“I was 11 at the time. It was summer vacation and I was happy, just like any 11-year-old would be. I was reaching the end of the Harry Potter series and ready to start watching Order of the Phoenix.
But one day in August, I woke up with the worst headache I ever had. It didn’t take long for me to start throwing up. This lasted several days. When I finally stopped waking up and vomiting, I was relieved. I still had those terrible headaches, but I thought, ‘They’re just headaches. They’ll go away soon.’
My mother is a nurse who works at a hospital in the city. Despite my brushing it off, she was convinced that something was up. She believed I was in a postictal state, an altered state of consciousness that occurs after an epileptic episode, and took me to the hospital. I had a lot of different tests done and they all came back negative. But there was something in my mom’s heart that kept on pushing. I guess it was her maternal instinct. On August 21, 2011, I had an MRI. And we found out. The scan showed a brain tumor.
‘There’s something in your brain. It’s cancer,’ I was told. I remember feeling so confused when I heard the words. Soon after, I was rushed to the PICU. My parents were talking to me, but I didn’t know what they were saying. Everything was a complete blur. I tried to stay calm. I hid everything behind a smile. I didn’t want to dampen the mood even more by crying, so I held it all in.
I spent a couple of days in the PICU before receiving a biopsy. A VP shunt was placed to drain the fluid in my brain. The fluid had been causing pressure in my head and was the reason for the recurring headaches. The day before the surgery, I was terrified. To calm me down, my dad walked into the hospital with a surprise for me. A copy of Order of the Pheonix.
When I saw my parents after the surgery, I cried. It was the first time I cried in front of them at the hospital. I just cried and cried and couldn’t stop. I was only 11 and felt so confused. I couldn’t help but think, ‘How could I have done anything wrong to deserve this? Did I do something bad that I don’t know about?’ I have always been religious, but my faith grew stronger after my diagnosis. I wasn’t mad at God; I was just confused. I turned to him during these hard times.
Being diagnosed with astrocytoma, I knew my life would never be what one would consider ‘normal’ again. That really bummed me out because I knew high school was supposed to be the time when you ‘find yourself’. There were a lot of activities and events to participate in, many of which I could no longer go to because of my condition.
I knew I would never be able to have the same experiences my peers would, things that ‘normal’ people took for granted. While they were able to go to school every day and be with friends, I was spending the day at the hospital and getting pricked and poked at by needles. When they went out to parties, I couldn’t even drive in the first place because my tumor causes epileptic seizures.
Not being able to do most things affected my social life greatly. Because I was absent quite often, I managed to lose my ‘friend’ of over ten years. But I wasn’t ready to give up on myself. So, I joined the theater club that year and fully embraced my inner theater nerd.
In no time at all, I managed to make a couple of really good friends who understand I can’t do everything because I don’t always feel well. Although they’re a bit younger than me, they are so supportive and often refer to me and look up to me as their ‘mom’.
Like most people, I somewhat had plan for my life. But after being diagnosed, I just didn’t care anymore. I was lost and searching for a larger purpose. Just when I least expected it, it came right out of nowhere, in the darkest of times. Meeting with my oncologist changed my life forever.
He does not just help me in matters affecting my health and treatment, he is a shoulder to lean on. He includes me in all the discussions about my treatment and has treated me as an adult all these years I have known him. He makes me laugh and smile, which has played a very important role in my healing. With him, even if it’s just for a moment, I am able to forget about the terrible situation I’m in. He is more than a doctor. He is a great friend.
I never had an exact plan for my future, but I now have an unyielding desire and commitment to become a doctor as well. I want to be a pediatric oncologist and help other children in their fight against cancer. There is no word to describe how awful cancer is, but if I can make a child’s battle against it a bit easier, I would be ecstatic. I want to impact lives in the same way my oncologist has done, and continues to do, for me. Thanks to him, I left high school hopeful and excited for the future.
I started college just this year. I am currently working on earning a B.S. in psychology because I believe there is a lot more to medicine than just science. Having a background in psychology will help me with patient communication and handling family dynamics. I don’t want to be a doctor that just knows about the body, I want to be a doctor that knows the heart and smile, and how to prompt it.
On top of all of my workload, I have been dealing with my own issues. I had to take a medical leave of absence this past semester because my mental health was definitely not the best. I had poor mental health, was in college (which itself is already stressful), and on top of all that: cancer. I was sent to the emergency room.
When I was placed in a building with other patients my age, I was shy at first. But then I found out how friendly everyone was! Yes, we met under terrible conditions, but I made some of the best friends I ever had. They understood what I was going through. We were all at the hospital for different reasons, but knew how horrible mental illness is. I made more friends in two weeks there than I did in a whole semester of college. We’re still in touch. I plan on meeting up with a few of them in the city in a few weeks!
The love and support of my parents and brothers have helped me overcome the most difficult challenges I face. When I have terrible days and need somebody to talk to or simply just listen, they are always there for me. They are also there for the little things, like watching movies or singing songs. Spending time with them helps a lot. I am often told by others how they are so amazed by how positive I am despite my condition.
Instead, what truly amazes me is how my parents are able to survive each day knowing their daughter has brain cancer. Through thick and thin (and thick again), they are always there for me. I find my strength from my parents. They show me that cancer cannot get in the way of anything. That anything and everything is possible. So, I keep pushing through.
My oncologist and my parents have taught me that cancer cannot define me. If we’re able to handle a world turned upside-down by cancer, then I truly believe there’s no other challenge strong enough to deter me. I’m not suffering, I’m just an expert at pain and survivor of the unthinkable. When I remind myself of this, the future is not so fearsome anymore.”
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