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The truth is that pain, hurt and fear all have their place in survivorship as much as joy, fun and growth; it's about honoring the process of ups, downs and all arounds.

One second, I was preparing for the district-wide orchestra concert –  curled hair, pressed uniform and viola in tune. The next, I was sitting cross-legged on an ER bed as the doctor pulled up a chair. She said three words to me: “We found something.” What they found was the cause of my earlier seizure: a tennis ball-sized tumor in my brain.

It felt like the world stood still yet was spinning at the same time. As I was rushed down the hall for hours more of imaging, I wondered ‘Did I do all the things I wanted to do with my life?’

The answer? Absolutely not. I hadn’t gone to college or published a book. I hadn’t competed in the Amazing Race or gotten a dog. There were so many things – so many dreams, desires, goals and experiences – I was not ready to miss.

In the days that followed, I received kindly-written cards, beautiful flowers and saw dozens of well wishes and quotes posted to FaceBook for my encouragement. One quote in particular by author Nicole Reed stood out: “Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the most wonderful things that will ever happen to us.”

I knew my “bad thing” would be fighting stage four glioblastoma multiforme. I knew there would be surgeries, fatiguing radiation, chemotherapy and sickening infusions to come. But I persevered through the hair loss and the broken friendships, the homebound schooling and the fatigue because survivorship was waiting for me, and survivorship – more importantly, thrivership – would become my most wonderful (and simultaneously difficult) experience.

I have learned to not only make the most of what I have but to chase after my dreams. I’ve devoted myself to the people, activities and causes I cherish the most, such as pediatric cancer advocacy and community service. Without a doubt, my life has become enriched with more empathy, love, hope and community than I ever thought possible.

But I – like us all – still have hard days. I’ll never forget, at age fourteen, discussing with my parents the chances of being able to have my own children later on in life. I’ll never forget sobbing alone in the parking lot of my therapist’s office after hearing my cancer is almost certain to come back. The fatigue and chemo fog still affect me, and the agony of seeing fellow cancer friends, family and peers die at the hands of this awful disease is unmatched. The truth is that pain, hurt and fear all have their place in survivorship as much as joy, fun and growth; it’s about honoring the process of ups, downs and all arounds.

For me, survivorship is everything. It’s the family dinners and the fresh air, the sad songs and the grueling appointments. It’s the good things and the bad things, the missed orchestra concert and the ER. It’s a dance and a balance – one I will gladly and appreciatively stick around for. After all, I still have a book to write and the Amazing Race to win.