“I had cancer. This fact alone does not define me. However, it is an important part of my journey and has helped me develop servant leadership qualities.”
While in the emergency room, I noticed the doctors and nurses refused to make eye contact. One hour earlier, I was sitting in my algebra class. Within the next 24 hours, I had a major surgery, a PET scan, and began chemotherapy. Now that I have completed treatment, I can say that being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 11, B was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wake up every morning with a sense of urgency, rooted in my awareness of mortality, and wanting to help others. My cancer journey led me to people and places that changed my life. Two such places are The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and Camp Challenge.
LLS funds research for the cure and treatment of blood cancers. After being selected as Honored Hero for the 2012 Leukemia Cup Regatta in Louisiana, I have been a speaker at several fundraisers and have personally raised money. In 2014 LLS selected me to travel to Washington, D.C. to represent patients, survivors, and their families on Capitol Hill. I met with Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others to lobby for HR 460 and HR 2878/S 1365, two bills that make cancer treatments more affordable. While attending LLS events, I have interacted with caregivers, victims’ family members, medical professionals, benefactors, and non-profit employees. I draw upon these experiences and my own when I work to further LLS’ cause.
Camp Challenge further developed my dedication to service and my leadership abilities. Camp Challenge is a sleep-away summer camp for children affected by cancer or blood disorders. While volunteering there, I met a special camper, Wyatt, who suffered brain damage after cancer treatments. Although the task appeared daunting, I requested to be his one-on-one counselor. I appreciated his brand of humor, characterized by innocent knock-knock and “yo mama” jokes. He kept me humble, often reminding me of his arm-wrestling superiority. He taught me about chivalry: hitting me for jokingly calling a female counselor “crazy” and making sure I held the door open for every lady in sight. Though I took care of his basic needs, what he taught me was more valuable: a new meaning of love and how to be a genuinely good person.
In 2013, I volunteered as a Counselor in Training, though I could have attended as a camper. The following summer I encouraged six classmates to volunteer as counselors along with me. After the first day of camp, I explained to my classmates why having a humble attitude and dedicating the week solely to the campers was so important. When my classmates responded to my encouragement better than they had to the camp directors, I was happy for the campers. At the end of the week, the staff voted me the Male Counselor of the Year for my work with Wyatt, other campers, and fellow counselors.
I had cancer. This fact alone does not define me. However, it is an important part of my journey and has helped me develop servant leadership qualities.
I engage in community service because that is what I feel called to do. I feel that I learned a life-lesson at the end of my junior year. I told myself not to take on too many responsibilities; to enjoy a carefree, relaxing senior year. When two teachers asked me why I was not running for Student Council (SC), I had only one answer: I was being selfish. Then I remembered what I learned on my religious retreat: I was made to love and serve. By providing enrichment for schoolmates, I am helping to make this year memorable and fulfilling.
Upon election as president of the senior class, I became one of the nine-member SC Executive Board. Prior to the start of the school year, we attended a four day workshop where we bonded, planned the events for the year, and learned about “servant leadership.” As a commitment to service, I have given myself completely to my 1,400 schoolmates. I arrive at school early to set up for daily announcements. I give up my lunch break to lead SC meetings and facilitate events such as Welcome and Homecoming Week activities, pep rallies, and “senior privilege” meals. Although challenging, by generating and executing ideas within a diverse group, I have learned a lot about teamwork. In leading, I have created and deepened friendships with classmates, younger students, teachers, and administrators. I have also learned that leading means serving; that true leaders use their God-given talents to enhance the lives of others. This, to me, is “servant leadership.”
I have also strengthened my dedication through other school service activities including National and Spanish Honor Societies, Peer and Academic Support, and Campus Ministry. After committing to school service, I have had a fun, fulfilling year. I am trying to be a man who considers and serves others. My experience has affirmed my beliefs about my purpose in life and encourages me to continue down this path.
Most of my charitable work outside of school has been directed toward the pediatric cancer community. Because I saw the need firsthand, I knew that my experiences would make me an effective leader in this arena. In addition to LLS’ fundraising, I have raised a combined $24,000 for CureSearch Walks for pediatric cancer research and $1,000 for Connecticut Challenge bike ride for cancer survivors. I have also delivered toys to the patients at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. Since blood is especially important to cancer patients, I have helped raise over 300 pints by sponsoring drives and giving local news interviews to benefit the community blood bank.
I am proud to continue to work on becoming a magnanimous servant leader. After investing significant time and energy with several school and community-based organizations along with seeing how compassion and dedication can change lives, l plan to continue my service activities for the rest of my life.
If you would like to help Harrison and other children battling cancer, donate today!