My Story of Survival.

 

On June 6,2003 my life completely changed forever. This was the day I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer at the age of 4 1/2. Many may choose to dwell on the negatives of being diagnosed with T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – the surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and the years that I spent in a hospital however,I choose to focus on the positives. I strongly believe that everything in life happens for a reason.  Despite my youth, I still have some vivid memories during that time.

 

For over two years, I basically lived at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, undergoing  treatment. I still recall a cold hospital room’ watching the Cartoon Network, and being distracted by the incessant “beeping” of my IV. My red hair began to fall out shortly after treatment and I recall handing clumps of it to the doctors and nurses treating me. My hair would then disappear for the next two years.  Shortly thereafter, in pre-kindergarten class, I went to the bathroom and a girl told me that I was using the wrong bathroom. She directed me to the boy’s bathroom on the other side of the cafeteria. The girl assumed I was a boy since I did not have any hair.

 

I recall one of the of the chemotherapy drugs I received was a very painful shot in my leg.  Each time I received this shot, there was more of a chance for me to have negative and potential life threatening reaction to it. I would sit on my Mom’s lap and by the end of that particular drug treatment I was able to sit very still, take the pain and not even cry.  Conversely, I also have some fond memories like the hospital playroom where all the kids got to leave their rooms and have fun like normal kids. That would be the highlight of my hospital stays, I got to go and play in the playroom. I also became an expert at spin art and air hockey.

 

Each year, I am invited to attend Seany’s Camp Reach for the Sky. The camp invites families with children diagnosed with cancer. The Seany Foundation’s main goal is to bring awareness tc childhood cancer. Every year 10,400 children under the age of fifteen are diagnosed with cancer. Seany’s Camp Reach for the Sky allow families affected by cancer to escape the hospitals and enjoy camp. I have made some really good friends friends throughout my experiences with Seany’s Camp Reach for the Sky. Most of my friends from this camp, I only see them one week per year but our bond is such that we feel we have known each other our entire lives living. One close amazing, and inspiring friend was named Ryan. He passed away this year. I will miss his crazy dancing and his sense of humor. I have seen many friends lose their battle with cancer and pass away but I have struggled endured and survived.

 

Because of my tribulations, I am a better person. I do not take life for granted. I choose to appreciate just one thing, each and every day. If you choose to accept me for the Faith, Love & Jesus Inc, scholarship, I will choose to appreciate being a college student, each and every day.

 

~Natasha Barsness

 

I’m Denise Esposito – A Survivor!

 

“You are too young to understand”, “You do not know how to make decisions for yourself’, “Why is it you feel like you know everything?” People have an extremely peculiar way of posing such questions to teenagers. Many adults feel as though we are naive, ignorant and much too inexperienced to even contrive a remotely intelligent solution to the many problems that arise within our lives. We are classified as unwise due to our short existence, and therefore
almost the majority of the world is under the false pretense that we are incompetent.

 

But what is it that finally allows one to become sage? What age is it expected that a young teenager transforms into someone taken seriously? What is it that admits us into the exclusive group of which is wisdom?  They say that teens are too young to really grasp the true essence of life and be able to embody its actual grief. But what happens when that teenager has undergone a huge amount of suffering and even became involved in experiences a person in their forties might never have encountered?

 

Fifteen. Fifteen, was the exact age I was when I obtained my first dose of the “real world”. Officially it goes by Low Grade Osteogenic Sarcoma, unofficially it can be summed up into one word that everyone understands; cancer. It is exceptionally ironic that just before my sudden diagnosis I viewed my life as being completely quintessential; appearing that I was commencing an abrupt hatred for my typical, mainstream being. However, that little sentiment
did not seem to last long. In some of my worst days, I began to come to realize what I truly desired; my normal, somewhat boring, uneventful life back, although, my mother would constantly reassure me that we would “create a new normal”. Mentally, when you are sick all that you think about is getting better, rarely dwelling on your current state. But, when you are finally in remission that is when it all hits you.

