Meet Our Scholars
meet gabriela

years awarded



Scholar Quote: I want to show other kids battling cancer they can still live life to the fullest and be normal kids; cancer doesn't define us.

I have a jar of eyes in my spice cabinet. Allow me to explain. When I was four months old, I was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called bilateral retinoblastoma, which caused me to lose my right eye. Since my diagnosis, I have had 47 surgeries – much more than the average kid. Because of this, I have had a prosthetic eye since I was a baby. When I was in treatment, my prosthetics just seemed like another medical necessity, another surgery I had to have, and another needle poking me. But, as I have grown up, I see them now as accomplishments and milestones that represent the journey I’ve taken. Each eye has a story to tell about me.

The first two eyes are clear acrylic, just there to keep the shape of an eye. These eyes represent my own transparency. I am not ashamed to show I have a disability; instead, I embrace it. Every day I get questions, and I take these questions as they are, as a sign of genuine interest. This reminds me of my own curiosity and drives me to want to discover more about my type of cancer and genetics. In the future, I want to be a clinical pediatric geneticist and work with other kids who suffer from similar diseases to mine. Childhood cancer only gets 4% of the budget for cancer research, and I want to be part of changing this. This year, I even went to receive my own genetic testing from when I was diagnosed to learn more about it. Discovering this information was like finding evidence of a secret design; it wasn’t just a slip-up of my genetic makeup that I had cancer. It’s been a part of who I am since I came to be.

The next eyeball added to my jar was small and brown, with a faint blue ring around the iris. When I was born, I actually had blue eyes, as most babies do. Shortly after my 1st birthday, my eye color changed to brown. This eye was later painted brown to match my new eye color. To me, it represents my ability to adapt to change. I have faced many challenges throughout my life, but I have never let them get in my way. I have confronted simple hurdles – like wearing an eye patch for years of elementary school pictures – and significant ones, like learning to drive with only one eye. I have always found different ways to overcome and adapt to my issues. One of my main coping mechanisms is humor. My mom has always said, “If we don’t laugh about it, we’ll cry about it,” so I’ve always tried to see the bright side of every situation. I want to show other kids battling cancer they can still live life to the fullest and be normal kids; cancer doesn’t define us.

Because I had cancer at such a young age, I never was really able to have a normal childhood. I was always the cancer kid. With my cancer being genetic, it comes with a high chance of secondary cancers that rises each year. Every bump, bruise, and pain was investigated to make sure it wasn’t another cancer. Our family has lived in a constant state of worry, never being able to fully relax with the assurance that cancer was behind me. Years and years of cancer treatment also took a toll on the family financially. My parents are both teachers, and the extra bills meant that they both needed a second job to make ends meet. My cancer journey was ongoing for over 12 years, leaving my parents with years of what seemed like never-ending stress and bills. But, during the summer months, I was able to find my happy place. I was given the opportunity to attend a camp called Camp Hobe, which was for kids with life threatening diseases and their siblings. When I was here, I felt like a normal kid, and was surrounded by people who understood me on a level that not many people could. From that moment on, I knew that in the future I wanted to be surrounded by this community, which felt like a family to me. I found what I was passionate about, and I knew what I wanted to do with my future. I want to ensure that other kids like me, along with their families, are able to get as much support as possible and know that they are not alone. While my cancer is a big part of my identity, it’s still only one part. Just as many recipes call for more than one spice to make a dish more interesting and complete, my life has required more than one set of eyes.