People always say to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend could be your worst enemy. To me, chemotherapy was both my best friend and worst enemy. This beautiful poison was designed to strip away the person I once was, and sculpted me into the person I have grown to truly be. That is, a survivor: an individual who looks beyond the battle of such an excruciating fight, and carries inspiration around the world.
In November 2016, I was juggling three advanced placement classes, running two service clubs on campus, playing violin with the San Diego Civic Youth Orchestra, and working at Blaze Pizza five days a week. Instantly, all of that stopped. After coming home from work one day, my mother noticed a huge bump on my right shoulder. PET/CT scans and a biopsy later, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer. Not only did I go through cycles of chemotherapy and radiation, but I missed five months of my senior year. On top of that, I was struggling to meet the deadline for college applications without having the ability to even stand on my own two feet.
With no hopes as to what the future may hold, the toxicity persisted. I persevered, regardless of the pain that had crescendoed into a force impacting my daily life. In addition to such unendurable moments, I too was working hard to graduate on time like every other normal senior in my class. I had fears of not graduating with all my friends, that this disease called cancer would destroy my happiness like it destroyed my body cells. I had doubts cancer would allow me to earn my diploma or attend the school of my dreams. Finally, through perseverance and diligence, I walked on stage with the rest of my classmates and claimed my diploma. I made it.
A cancer infiltrated my life, I have changed as a person, and transformed my illness into a lifetime blessing. I grew as a person by voicing positivity, and noticed myself reframing all the excruciating experiences into moments of gratitude. I learned to let my smiles change the world and to seek positivity even during the times in which it may be more difficult to find. Amidst all the pain, I found myself smiling and appreciating the fact that I am living to see another day. Although such unfortunate news had made me question my own personal happiness, this journey ignited a spark in my heart and continues to shine positivity to all those around me to this day. Inspired by such light, I was determined to help those enduring similar circumstances.
Throughout my life, I have had a strong passion and love for giving back to the Carlsbad community and the people around me. From organizations such as the American Red Cross of San Diego to founding Project F.E.E.D., I devoted my time to bettering the lives of those overcoming adversity. During my treatment, I had heard about the Make-A-Wish Foundation as an organization giving back to children and bringing joy in their life, and I never thought that I would one day be that wish kid and have my life changed forever. Barely six weeks after my lymphatic cancer was declared in remission, Make-A-Wish granted my wish to go to the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. To create happiness in the hearts of others, especially when battling an illness, is the best way to fulfill the lives of others; hence, I wanted to pay that gift forward.
Since having my wish granted in spring 2017, I quickly became involved. Becoming a wish kid ambassador, I serve as a spokesperson for the San Diego chapter. I share my story and wish impact amongst thousands of people in order to help raise awareness and garner community support for such an inspiring mission. In addition to serving as a Wish It Forward program ambassador, I lead the Kids for Wish Kids’ fundraising program at my school – all to help grant more life-affirming wishes for kids battling critical illnesses like myself. As founder and president, I invite and strongly encourage students to volunteer for various wishes, in which we have helped raise over 3,000 dollars in little over a year. Through joy and enthusiasm, this powerful cause has made me cognizant of the major impact this club is capable of in the future. I strongly believe there is often an intrinsic connection between wish kids and wish granters who experienced the power of a wish themselves.
As soon as I turned 18, I became an official wish granter, and teamed with one of my former wish granters to grant my first wish. In February 2018, I granted my first wish for five-year-old leukemia patient Leona, who wished for a life-sized pirate ship in her backyard. To see this little girl smile so big for the first time in months was one of the most emotional and happiest moments of my life. Knowing firsthand what the power of a wish can accomplish for others gives me an endless amount of joy for children facing critical illnesses. With so much of their normalcy taken away, a wish offers something to look forward to, replaces fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope. Granting my first wish has inspired me to take on many more wishes every year, and has granted my very own personal wish for the future – to see these angels smile.
As my love for giving back grew stronger, I learned how strong of an impact I can make through the ever-changing, and challenging world of nonprofit organizations like Make-A-Wish; thus, I discovered my new. I wanted to expand this aspiration of mine by pursuing a career rooted in bringing hope, strength, and joy to communities through services that greatly contribute to the world around us. Based on my overall work ethic and passion for positively transforming the lives of others, I will continue working hard in academics as well as planning to establish a career in hopes of one day becoming the CEO of Make-A-Wish. Beating such a powerful illness, I am convinced my dreams will one day be a reality.
As light continues to shine in my heart, I learned that no matter the circumstances, gratefulness is key to understanding what life truly has to offer. Battling this life-threatening illness has taught me that the most important role a survivor can play, is one who guides others to brighter futures in life. It is my deepest wish that I continue to serve as an inspiration to my community and amongst my peers, as a survivor.