 

Your body begins to undergo withdrawals and it is almost as if you spend your time just waiting for the day when you receive the news you have heard once before. That twinge, that inkling of trepidation never seems to vacate your own mind, no matter the hours spent trying to expel it from the brain. Yet, the discomfort is not the ultimate worst component of this disease. For me, yes, the pain was agonizing and the nights sleepless, but in all honesty the most deplorable fragment of this whole situation was the realizations it brought about. So many instances where you are under the illusion that an abundant amount of your closest friends and family will be there for you. You have it set in your mind that those are undoubtedly the people you can count on. Nevertheless, I learned the hard way only a handful stay true to their word.

 

I understood that people have busy lives and that it is an extreme hassle to come into the city on a weekday to visit me in the hospital; so I was okay with the fact that I did not have all of my friends there with me at my first, second and third surgeries. But what about the other three surgeries underwent? Where were they then? Was a detrimental disease not significant enough to be considered and penciled into their schedule? If that desolate emotion was not enough, I was also experiencing something else at the time. Due to the fact that my cancer was only low grade, my case did not call for chemotherapy and or radiation. One would believe this to be quite a blessing, still at times I felt almost as if, people would downplay all that I went through because I did not need more aggressive treatment.

 

I was lucky enough that the doctors caught the tumor at an early stage. Unfortunately, because of this I convinced myself I was out of place. Looking around, I was surrounded by a multitude of sweet, precious children going through something much more abhorrent than I was. Subsequently, an intense emotion of guilt arose within me, why was I feeling so bad for myself when everyone there had much more problematic issues? It was as if when being in my own natural habitat I was the “sick one” that many pitied, but in the hospital I was the “lucky one”. In both of my daily environments I was on the opposite end of the spectrum; at home I was in too bad of a state to attend to my usual doings but in the hospital I was the one healthier than most. I felt isolated and alone, no one knew just exactly the thoughts that resided in the back of my mind.

 

Fifteen. Fifteen was the exact age I was when I obtained my first dose of the “real world”.  Many would argue that it is just too soon to be viewed as enlightened but I like to believe that I have risen on the waiting list for spot in the exclusive club of which is wisdom.

 

~Denise Esposito

 

This is Shiaterrica’s Story…

 

At the age of eight, I was diagnosed with stage three osteosarcoma in my right leg and immediately received intense rounds of chemotherapy.  In an eleven hour surgery, surgeons removed my entire femur from my right leg.  Afterwards, I was always told that I would not be able to do certain things, mainly in the educational area, but time and time again, I have proven medical expects wrong.  I have been a straight A’s student since being released from the hospital.

 

I have achieved top ten every year, and i have ranked number five in my class.  Having cancer did not take my life.  Instead, cancer gave me a second chance at life.  That is why I am so determined to succeed and make the best of the second chance God has given me and become a pediatric oncologist.

 

I plan to major in cellular, molecular, and microbial biology at Auburn University.  I plan to attend medical school to specialize in oncology and pediatrics.  My career goal is to become a pediatric oncologist.  Because of my personal experience with cancer, I want to help other kids fight the deadly disease.  I want to comfort my patients because I understand their struggles and pains.  I want to inspire and encourage them that they can become cancer free like me.

 

During my career as a pediatric oncologist, I will establish medical centers in my poor neighborhood because there are no clinics.  Also, I will establish medical centers in third world countries because so many people do need immediate access to health care.  My medical center will have everything my patients will possibly need.  If someone has a heart attack, my medical center will have cardiologists and heart surgeons on deck.  If someone has third degree burns, my medical center will have a burn unit.  Even if someone has a mental or emotional breakdown, psychologists will be just a step away.  I plan on giving my community one of the best medical centers in the state that has all the latest medical equipment and technology.

