Meet Our Scholars

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Scholar Quote: I realize that I matured through my treatment and as I moved through survivorship. My eyes were opened to the hardships of others, and I became more empathetic for those going through what I now have behind me.

Curiously peering through a gap in my crocheted hat pulled tightly by my clenched fists, I saw a woman in a colorful smock staring back at me. She laughed loudly and told me that I reminded her of Mr. Napkin head from The Holiday. I cautiously pushed back my hat and smiled as Nurse Racheal took me by the hand and led me down the sterile hallway to my first radiation treatment. Months before, I was a typical 2nd-grade student. Now, I was a pediatric cancer patient.

When I was seven years old, I suffered from intense pain in my left ear. An MRI was ordered, and my family sat in an examination room awaiting the results. As the doctor entered, I sat, sling-shotting birds on my iPad. Preoccupied with my game and embarrassed by the looks of pity from those in the room, I kept my head down and pretended not to pay attention. I heard the word “cancer” and long words like “Rhabdomyosarcoma” but the words didn’t seem as important as defeating the green pigs on my screen. I soon learned that the diagnosis was more significant than Angry Birds.

From that moment of diagnosis, I lost what many would consider a normal childhood. I traded playing softball for physical therapy, and I switched from going to school every day to finishing my homework in a hospital room. Playdates with my best friend Maggie were now replaced with letters exchanged through the mail.

Treatment included radiation therapy for six weeks in January during Boston’s harsh winter season. During treatments, daunting machines surrounded me. My head was secured with a plastic mask over my face strapped to the machine’s bed. Initially terrifying, I was coached daily by Nurse Racheal to lay still enough to avoid the need for anesthesia, a big win health-wise. Three weeks into treatment, Nurse Racheal introduced me to a timid girl named Stephanie, a couple of years younger than I. Like me, she was frail, had lost her hair, and was very pale. Racheal asked me to mentor her and ease her apprehension. Knowing how terrified I was during my first treatment, I happily obliged. Racheal and I demonstrated what Stephanie should expect during a session. While the initial goal was to help Stephanie, mentoring her helped me. Stephanie and I both eventually completed our treatments.

I accepted that my childhood was not typical, and my experience gave me new insight. While I previously had felt self-conscious about my bald head, by the time I returned to school, I had selected bold, bright hats to wear to express my personality outwardly. My hats represented courage, determination, and steadfastness.

I realize that I matured through my treatment and as I moved through survivorship. My eyes were opened to the hardships of others, and I became more empathetic for those going through what I now have behind me. Time management became an essential skill as I navigated appointments and clinics. Ever since I was eight, I’ve annually represented my team, Team Allie-Gator, in the 24 Hours Foundation, a bike ride that raises money for cancer research. For my first few years of riding, I selected a bike helmet with spikes and bright colors. I learned how to crochet to design colorful beanies that kids and teens could find joy in wearing, just as I had. Putting on the hat of an advocate, I found my voice and advocated for others as I spoke directly to representatives in Congress regarding legislation funding cancer research and development. In the future, I will continue to look for opportunities to help further cancer research and improve the lives of others.

In addition to participating in charitable causes, I also hope to pursue a career with a company with a vital social purpose. I took a course last summer on social entrepreneurship and now feel businesses should embrace this concept. My dream is to attend college, start my own publishing company and continue being a force for good in the community, as all successful businesses should. My cancer survivorship journey has furthered my resolve to advocate for those with health issues and associate myself with companies that embrace social purposes. I am sure that I will find many more hats to wear.