“My experience taught me that we are measured by how we handle life’s adversities.”
Events that occur in a person’s life often lead to a perceived deception of time. One day it may seem that an experience happened only yesterday while on a different occasion it may feel like that event never happened at all. That event happened to me over nine years ago. In March of 2002, at the age of eight years old, I was told that I had cancer and that my chance of surviving was less than twenty percent. I’m still not sure if I’ve ever been able to grasp that concept.
After being told countless times by various doctors that I had growing pains, my mom decided to take the initiative and request that I have a CT scan. Not only did the CT scan reveal a tumor in my lower abdomen, it also indicated that the tumor was the size of a professional football. Little did I know then that this discovery would change me in every way. I would eventually be diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma.
As a little girl, I had an active imagination. Playing dress up, having tea parties, and playing with my baby dolls commanded my attention. The world around me both fascinated and terrified me as I believe that it does most children. One of my favorite things to do was to ask questions and my parents always satisfied me with answers. As a kid, I was not as talkative as I am now. I learned to speak up for myself as a result of surviving cancer. My childhood quickly came to an abrupt halt on Easter in 2002 and I was changed. The dress up clothes in my closet were traded for hospital gowns and pajamas, my baby dolls now had needles stuck in them like I had in me, and medicine was served at my tea parties. My all-knowing parents suddenly became not so all-knowing and we as a family were forced to turn to the doctors for answers.
Growing up was one of the first big mental steps that I took. Becoming more aware of what was taking place in my body was not easy. Most eight year olds do not have to worry about receiving chemo-poison through a Port-a-Cath, upcoming surgeries, or radiation treatments. All of these things became the “norm” for me. Being a girl, one of the toughest things for me to endure was losing my hair. I would wake up to discover that the blonde hair missing from my head was matted on my pillow. My hair fell out of my head as easily as the dead leaves fall off the trees in autumn. I was often mistaken for a little boy by people in public once my hair had fallen out entirely. Being called a boy was an arrow that pierced right through my heart and made me realize that I was different.
The majority of my memories from when I was sick are vague whereas handfuls are extremely vivid. It’s as if my brain chose what to remember and what not to remember. When I was at death’s fingertips, my brain picked out the happiest memories for me as a comforting inner landscape. Even at my lowest points, I was able to find happiness. Having cancer was both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. My perspective on life will be forever changed because I had to live every single day like I wouldn’t wake up the next.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” This quote is of special significance to me. As a result of experiencing the loss my hair, enduring 48 weeks of chemotherapy, surviving four surgeries, and toughing it out through arduous radiation treatment, I’ve learned that the world is full of difficult situations. My carefree childhood was gone forever before I was even nine years old. I also emerged from the ordeal realizing that life is fragile. I knew that I had to make my life count, I had to make a difference, and I had to make my voice heard.
I am a cancer survivor. I am the face of the future. Ewing’s Sarcoma changed my life. I dream of the day when I can say that I helped achieve Danny Thomas’ dream “that no child shall die in the dawn of life.”
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