 

Because chemotherapy damages major organs, I want to find an alternative medicine to treat cancer.  Chemotherapy has just as many cons as pros.  It damages major organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidney.  Chemotherapy also damages people’s hearing ability and vision.  I do not want a patient who just have battled lung cancer for two years, now have to struggle with heart complications because of chemotherapy.  I want to find a medicine that will have no damaging effects.

 

My motto is ‘Reach for the Stars’.  I have always been a girl with big dreams: however, big dreams usually comes at a price.  This scholarship will enable me to pay my college fees and help me get an education, which I will use my education to help others.  I will assist young caner patients by being a pediatric oncologist, I will assist the people in my neighborhood by establishing a medical center there, and I will assist the world by developing a new treatment for cancer.

 

 

~ Shiaterrica Williams

 

 

My journey with cancer began on my fourth day of kindergarten…

 

This past summer I was a counselor at Camp Rainbow in Babler State Park, which is a camp for kids with cancer or blood related diseases. My camper showed me that even though she had cancer she wasn’t defined by it. lt took me until middle school to realize that cancer wasn’t who I was, but something that shaped who I was for the better. After being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at age five, my life had drastically changed. lt changed my personality, my dreams and goals, and I have since been able to meet some of my dearest friends who continue to shape my life.

 

My journey with cancer began on my fourth day of kindergarten, and I was diagnosed as a high-risk patient. The doctors only expected me to live two weeks without treatment, and I was placed on a three-year treatment plan with dozens of chemotherapy treatments, spinal taps, and thousands of pills. I missed more than half of my first semester of kindergarten, isolating me from my peers. Physically, I had surgical scars, no hair, and I was constantly sick. The heavy treatments sometimes limited me in my daily activities, and whenever my immune system was not up to par I was home-bound. Cancer changed my childhood into one of caution instead of adventure.

 

After having cancer my perspective shifted. Leukemia caused me to become mature, empathetic, and dedicated to helping people. Although I was a young girl, I was forced to mature to understand the illness I was fighting and how to defeat it. lt caused me to always seem more grown up than I actually was. Cancer turned me into a stronger and more empathetic person. I was more aware of other people’s suffering and feelings, causing a yearning in me to want to help them. Ever since I had ALL, all I have wanted to do in the future is to help other kids with cancer or life threatening diseases.

 

Cancer changed my dreams of becoming a teacher to becoming someone like a nurse or doctor that help cures cancer. Today, I still have that same passion to help people, which is created from my continued thirst for knowledge and volunteering at Camp Rainbow. Over the course of my treatment I met many people from the hospital or from organizations such as Camp Rainbow. From ages six through eight I attended Camp Rainbow. My drive to help people lead me to volunteering, and to be a counselor at the camp that I had once attended.

 

Ever since volunteering these past two summers, I have made some of my closest friends because we were all in some way affected by cancer. My friends, both campers and counselors, inspire me every day to chase my dreams of helping people affected by cancer. The people in my life remind me that even through the hardships of battling a deadly disease, there is a silver lining. lf I didn’t have cancer, I would have never met some of the most inspirational, caring people in my life who continue to positively influence my life today.

 

Throughout my high school years, teachers and counselors have always encouraged us to start thinking of our after high school plan. As a freshman, I had no idea what l wanted to “be when I grew up” which made the task of choosing a major daunting.  During my sophomore year of high school, I took Honors Chemistry. Many of my friends seemed to hate it; however, I loved the class and thrived in it. My teacher encouraged me to join the Biodiesel club to learn more about chemistry. This past year I took AP Chemistry which was the hardest class I have ever taken, yet the most rewarding. The class included a three hour lab that started an hour before the start of the school day.  My senior year I plan on taking Semi-Qualitative Analysis and Organic Chemistry. My experience in these Chemistry classes and the Biodiesel club has helped me decide to major in Chemistry.

