Meet our scholar recipients
Meet Patrick McSweeney
But survivorship is acknowledging the scars and pain cancer caused me, and then making a daily choice to let these experiences turn me into a better person.
A life without cancer is a life I will never understand. The only reason I know what happened on the day I was diagnosed with cancer is because that day is etched into my mom’s memory like the scars on my body. She has had to be the one to tell me what happened on July 21, 2004. It was one day before her birthday, and I was just five years old. I had had strep three times over the course of the previous two months and as both a mom and a nurse, she knew something was wrong. So, she took me to our pediatrician to get some bloodwork drawn. The results came back a few minutes later, and all we were told was to get to Kosair Children’s Hospital immediately. That’s where I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Little did we realize that this was only the beginning of a fight that has now spanned the majority of my life. My chemo regimen lasted thirty-eight months, and I “finished” my first round with cancer in September of 2007. I had been in remission for almost five years when the metaphorical bell signaling round two of the fight rang on April 22, 2010, the date of my first relapse. And unlike my first diagnosis, I remember this date. Being ten, I was now old enough to understand and remember my treatments, and this made my future relapses that much harder.
Round two “finished” in July of 2012, but the fight was far from over. Over the next nine years leading up to the present day, I would continue to fight through rounds three, four, five, six, and seven. My third round took place in Cincinnati, where I endured radiation and a bone marrow transplant in 2013. My fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds all took place in Philadelphia, home to Rocky Balboa. Here I endured various experimental CAR-T 19 immunotherapy treatments, being patient thirty-four in one set of trials, patient four in another set, and patient number one in another. These treatments lasted from 2014 through 2018, until it was decided to fight round seven back in Cincinnati again with a second bone marrow transplant. I received this in May of 2018, almost five years to the day after my first BMT.
Since this second transplant I have gratefully remained in remission, and yet my fight with cancer and its effects seems to never be “finished.” This is survivorship. Survivorship is finally understanding that even when I feel done with cancer, it is by no means done with me.
Cancer has been my entire life and will continue to be my entire life, no matter how.long I am cancer free and no matter how much I want it to stay in my past. So, instead of letting these bad experiences bring me down, I am going to use them to help pull others up, because that’s also a part of survivorship. It’s finding ways to move forward and to get through each day to make the life I fought for worth it. For me, that sense of worth and purpose comes in the form of helping others and seeing other kids and young adults like me overcome cancer. That’s why I’m pursuing a career in nursing. It’s why I want to work at a hospital with the nurses who kept me alive and who continue to give me reasons to keep fighting. I want to be a source of hope for other children and young adults so that as survivors, they can continue to pick themselves up off the ground no matter how many punches cancer throws, just like I did.
This is why when I was treated in Philadelphia I often thought of Rocky Balboa and his fights, and how he always seemed to get back up. I could relate to him. In fact, I think one of his quotes summarizes survivorship perfectly. “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
In a fight with cancer, it’s hard to be the one throwing the punches. In order to survive, to win, I had to take the hits and move forward. I’m twenty-one now, left with scars, memories, and other daily reminders that I survived. But survivorship is acknowledging the scars and pain cancer caused me, and then making a daily choice to let these experiences turn me into a better person. I can’t imagine a life without cancer, but that won’t stop me from living it to the fullest.