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Scholar Quote: "Cancer does not define me, but it has contributed tremendously to the person that I am today."

For most people, the word cancer creates feelings of fear and sadness. For me, the word cancer reminds me of my true inner strength. When I was two years old, I was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor. Doctors found a grapefruit-sized mass on my left kidney and determined that it needed to be removed immediately. I was given a 50% chance of beating this dreaded disease. After the doctors successfully removed my left kidney, they had to insert a port-a-cath in my chest, where I would receive my chemotherapy treatments. That procedure landed me in intensive care. The catheter had been placed in such a way that it caused my heart rate to increase and my lungs to fill with fluid. After three long days of worrying for my parents and family, I was finally recovering from the trauma of both the nephrectomy and catheter insertion. The next step was chemotherapy.

Six months later, my parents were informed that I beat the odds. Although cancer failed to take my life, it came with a price …. one less kidney and two new battle wounds. Summarizing my story in 100 words does not seem to do justice to the reality of how life was during that period. It was an extremely difficult ordeal for my parents, because I was their first child and had been able to enjoy only two years of life before cancer took my kidney hostage and took over our lives. My time with cancer still affects me to this day, as I have to report annually to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters for blood work, ultrasounds and evaluations by my Nephrologist. In addition, I must take extra precautions to care for my remaining kidney.

Nevertheless, the best part of this story does not lie in my process of becoming cancer­-free. I did not realize until I was thirteen years old that surviving cancer had a deeper meaning. I was swimming at a pool with two young girls. One of them noticed my fifteen-inch scar and began telling me about her own medical problems, which included severe intestinal issues and many surgeries in her five short years of life. When she asked how I got my scar, I told her my story and tried to give my “cancer spiel” in a way that a five-year-old could understand. I finished the story, then we continued playing and I thought nothing of it. Later that evening, my dad informed me that the girl’s mother had said that my story gave her daughter hope that she could eventually live a normal life, even if she was seared with scars. At that moment, I realized that I needed to use my experience with cancer to help others.

Over the past five years, I have seized opportunities to work in the community through the YMCA by volunteering my time for children’s activities and poverty outreach programs. Looking back at pictures of when I was at my sickest, I just imagine that helpless little girl whose whole life depended on those around her. I want to be able to be that shoulder for a child. I want to provide support, compassion, and leadership to other children, sick or well. My hope is to one day take volunteering to a much higher level and become a Pediatric Oncologist. I realize that I will have to witness many young lives fall victim to cancer, but I want to use my experiences to help others fight, as the doctors and nurses at the CHKD helped me fight. I am taking my disease, my treatment, and all of the lessons that have come with it and paying it forward. I have wanted this for as long as I can remember and have never once wavered from my decision. Throughout my journey, I have been brave, and have been reminded each day when I wake up that life is truly a gift and something to be cherished. It would be a shame to not pass along my good fortune and positive attitude to those who are in need of reinforcement.

Cancer does not define me, but it has contributed tremendously to the person that I am today. I have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be injected with chemicals, poked with needles, and drained of life. I have felt the anticipation of a doctor’s visit, and the fear of recurrence or being faced with the possibility of death. I want to be the physician that is able to tell my patients, “You can fight this fight,” and truly believe my words because I survived, and I have hope that they can too. I have learned that there is great value in strength, but more importantly I have learned that the true value of strength lies in how it is passed on.