 

There are so many facets in the field of Chemistry that it affords many possible careers. By majoring in Chemistry, I have the option of going to medical school after getting my Bachelor’s degree, or I could go into Pediatric Oncology research. While, I intend to obtain a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry with a focus on medicine, I know that the field of Chemistry will provide me with so many career options. Deciding what subject in which to major is a daunting task, and choosing a fulfilling career is even harder. However, focusing on my favorite subject, chemistry, has given me tremendous peace of mind. l’ve learned that you need to choose a career for which you have a true passion. I believe I have found that in the field of Pediatric Oncology and can’t wait to enroll in college to start my journey with my major in Chemistry.

 

Being diagnosed with Leukemia was one of the hardest times of my life; however, I came out of it a better person. Cancer definitely changed who I am, what I want to be, and affected who I would meet in my life, but I wouldn’t change anything that happened. I am proud of who I have become and what I plan to do with my life. After realizing that having cancer did not define who I was, but helped shape me into a better person, I am encouraged to strive to follow my dreams and to continue to be a positive role model for kids who are suffering from the same illness I had ten years ago. A young cancer survivor told me this year, “be where your feet are”. As long as my feet are on earth, I will be fighting for a cure for those who aren’t as lucky as I was. Cancer may have changed my life, but it never took it, and for that I am forever grateful.

 

~Sarah Peterson

 

I’m Faith Peyron – This is the advice I can give to you.

 

For my essay topic I decided to do it in the format of a letter to another person struggling with cancer. This letter serves as my story as well as my advice to others battling an illness.

 

Dear Cancer Patient,

 

I know what you’re going through. I have sat in the same spot that you are sitting in right now. The same white walls of the same room that you are confined to. I’ve been an inmate at the prison that you are now living in that they call a hospital. I’ve been through the same pain and struggle that you are enduring right now. So since I have lived through it, this is the advice I can give to you.

 

#1. Do not let cancer waste Your time.
#2.Do not let cancer change who you are.
#3. Do not let cancer win.

 

From my experience with cancer, I have learned many lessons about how to cope when fighting this disease. To explain, I’m going to have to tell you about my story.

 

1. I used my sickness as an excuse to submit to my weakness. After my surgery when my cancer tumor was removed, I was in a lot of pain. I suffered nerve damage from my waist down which affected my walking ability. I had severe back pain and I was bedridden for weeks. As time went on, I got so weak from laying in bed all day every day. I lost 40 lbs in muscle. I was easily fatigued and simple tasks became chores. I could barely stand up for more that 15 seconds without feeling winded and wanting to just lay back down and go to sleep. As I lost my muscles I lost my desire to do anything. All I wanted to do was rest. I did not befriend any of the patients on my cancer floor, I did not want to leave my room. I decided to stay hidden and sulk.

 

2. While I was sick, all I could do was focus on the pain and the sadness. I got sick of being confined to the hospital. I was tired of being woken up every night and never getting more than a few hours of sleep because the nurses had to check my vitals. Oh the nurses. I felt so bad for them. At one stage of my sickness I had really become fed up with everyone that I had gotten so snippy and impatient with people. Every little thing that they did frustrated me and at that point I didn’t care enough to put on a smile and be kind. This was alarming to anyone that knew me personally because acting out like this to other people was against my character. I used to be patient and kind to others. I always had the mindset that I should reach out to people with happiness. But now I had no energy to be happy for others if I didn’t feel happy on the inside. I treated my family horribly. I blew up at them for forcing me to do things that I didn’t want to do, even though they were doing it for my own good. They sacrificed so much for me and I rarely even thought about thanking them. I became selfish in this sense. I pushed away my friends at school.  I stopped responding to people’s messages on social media, I wouldn’t let people visit me anymore. I isolated myself, because of my insecurities and because of self pity. I was honestly pathetic.

