Meet Jessica A
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"Childhood is defined by the development of character, built on moments of discovery, success, and mistakes that lead to wisdom."
I was immediately rushed to the Loma Linda Children’s Hospital, where I was diagnosed with stage III Neuroblastoma. At five weeks of age, my mother was faced with the decision of permitting a surgery that would entail severing the nerves in my spine in order to completely remove the tumor, guaranteeing permanent paraplegia. The surgery was my last chance of survival and my mother was determined to save my life no matter the costs, and in blind faith the a decision was made for the surgery to be performed. At four months of age the tumor began to grow back. Radiation, a second surgery and 10 months of chemotherapy followed. However, to the sheer delight and shock of my family, paralyzation did not set in and at seventeen months of age I took my first steps. My doctors claimed that if they could discover and duplicate the effects of how my other nerves were able to function in substitution of those absent, they could cure paraplegia. Though my case has been investigated by the top oncologists and neurologists, explanation for the phenomenon has yet to be produced.
At the age of five, I was officially cured of cancer, but the devastating effects of my disease did not dissipate. I spent my childhood balancing the humiliation of painful braces, countless examinations, and more corrective surgeries under the ever-watchful eye of my mother, fueled by her fiercely protective nature. As I began the awkward transition into womanhood, I learned the art of skillfully balancing my doctor’s need to know with my right to privacy. I learned to relinquish my inhibitions and pride for the sake of my health. Questions regarding the development of my body, including details I was too shy to relate even in my own diary, I unabashedly answered. I created a facade of stone, concealing my pain with the determination to prove that I was healthy and strong. Inwardly however, my conviction to avoid moments of weakness was an attempt to surpress my deepest fears; to convince myself that sickness would not befall upon me. At ten years old, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. My doctor informed me that when my tumor was removed, the muscle had also been removed from my back. This fragility compacted with my rapid growth, caused my spine to curve due to a lack of support. In vain, I pursued every option to avoid the trauma of rebuilding my spine, enduring endless physical therapy and returning to the plastic imprisonment of braces.
However, at the age of twelve, my orthopedic specialist devastated me with the news that my spine was curving at such an astonishing rate, that it was beginning to crush all of my vital organs. I would be dead in six months if surgery was avoided. At his words, I felt cracks shudder through the stone walls I had used to fortify my own fear. The pain I had so long encased rushed through me, bursting before the people I had tried so earnestly to convince of my stability. In the months leading up to the operation, I waged an emotional battle against God. The faith I had established in Him through the death he had previously delivered me from only increased my anger; knowing that he was fully capable to heal me, but refused.
While I was recovering from surgery, my mother admitted that the battle I had faced in my faith mirrored her own struggle with God, until the doctors revealed a vital piece of information to her. When my back was re-opened, it was discovered that the radiation I had received as an infant destroyed the density of my spine. The fact that I had never died from the collapse of my spine was a miracle. Without the operation, my doctors would have never been aware of the extreme danger my spine bore.
For years, as I stared at the wreckage that disease had left on my body, I struggled with knowledge that none of my pain, humiliation, fears, nor the mars on my body would have occurred without my cancer. However, as I venture into adulthood, I now look back on my experiences with the utmost gratitude-I would not be the person I am today without them. My victory over cancer has taught me to take full advantage of the gift of life I have been blessed with, and to accomplish something meaningful with it. Throughout my high school career I found fulfillment through participating in community service projects: such as organizing donations for Operation Christmas Child, collecting Box Tops for Education, managing a local diaper drive, and the Teddy Bear Project: a program designed to bring comfort to the pediatric patients of local hospitals by providing them with hand-made bears. As a cancer survivor, I immediately found myself drawn to the project, having spent countless hours trapped within hospitals myself. I once again found this commonality of experience when I became an ambassador for the American Cancer Society in 2013. I took great pleasure in organizing fundraisers and creating care packets for women with breast cancer. After college, I plan to use the skills I have cultivated to fulfill my goal of bettering society through more ecologically friendly business practices. The main goal of my career is to achieve a degree in Business Administration, which will afford me the knowledge necessary to foster ecological efficiency in local businesses; thus promoting both environmental awareness and financial prosperity. Receiving this scholarship will provide me the opportunity to continue my education; equipping me with right tools to positively impact society through my career and community service.