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This is what survivorship means to me; all of the lessons that cancer has taught me so that I could become a stronger person, ready to conquer anything life throws at me.

The worst news I ever received was not when my oncologist told me I had cancer at fourteen, but just seconds after when she told me I would not be able to go to school for at least a year. This terminal illness shattered my world, ruined my plans, and flipped my life upside down. I spent the most difficult year of my life going through endless chemotherapy, hospital visits, and a close call which had my parents, and doctors wondering if I would live to my fifteenth birthday. Miraculously, my condition improved, and I was finally able to go home after spending three months in the hospital. As summer was coming to an end, the only thing on my mind was school. As I finally went back, I quickly learned that high school was not like what I thought it would be.

The first day of my freshman year filled me with overwhelming anxiety. My big black hat covered my nonexistent hair and my clumsy leg braces became staples of my closet. My attempts to find the friends I had when I was still in school proved futile as I stumbled around awkwardly. I received unwanted, and uncomfortable stares as I walked shakily to class, sweating and exhausted as my frail body had difficulty keeping up. My classes were the most difficult they had ever been. The previous year I was homeschooled with a minimum workload for a few months, but my worsening condition and frequent hospital stays had made it difficult to learn anything my teacher taught me. My right-hand burned as I tried to complete the assignments of the first day with shaky, barely legible handwriting; A side effect of one of the chemotherapies I was on. The work that other kids took five minutes to complete took me ten minutes. As the day went on, I became more and more dejected at the things my peers, kids whom I had known since kindergarten, could do and I couldn’t. I clearly did not fit in with the other students. When I finally got home, exhausted after a day of emotional trauma and alienation, I sobbed to my mother and explained everything that happened to me. I pleaded for her to let me be homeschooled again, and though she empathized she said that nothing good would come from learning at home. Homeschool seemed like a great option, so I didn’t understand why she told me that at the time, but my mom was just doing what she thought would be best for me. It took a long time, and an endless supply of tears, but in the end I realized it too.

As the year continued, my time as a freshman became easier but not without a struggle. Just as I fought my way through cancer, I fought my way through the ninth grade curriculum as I worked endlessly to catch up. Though my teachers offered me extra time on my assignments, I turned it down more often than not, wanting to keep up with the pace of my classmates. I stayed awake into the late hours of each night working slowly to finish each assignment for the entire first semester and into the second one. I began to see my grades rise, and my hard work paid off right before my eyes. With doctor’s appointments every other week, and increased illness due to my almost nonexistent immune system, by the end of the year, I had missed a whopping thirty days of school. Despite this, my grades only improved as I spent the year learning about what the meaning of hard work truly is. That meaning stays with me today, four years later, as I embark on my journey to becoming a fully functioning member of society. Though my cancer is gone, the lessons and work ethic that it has taught me will always remain in me. This is what survivorship means to me; all of the lessons that cancer has taught me so that I could become a stronger person, ready to conquer anything life throws at me.