 

3. The depression all started when I lost my hair. I remember the day like it was yesterday.  I was sitting on my bed surrounded by my mom and friends and I was trying on hats with a fake smile on my face. And suddenly I looked at what I was doing and realized that I had no hair. I was bald, I had lost a part of myself. So in that moment I broke down. I got angry and cried because I hated the hats. I was so insecure about my bare head. When I looked in the mirror I felt almost naked and vulnerable. So under no circumstances did I let anyone look at my bare head. Not even my parents. I felt ashamed of not having hair. I had no confidence in myself and that’s the first way in which I failed. The depression only grew from there. I’d find myself having fits of tears, just sobbing over how I hated myself and the life that I was living. I wanted to give up. I was so blind.

 

You see this whole story is one in which I am not proud of. My journey through cancer although a battle I physically won, was a war that I mentally lost. With my cancer I got through it because of the amazing people around me that did not rest or breath a clear breath until I was in that hall at Children’s Hospital ringing that golden survivor bell. But on my part I had epically failed. I let cancer kick my butt more than I should have allowed it. So now that you are where I was 3 years ago, please take my words to heart.

 

Make the most of your time while you have this chance to do what you couldn’t when you were busier. Write a book, a song, learn a new language, do anything that you dreamed of doing when you wished you had more free time to let your creativity be the most important thing. Next, don’t let cancer darken your heart. Let cancer bring out the positivity and strength in you. Let your true light shine through . Do not allow it to make you cold. And finally, do not let cancer control you and make you lose hope. There is a  difference between getting through it and conquering it. Conquer cancer with your head held high. I believe that everything happens for a reason. So cancer is the time to shape you into a stronger human being and prepare you to appreciate life and live it to the fullest.

 

 

Your friend, Faith

 

 

Growth & Perseverance

 

The life of a twelve year old kid is fun, easy, and enjoyable. This is the most care-free time in a person’s life. It is filled with absolute bliss. This is true of my very own life. Going to school, playing baseball, and hanging out with friends seemed to be the only concerns I had at twelve years old. Then suddenly, my life took a turn for the worst. I was playing baseball, and I felt some pain in my right hip. It was causing me to perform at a much lower level than before. The next step was a trip to the doctor’s office. Little did I know, this uncomfortable pain was much more severe than I expected. I was no longer considered an ordinary, vibrant twelve year old kid.

 

That pain turned out to be a malignant tumor. I was then diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. The usual patterns of my twelve year old life soon had to be amended. Biweekly trips to Children’s Healthcare became a normal routine. Chemotherapy and radiation affected my body in unnatural ways. It was difficult for I have never experienced such discomfort like I did during this time. I was an active and energetic guy, who was enthusiastic about life. Cancer came and it was absolutely devastating. Playing baseball and running with my friends was no longer an option for me, simply because my treatments were causing my body to withstand so much exhaustion. This was the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life. However, I knew that with perseverance and the help of my family, and my faith in God, I would make it through this tough period. It was miraculous for after seven months, I was healed and thankful to God for giving me strength to endure.

 

The protocol after one is cured of cancer is consistent checkups and screenings. The affected area, in this case, my right hip, is scanned for any signs of cancer cells redeveloping. I was on this same recovery path for some time. The scans looked positive each time, but after almost five years, the positive report was now dubious. I went in for a routine evaluation, and something appeared on my right hip. After undergoing a biopsy surgery, the Ewing’s sarcoma had come back. I certainly knew that a relapse was possible, but I never imagined it becoming a reality for me. I was to say the least, very shocked and overwhelmed. I am once again going to war with cancer. Because of my last victory, my excitement about being accepted to college, and my continued faith in God, I am prepared to battle
again.

 

My eventful past has definitely made me a better man and prepared me for this upcoming challenge. However, I trust and believe God’s Word in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope”. Therefore, I will press on!

 

 

~Zachary Thompson

 

 

I am Moriah — and I am a Childhood Cancer Survivor!

