began to play video games more regularly and even built my own computer. I began to make friends online. The friends that I speak to daily are some of my closest friends, and I continue to be amazed at how close people can become even though they live thousands of miles apart. There is a community of like-minded people to meet online. It is easy to find people that share your interests. This is the side of the internet that many people don’t know about. The media portrays an image of the internet being a dangerous place for children and that they shouldn’t talk to strangers online, yet the strangers I have met online are some of the greatest people I have ever known. My online life has helped me cope with my treatment, but what began as a coping mechanism became one of the most informative journeys of my life.
I am a staff member for a gaming network with a community of roughly 8 million people. I interact with hundreds of people a day, providing customer support, answering reports made by users, and providing feedback on upcoming projects made by the network. The friends that I have made online have helped me discover my dream major and career. Before I began my online journey, I had no idea of what I wanted to do. I always assumed that I would get a business degree and a boring office job. Now I have discovered my passion for coding, and I hope to do great things with it in the future.
Today, it’s hard to imagine where I would be in life had I not been diagnosed. While for many years it caused me to feel lost, it helped me to discover myself. I believe that I would not be interested in computer science had I not been diagnosed. While my 4.0 GPA and ACT score of 33 make me a strong candidate for my dream university, Chapman University, it is currently out of my family’s budget due to my treatment costs. Money that would have gone towards a college fund had to be diverted to paying medical bills. My mother was unable to work her normal amount while I was in the hospital, as she stayed with me the entire time I was there. Medical costs continue as I undergo oral chemo treatments, and have scans three times per year. This scholarship will allow me to attend Chapman University without incurring large amounts of student loan debt.
If you would like to help Ben and other children battling cancer, donate today!