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"I became a believer that we are only given the challenges that we will be able to handle."

My parents left the meeting with wide eyes. Ms. Hoover, the International Baccalaureate coordinator, had managed to frighten them more than any haunted house ever could. With pale faces, my parents sat me down to talk about the horrifying thing they had just been informed of: junior year in the IB program. “Next year will be so hard. How will you be able to manage?” my mother lamented. “This is going to require all of your focus and concentration,” my father added. And they were completely right, albeit in a way neither of them could have ever imagined.

On August 9th, 2011, just as I was arming myself with binders and agenda books to guard against the rigors of junior year, something slipped past my defenses: I was diagnosed with cancer. One moment, throughout the whole discussion of my failing health, chemo-therapies to come, and side effects I would experience, struck me to my core. As I was being told that I have cancer, it suddenly started to rain violently. The next time I looked up, however, it was sunny, and a butterfly fluttered past our window on the eighth floor. I took that as a metaphor for the journey of my life: although times were rough now, things would soon look up. However, my parents were right about one thing. Junior year was going to be the toughest year I had ever experienced.

My initial thought after my diagnosis was that there would be no way I would be able to do junior year of the IB program, or even continue with school while undergoing treatment. I did not believe that I would be able to handle that two-fronted battle. But, as those thoughts went through my head, a sort of transformation began to occur. I felt the need to rise up to that challenge, to complete junior year, to continue with the IB program and graduate on time. I became a believer that we are only given the challenges that we will be able to handle so that we may be tested of our abilities, determination, and strength. And therefore, I decided that I would rise up to the challenge, and complete junior year, on top of my cancer treatment.

I spent my days alternating between two personas, that of a high school student, and that of a cancer patient. In between the chemo-therapies, multiple surgeries, spinal taps, admissions, scans, and all my other procedures, I tried to squeeze in some studying. I was well known for having a morphine drip in my arm and an AP study book on my lap. I sat strapped to the hospital bed, receiving nutrition through my central line while trying to figure out integration by parts. I came equipped with my physics textbook and my IV pole. I’ll be the first to admit- it was hard. I lost control of my body and my life. At any moment, I could be whisked off to the hospital, and quarantined for weeks. Not to mention that the side effects of any cancer drug are not conducive to studying. There were many times I felt like just giving up, that maybe graduating as class of 2014 wasn’t such a bad idea. But something always stopped me from acting on those thoughts, from fully giving up. Something taught me how to adjust, and to study when I could, and not overexert my limits when I couldn’t. Something always brought me back and forced me to bring my calculus book with me when I went to the hospital. And that something ensured that I would be ready to take five AP exams in May. And take them I did. I scored well.

But I didn’t stop there. Soon afterward, I became a patient ambassador for Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology. Through speeches and other events, I work towards raising money for pediatric cancer research. I have worked with Giant Foods and Outback Steakhouse, and assisted them in raising over 2.5 million dollars for pediatric cancer research. However, cancer must be eradicated, and I don’t plan on just working on through the financial aspect of it. I plan on becoming a pediatric oncologist. I am lucky that I was able to receive a treatment, but I want to ensure that no child ever requires treatment for cancer again. Through this experience, I realized that the limits of my abilities stretched much further than I could have change the cards life handed me, but I can change how I play the hand.