 

From a very young age I learned to never give up and I have been able to carry that through with everything that has come my way.  When I was three, I was lying awake on the couch when I felt a pounding pain in my head like a bowling ball hit me.  After a few minutes, my mom called the pediatricians office and spoke with the nurse who told us to come in.  My pediatrician ran some tests and the results prompted him to suggest that I may have leukemia.  I was sent by ambulance to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford where we got confirmation of the leukemia diagnosis.  After I heard the news, I did not know how to react.  From that moment, life became endless treatments and doctor’s appointments with little time to be a kid.

 

For the next two and a half years, life was chaotic.  My doctor wanted to aggressively treat the disease with chemotherapy and steroids.  However, because the treatment killed the good blood cells with the bad I had to receive blood and platelet transfusions.  During this time, I also had spinal taps and bone marrow biopsies to make sure the cancer had not spread.  Her plan was aggressive, but my mom trusted her to do what was best for me.  As my hair fell out and my stomach rejected almost everything I ate, my mom remained strong.

 

Reflecting back on this time, I realized how much my mom had to cope with.  She not only had to care for me but my younger sister was a baby at the time of my diagnosis.  Because of the chemotherapy treatments I received I developed a learning disorder.  I have struggled with this since elementary school.  But through the years and with my mother’s support and encouragement i have learned to advocate for my self in school to get the best possible education that I deserve.

 

Being the oldest in my family, my mom encouraged me to be an example for my sisters.  It has taken great responsibility, strength and perseverance.  But I believe if my mom had not been such a good role model for me I would not be able to do the same for my sisters.

 

Since my freshman year in high school, I have been a part of the Prostart Program.  The Prostart Program is for individuals who have an interest in the culinary/baking field.  During my junior year, my team consisting of five students participated in the Prostart Invitational Culinary competition and came in third place.  This year my team decided to participate again in the Prostart competition and came in first place.  That was the defining moment that solidified my desire to go to college and pursue a degree in baking/pastry arts.  We are currently getting ready to compete in the National Prostart Invitational Culinary competition in Baltimore, Maryland.  It’s an exciting time for my teammates and family as we prepare to go to Baltimore.  Even if we don’t win I feel like we have won just by participating in one of the biggest events in our high school career.

 

This fall I will be a student at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island majoring in Baking and Pastry Arts.  I am looking forward to this next chapter in my book of life.  I cannot wait to use the knowledge and experience I have gained at Johnson and Wales to one day run and own a business selling pastries and baked goods that I have created.

 

I survived my leukemia diagnosis, I continue to rise above my learning disability and I am now college bound.  In the eighteen years that I have been on this earth I have discovered the strength and determination within me to build a solid foundation on which to build my dreams.

 

 

-Moriah Shafer

 

 

Asha Paul is a Childhood Cancer Survivor!

 

Having been so young during my treatment, I never realized the seriousness of cancer. I have never understood the wide-mouth stares or gasps after having told someone about my past experience, and I have definitely never saw it as an urgent, life-threatening obstacle. I remember my cancer treatment as a few (happy and sad) months I got to live and travel through a hospital floors, halls, and suites. Nevertheless, there were difficult moments, tearful mornings, and low spirits, but they have all impacted me in a positive way.

 
Having had cancer, when I did, has affected my life in such a way that few other events can. When I was 5, I never thought about death, the outcomes, or survival during my medical obstacle, nor does any child. I did not focus on the negativities or the final result, and I have kept this same mind set throughout my life. I feel like I am able to think far more easily and confidently during difficult situations than other people. Whenever there is a test at school, I stay calm and relaxed. I do not see the purpose in panicking and excessively worrying about the score I will receive. And, because I can do this, I am able to concentrate and work effectively. And, that is why I know I will succeed in college. It is no hidden knowledge that there will be hardships and difficulties throughout college, or anywhere in life. But, because I have the experience of remaining collected, concentrated, and unfazed during difficult, life-changing
situations, I know I will be able to do the same in college. It is not the obstacle that defines me, but how I feel about it and the actions I choose to take.

