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Because of the strengths that surviving cancer gave me, my freshman year was the greatest year of my life.

The Greatest Year of My Life

I had no idea what was coming.

After two years in Nepal where my dad was working as a military officer in the U.S. embassy, our family returned to America for a much needed break. We planned to visit family and then return to Nepal to start my freshman year of high school. I was glad to be back in the land of hamburgers and milkshakes. Little did I know that I would begin my freshman year in a chair receiving chemotherapy, worried about my future fertility, not my grades or sports. It is wild to think that the burgers and milkshakes I desired were brought to me by my grandfather to sustain my morale during six months of treatment.

Every fourteen-year old knows his body will go through changes, so I thought nothing as one of my testicles appeared to be growing differently than the other. But as pain below the belt increased, it became apparent that something was wrong, and we went to the hospital. On July 6th, I had emergency surgery and the amazing doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, Virginia removed a one pound tumor. After they ran tests on the tumor, they gave us the punch – I had cancer. We moved to my grandparents’ house in California, had another surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, and I began chemotherapy and radiation. My dad had to return to Nepal, so my mom ran the family alone in California, not Nepal. Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno saw me through my treatment and now, three years later, I am free of cancer.

I am still learning to fully appreciate the implications of having cancer. During my freshman year I coped with cancer by focusing on fighting through one day at a time, a mindset which has stayed with me through the similarly uncertain era of COVID-19. The weekly chemo quickly drained my energy and stripped me of my hair, marking me as a “chemo boy”. On my blog about my progress through treatment, I joked that during the harder treatments I entered a realm where “time had no meaning.” I tossed and turned with an IV in my arm, waking up to empty my bladder of the fluids that the doctors constantly pumped through me, and throwing up every once in a while. However, I knew that I wasn’t alone. The Bible tells me that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4). As a Christian, I believe that there is a God, that He controls the world, and that He has a good plan for me. My year of chemo only strengthened that belief.

Now, having been a survivor for three years, I can look back and say without a doubt that my freshman year was the greatest year of my life. It was not the best year, because of all the hardship, and it definitely was not my happiest year. However, because of my personal and spiritual growth that year, 2017 was the greatest year of my life. It taught me endurance as I struggled to keep pace with my peers. It taught me kindness as I experienced the kindness of those who loved me enough to ask me how I was doing. It taught me the power of friendship from friends who never made me feel out of place with my bald head. It taught me the strength of a family, with a father who could not be physically with us, a mother who both supported me and pushed me forward, and siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who encouraged and prayed for me constantly. Because of cancer, I am stronger, closer to my family, and closer to my God. Because of the strengths that surviving cancer gave me, my freshman year was the greatest year of my life.