So my story....
I guess I'll start from the beginning-ish...? I really wish there was a way to describe my life in one word.
Perhaps chaotic, or outrageous. Possibly remarkable. Extraordinary. Lucky?
Maybe. To be able to encompass everything I am into one word would make
introducing myself to people so much easier. But one word could never truly
illustrate who I really am or the experiences that have come to detail and
The truth is I am different. But I am grateful for my
oddness. Most days I am proud. I have faced obstacles in my life thus far that
have not only made me who I am, but made me into the person I want to be. These
challenges have come into my life and left scars upon my body and my soul, but
every day I walk around in triumph as I expose them to the world. These scars
are symbols of my victories, so I wear them like the trophies that they are.
Science first became interesting to me when it saved my
life. I didn’t believe the doctors when they told me what was wrong. No one
did. How could a “harmless fat deposit” in a healthy fifteen-year-old girl be malignant?
I was invincible, or so I thought. The doctors told me I had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a
very rare type of bone cancer, and 12 hours later I met my oncologist, Dr.
Nidal Mahgoub, and was scheduled for my first surgery.
Just like that I was thrown into my new life as a cancer
patient, a life full of apprehension, of bereavement. I was blindsided and
suddenly completely immersed in a whole new world of hospital visits and
limitations. My world became a world of “do nots.” Do not eat fresh fruits or
vegetables. Do not go swimming. Do not go into crowded places. Do not pet your
cat. Do not stand in the sun. Do not go to school. Do not, under and
circumstances, be normal. I was forced to live a sheltered life, one completely
reversed from the average teenage girl. I was comatose.
As days became weeks, and weeks became months, I slowly
observed the drastic effects of the chemo on my body as I became weak, pale,
and bald. I was pumped with so many anti nausea medications that recent
memories were completely wiped from my memory with every round of chemotherapy,
making it near impossible to keep up with my studies. I always worried about
the little things. What about my water polo team? What about my friends? What
about my grades? Dr. Mahgoub told me again and again, “Don’t worry,” she said.
“Just focus on getting better.” But I couldn’t. I tried so hard to be just like
any other healthy person. I took some dance classes and went on roller coasters
at the amusement park with my family. Normalcy came at a cost though, as side
effects became the aftermath of these events. I felt faint, dizzy, my heart
would race, a fever set in. It was then that I realized I had to accept my new
life as the atypical kid. I was different, and I had to make the most of it.
I became a regular in Department 190, visiting frequently
for blood draws, transfusions, and chemotherapy. The nurses and doctors were my
friends, and the hospital became my home.
I learned that people were afraid to say the word cancer.
My baldhead screamed horror to people walking down the street, as they stopped
to stare at the girl with no hair. My face drew sympathy from even the coldest
of hearts. To them it seemed cancer equaled death. I never thought that way,
though. I still don’t. My experience opened my eyes to amazing things that
doctors and researchers are doing to cure diseases like cancer and save the
lives of people that must fight a similar war as I.
My battle brought my attention so many interesting things
about the human body. Every CT scan or surgery brought me new questions that I
longed to know the answers to. What does that do? How does this work? The time
I spent in the hospital changed my whole perspective on life and turned my
reality on head. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I become conscious of how
many people are suffering. I will never forget the cries that I heard in the
hospital as I walked down the hallway and saw rooms packed full of people of
every health problem. I needed a way to inform others about this, to speak on
behalf of those that could not. So I chose not to hide. I walked around with
the utmost of dignity, skinny, scarred, and stuck with an IV. I had no hair, no
eyelashes, no eyebrows, and not a trace of color in my face. Radiance poured
out through my smile; I had never felt so horrible, and yet so amazing. All I
wanted was for the world to realize how many ordinary people overcome
extraordinary challenges each and every day.
I fought for my life that year. 14 rounds of chemotherapy,
25 rounds of radiation, 6 surgeries, and over 40 blood and platelet
transfusions, and suddenly I was cut loose. I was allowed my freedom again.
Free to be near germs and throw away my medication chart. After being a year
out of school I returned with the pure motivation to live life to it’s fullest.
I didn’t look at my year off as a set back, but as a motivation to step forward
and begin my new journey as a survivor. I still bring that excitement with me
today as I strive to be the best person I can possibly be. I always keep an
image in the back of my mind of the children I met in the hospital. I know how
badly they had wanted to be living a healthy life again. People don’t realize
how essential your health is, but it is everything in the eyes of a cancer
I am currently at the University of California Berkeley
where I am studying the science of saving the world. I am fortunate enough to
have the opportunity to learn the medical and health field in the greatest of
depth and understanding under some of the most brilliant people in the world.
While every day brings challenges and hard work, my aspirations keep me
grounded, and remind me of my dream to be just like the team of doctors that
saved my life.
Today I may blend into the crowd. My hair has grown back,
my tumor is gone, and my life is back to normal. But I remind myself daily that
I am not normal. My scars still remain, a shadow of my past that reminds me of
where I have been, and most importantly, of where I am going.