 
Cancer has also taught me to enjoy the experience rather than the outcome. When I was sitting in my hospital room, I was not thinking about when this process would be over or about what I would do after I completed my treatment. Instead, I was enjoying the time I had with my mother and the moments I spent playing, joking, and living with friends. As for my career, my experience with cancer has made me want to pursue a profession in which I can travel, speak a foreign language, and experience other cultures. When I had cancer I was able to meet people from different parts of the country and from abroad, and I participated in cancer programs where I got to travel within my own state and to other states. I love being with new people and experiencing new places. I have met many types of people,
with different experiences, different languages, different dreams, and different occupations. My encounter with cancer has shown me that I want these types of experiences of to be a part of my career.

 
Cancer has definitely affected my life values and career goals. I live for entertainment and happiness, not for worry or anxiety. I enjoy taking the time to travel, meet people, and learn about their own experiences, lifestyle, and dreams. My experience with cancer has taught me that life is fascinating, so I should enjoy every moment I have with it.

 

 

-Asha Paul

 

My Childhood Cancer Life Lessons

 

April 24, 2012 was a day that redefined my life. It was on that day I received the news that I had Cancer. The Cancer that chose me was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And at a time when most of my friend and classmates were looking forward to proms and summer at the beach, I was about to face the biggest challenge of my life with the prospect of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But what started as hardship or misfortune has actually become a blessing, one that has changed my life and strengthened my faith more than ever.

 
During my journey I met some of the most inspirational cancer patients, survivors, family members and medical professional who supported and encouraged me and my family throughout my ordeal. Their strength, dedication and faith in god provided us with the thing we needed the most – hope. And although my illness kept me from realizing some academic goals and athletic aspirations I had set for myself during my high school career, it taught me some valuable life lessons such as humility, dignity and faith .. I believe that as obstacles and challenges surface throughout one’s life, and plans are somehow disrupted or altered, other opportunities present themselves through gods will and opened up possibilities that can be equally satisfying and rewarding.

 

I consider myself lucky and truly blessed to be a cancer survivor. I have been in remission for over a year now however I realize that there is always a possibility that it may return. Last fall as a matter of fact I located several swollen lymph nodes which gave me a brief scare. Prior to the visit with my Oncologist I told myself that if the Hodgkin’s did return, I will fight it the same way I fought it the first time, with faith and tenacity. Luckily it was a false alarm and I have remained healthy ever since.

 
While in treatment, I made a promise to myself that when and if I was on the road to recovery, I would dedicate myself to living a healthier lifestyle and giving back to the people, organizations, schools and churches that stepped up to help me and my family when we needed it most. With regard to my first promise, I am convinced that more than ever that diet and exercise are critical components in maintaining good health and a positive outlook on life
in general. I believe that what we consume each day has a direct impact of our short term and long term health. I carefully prepare each meal every day and have become a role model for friends and classmates with regard to healthy eating. Since regaining my strength after my treatments, I have also focused a lot of time and effort on exercise as well. I participate in a “Cross-Fit” regimen daily, running and weight training. And I am most happy that in my senior year, I am finally able to be a contributing member of my high school lacrosse team once again.

 
During my illness, there were so my people, churches and organizations who reached out to me for support. Many were people I hardly knew or did not know at all. But over the course of my ordeal, I developed a close bond with many of them. Their energy, faith and selflessness was infectious and something to be emulated and admired. In fact, I stayed in touch with a student volunteers at the Lighthouse Cancer Retreat I attended two summers ago
who will be my roommate next year when we go away to college. My goal is to do what I can to repay some of the kindness and effort through service and volunteerism.

