Meet our scholar recipients
Meet Aspen Heidekrueger
"I survived, and that means I now have the potential to not only live, but to truly thrive. I’m a survivor, and to me this means that I was broken and then repaired with gold."
The term “survivor” automatically confirms that someone lived through something life-threatening. When you survive cancer, after your own body threatens your life, the survival experience is much more personal; you cheat an intimate form of death. This means a process of introspection will come when the battle is over.
To me, the term “cancer survivor” evokes something different; it brings to mind another word: Kintsukuroi. The literal definition of Kintsukuroi is “to repair with gold.” It refers to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver, to promote the cultural understanding that a piece is more beautiful for having first been broken.
I am a leukemia survivor, and the long journey toward understanding myself and my place in this world was filled with more pitfalls, crossroads, and wrong turns than I could count. However, that journey awarded me with deeper understandings, new perspectives, and wisdom.
To be a leukemia survivor is to experience the resurgence of traumatic past memories or emotions. It means facing your demons and learning how to become the master of your mind when all you want to do is run from it all. It means dedication time and energy into your own emotional recovery after the physical battle is over, giving yourself grace on hard days, and always striving to improve. This is ow I have grown after my own trauma.
As a leukemia survivor, I understand that I may often have to fight harder or longer than most people to be truly happy, but I inherently know that I will appreciate the joys in life in a way that others can never. I am empathetic to any kind of pain, and I am driven to encourage and support others who are struggling. Everyone needs a helping hand at times. I always remember that no one’s pain is less than my own. Pain is pain; there is no comparison necessary.
Somewhere in my journey, I realized that there are some pains in this life that humans are not meant to withstand; things that break people. You come to realize that strength is not created when you stubbornly refuse to break; it is born when you completely shatter and still choose to keep pushing forward, overcome your pain, and transcend your trials. This is what survivorship means to me. It means accepting your brokenness then piecing yourself back together in a way that leaves you stronger. It means choosing to be remade instead of being defeated. This one concept was foundational to my ever-expanding identity as a leukemia survivor.
Every survivor will have a unique story. It took years to understand what surviving leukemia meant to me. After two-and-a-half years of treatment and three years of remission, I now recognize that being broken, and losing everything I had before cancer, enabled me to become who I was meant to be. For this reason, I would never change what happened to me. I am resilient; my trials allowed me to grow in heart, mind, body, and soul. I am filled with certainty and confidence in who I am. My known life was taken for years, and in that time, I had to remake myself. I am now certain of my hopes, dreams, and priorities. I came to know my weaknesses as intimately as I know my strengths. I am on a journey of self-actualization, and I can see how much potential I have to make a difference in my own life and in the world around me. I refuse to allow my past to define my future. I did not die – I overcame, and I transcended. I have been given a second chance at life and the entire world is in front of me.
I have been broken, bruised, and battered, but in my brokenness, I found strength, I found determination, I found beauty, and I discovered who I am truly meant to be. I survived, and that means I now have the potential to not only live, but to truly thrive. I’m a survivor, and to me this means that I was broken and then repaired with gold.