“Today I am cancer-free, empowered by the lessons I learned, and thankful for my life.”
A month before my sixth birthday, I was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor, pediatric kidney cancer. For two years I was in and out of the hospital, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, and several surgeries, the first to remove the infected kidney. This significant part of my childhood, while not forgotten, is only a memory. It does not define me, though it is a part of what makes me who I am. The experience made me realize the fragility of life, and I try to take every opportunity to live mine to the fullest.
Going through treatment was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but the support I received was beyond inspirational. I celebrated my sixth birthday from a hospital bed, but the company of my friends and family made sure it was, in fact, a celebration. Even the small gifts like chocolate or stuffed animals made me feel loved and not alone. I was particularly distraught when I began losing my hair. However, my mom introduced me to a book called Henry the Hedgehog that told of a hedgehog undergoing a similar situation. She would read the story to me every night, and it inspired me to have courage. I received a hedgehog necklace I still wear to this day that serves as a reminder to live by Henry’s example and not take my life for granted.
When I finally returned to school, I had lost all my hair and was afraid of what others would think. Most of my peers welcomed my return, giving me nothing but smiles and hugs. However, there were a few students who mocked my appearance and spread rumors that my cancer was contagious. I learned to ignore those kids because I realized the best way to combat bullying was to act like it did not affect me. From that moment on I was determined to not let my cancer define me, and I am proud to say I have kept that promise. I do not tell people about this important part of my life, not because I am ashamed, but because I choose to move on.
Although I do not like to think about that time in my life, the memories of those days and what I learned are still with me. The most important of those lessons is the value of life. During my treatment I shared a room with a girl my age who had brain cancer. We spent a lot of time together and became friends. When I left the hospital I did not understand why she was not able to leave as well. I learned later that she did not survive. I was actually the lucky one. That was a hard thing to accept and understand. It still is. Life is short and can be horribly unfair. I never forget that and intend to make the most of the chance I’ve been given.
Throughout high school I have made a conscious effort to take every opportunity that comes my way. I have participated in a variety of sports and clubs in order to live my life to the fullest. Perhaps most importantly I have been involved in the community, such as sitting on the board of Assisteens, founding and leading the eWaste Club, and joining cancer societies like NEGU and Cupcakes for Cancer. I have also led a team in creating an electrochemical bacterial sensor for a water purification system to help people in Kenya suffering from water-borne illnesses. My experience made me realize the importance of helping others, and that has impacted my career aspirations. I plan on earning my medical degree to become a doctor in order to one day help others in need. In particular, I was inspired by the surgeon who removed my kidney. I remember thinking how amazing he was for dedicating his life to help kids like me.
This year I had the opportunity to intern with an orthopedic surgeon, who allowed me to shadow him as he made his rounds and performed surgeries. Observing orthopedic surgery firsthand and seeing what he was doing for his patients gave me a rush I had not experienced before. Whether it be in oncology or orthopedics, l am determined to use my life to make a difference.
I was fortunate that my parents had good insurance and savings that allowed me to get the best care and gave me the greatest chance for survival, but the treatment took a huge financial toll from which they are still recovering. Earning this scholarship would help me accomplish my goals by providing me with the financial assistance I need to pay for my medical education. In addition, becoming a scholarship winner would allow me to share what I learned with others. I can share with them the story of Henry the remarkable hedgehog and hopefully inspire them the way I was inspired. I want to be an ambassador for pediatric cancer survivorship, and this scholarship provides me with that opportunity.
I will forever be termed a “survivor” and as such need to be monitored for possible side effects or secondary cancers, a yearly reminder to take nothing for granted. I do not want to forget what happened or what I learned. However, I want to enter the next stage of my life, not as an adult who suffered from pediatric cancer, but as a survivor ready to take on all life has to offer. I am prepared to use what I learned to help others, in both my long-term and immediate future.
Today I am cancer-free, empowered by the lessons I learned, and thankful for my life.
If you would like to help Hallie and other children battling cancer, donate today!