 
I am so excited to have been accepted to attend the University of Arizona next fall. I feel it is the right choice for me as I enter the next chapter of my academic career. And although I am currently uncommitted to a major, I am leaning towards a concentration in Pre-Law. The legal profession is something I have always been interested in, and I would certainly pursue a law degree if I choose that field as my focus. Working for a non-profit organization as a
lawyer would provide me with an excellent opportunity to work in an interesting profession as well as giving back in some small way to worthwhile organizations. The Faith, Hope, and Love Jesus Scholarship would provide me much needed financial support towards achieving my college goals.

 
I am excited about starting the next chapter of my academic career healthy and with a new outlook life. I hope what I’ve learned and experienced over the last 4 years will help prepare me for what’s ahead of me. I appreciate the Faith, Hope, and Love Jesus Foundations’ consideration of me as a candidate for the award and look forward to a positive response from the selection committee.

 

 

-McKenzie Casal

 

 

This is Alyssa Knecht’s Story

 

Life is very precious and should never be taken for granted. I was forced to learn this at a very young age. Additionally, how we choose to live defines our character. I now know that obstacles are meant to  be overcome, but also that nothing in life is certain, including our own mortality.

 

 

I was first diagnosed with a malignant osteosarcoma in my lower leg bone at age nine.  After two subsequent surgeries to remove the recurring tumor, I was faced with a truly devastating prognosis at age twelve. The cancer had spread into soft tissue, and the most aggressive of actions was necessary to save my life. After many agonizing discussions with the medical staff and my family, I agreed with the recommendation to amputate my right leg above the knee on May 17 , 2011 . I completed 2I rounds of chemotherapy lasting nearly 1 1 months with significant permanent hearing loss, and endured the dreaded physical transformation of the chemotherapy drugs, all at the tender age of twelve. However, the lasting challenges still lay ahead.

 

 

While the decision to amputate was the most aggressive, preventive action available, it clearly was not a guarantee that the cancer would not return. Although I was educated on the forever impact of walking  with a prosthetic and the associated limitations I would face, I did not completely grasp the emotional unforeseen difficulties. However, I was no quitter. I was strong in my faith, and I had ambitions and goals for myself. Looking back, I know I made the right decision, but I still find it hard to grasp how my twelve year old self made a decision that would forever change my life.

 

 

Through my physical struggles I faced daily with the cancer, I persevered and was able to maintain top marks throughout my treatments. After treatment, I chose to enroll in the International Baccalaureate program to prepare me for a college experience that will help me attain my ultimate goals in life. I was not going to let my experience with cancer stop me from reaching my highest potential. I am very proud to have consistently applied myself to achieve not only top academic results, but equally importantly to give back to my local community as well as to the hospital where I received my treatments.

 

 

I am President of my school’s Key Club chapter; I’m actively involved in NHS; I am a member of National Art Honor Society; and I am an active Team Leader in our school’s Link Crew, which pairs upperclassmen and freshmen together to help them navigate their first year of high school. My involvement in these organizations allows me to be able to give back to those in need, which is something I believe very strongly in, since many kind people were so loving and generous to me and my family when I was in the hospital.

 

 

As a result of my experiences, I realize that it is important to evaluate priorities, to press ahead, and to give back to my community. I believe that I have grown more resilient and determined to accept new challenges.  All of these hardships I faced have made me a stronger person, and I cannot wait to see what my future will bring.

 

 

My struggle with cancer has allowed me to be more appreciative of the life I have. Going through a time where the future is uncertain is very difficult, but it also creates an open mind.  Now, I try not to take any days for granted. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, and I treat new experiences like the are my last, because now I know what it is like to be unsure of what tomorrow will bring.

 

 

Today, I am cancer free and a cancer survivor! My career ambition is to become a doctor with particular emphasis on pediatrics and oncology. I wish to apply my personal experiences towards treating and helping others overcome similar medical challenges. As Jimmy Valvano famously said near the end of his cancer battle; “never give up, don’t ever give up”. Well, I have not and will not, and I look forward to ultimately leaving a lasting legacy.

 

-Alyssa