Meet our Scholars
meet emily

Years Awarded:

Due to cancer, I gained closer bonds with my family and friends, I gained a love for leadership, I gained the courage to ask for help, and I gained an abundance of optimism.

Strength of a Thirteen-Year-Old

There’s not much I remember about the Christmas week of 2018. However, I do remember the horrific shrill from my mom, a sound that could shatter glass, a sound that shattered my heart. Eventually, my devastated mother ran back inside the hospital room, tears streaming down her face. I looked her dead in the eyes, grabbed her face, and calmly said, “I need you to be strong for me.”

At the innocent age of thirteen, the pediatrician felt a lump in my neck. At the young age of thirteen, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. At the developing age of thirteen, I had a total thyroidectomy, a radical lymphadenectomy, and underwent radiation. Eighth grade is a difficult time for any healthy teenager, but to complicate it with a cancer diagnosis altered my life completely. The unprecedented, horrific moment of hearing that my lump was actually a malignant tumor made me feel powerless. But, knowing that a long, difficult journey was ahead, I faced who I really was: a natural-born leader.

A leader needs to be resilient. A leader needs to be optimistic. A leader needs to inspire hope. Hope, I learned, is one of the most delicate feelings in the world. The beautiful thing about hope is that it can be found anywhere, by anyone. I experienced my most significant breakthrough of hope upon meeting the surgeon that ultimately saved my life. I had fleeting encounters with dozens of medical professionals, all having similar step-by-step, straight out of textbook protocols. On the other hand, Dr. Middlesworth’s gentle confidence and disposition brought me a vital rush of warmth and hopefulness. There are people that walk into your life, sometimes even for just a brief moment, and impact you forever. Dr. Middlesworth is a name I will never forget. Experiencing the genuine kindness of a leader in adversity inspired me to provide the same kind of comfort and optimism to others. To this day, I am conscious of being caring and empathetic because perhaps my brief encounters and encouragement may change someone else’s life for the better.

In light of being overwhelmed by a health crisis completely out of my control, I changed my lifestyle entirely to focus on aspects of my well-being in my power by converting to a plant-based diet and weight-lifting daily. One day at the gym, I approached a confused, timid woman and learned about her overwhelming fear of judgment. As the advice to the woman rolled off my tongue, I had an epiphany that these words of guidance and inspiration were meant for me as much as they were for her. With certainty, I exclaimed, “you will never be comfortable or content if you care what other people think.” The toll of cancer wasn’t limited to my physical health but also led to an array of emotional distress. Even after recovery, I was left with insecurities, especially surrounding the prominent scar on my neck. I found myself putting makeup on my neck, wearing turtlenecks and scarves, anything that would conceal the scar.

Weeks following meeting the woman, I arrived at the gym and she was confidently performing new, challenging exercises. But she wasn’t the only person in the room shining brighter that day because I was wearing a shirt that didn’t conceal my scar.

Due to cancer, I lost months of education, I lost an essential organ, and I lost confidence. Due to cancer, I gained closer bonds with my family and friends, I gained a love for leadership, I gained the courage to ask for help, and I gained an abundance of optimism. Due to cancer, I endured years of emotional and physical agony but that hardship made me the brave and spirited person I am today. Looking back at myself as an innocent, young, developing thirteen-year-old, I now realize I never knew how strong I could be until I was.