Meet our scholar recipients

The mindset around mental health in our society must adapt, so that we can help those who need it the most...I am so excited to be a part of the change. This is what survivorship means to me!

What does survivorship mean to me?

I was in my hospital room, hysterically sobbing, wondering why there was nobody I could talk to. Someone who could help me understand and process the trauma that had taken over my lifeĀ­ not once, but twice. In these most challenging moments of my life, I was left to my own devices to manage my anxiety and depression. Years later, I now realize how little progress our society has made to provide proper mental health care and treatment to ALL. Furthermore, there is still a negative stigma regarding mental health problems that restricts access to these live-saving resources.

High school students are subject to a multitude of constant sources of anxiety, including maintaining friendships, competing in sports, performing academically, and participating in extracurriculars. I did not fully grasp the gravity of this societal and healthcare problem until I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 15. I was taken out of school to complete treatments and felt an extreme disconnect from my peers. During and after my treatments, my “normal” levels of anxiety and depression reached new and scary levels due to my isolation. It is challenging enough being a teenager in modem times, yet adding an extreme medical diagnosis completely blindsided me. It was during this time that I realized hospitals in my area no longer provide child psychologists to be readily available for patients. In fact, they have cut the programs completely. Truth of the matter is, cancer patients are treated for cancer, not for the extreme trauma our minds go through. This angered me in the sense that thousands of other sick children are left without the proper support needed to get them through such an agonizing time in their life.

When I turned 17, my cancer relapsed. With my frustrations fresh on my mind, I decided that this time I was going to help others while I fought through brutal treatments. I created a Youtube channel where I shared my story, treatments, and thoughts around what I was experiencing. I knew I would not be able to change the lack of mental health support in pediatric and young adult oncology services overnight, although I knew sharing my story was something I could do to make a difference. I spoke of my experiences, hoping anyone who listened would feel reassurance or hope from my unconventional journey. Most importantly, I wanted every cancer patient to know that their feelings of isolation throughout their fight were justified and heard. I had other cancer patients reaching out and calling me an “inspiration,” an adjective I would never have used to describe myself. I was overwhelmed with my ability to help others like me: nevertheless, I want to do more.

The trauma from multiple cancer diagnoses is immense, something that is extremely difficult not to dwell on. However, with time and the support of my friends and family, I was able to heal. A year later, I reached out to leaders at Duke Children’s Hospital, where I had received my treatment. I initiated a partnership with the brand-new Teen and Young Adult Oncology Program at the hospital to raise money and spread awareness for the mental well-being of young cancer patients. There is now a program in place to assist cancer patients who need the same support that I did. I am eager to spend the rest of my life fighting for young cancer patients and their mental well-being. I believe that extra relief MUST be given to those fighting battles more challenging than anyone else could imagine. That is the support they need, and more importantly, the support they deserve. The mindset around mental health in our society must adapt, so that we can help those who need it the most. I do not know about you, but I am so excited to be a part of the change. This is what survivorship means to me!