How do you feel being a cancer survivor defined you and who you are today?
I feel that being a survivor has allowed me, as I got older, to view life differently and helped me to make many of my decisions in life. I try not to take life for granted. I think that if I overcame cancer as a child, then I can get through any hard times. I have finished college, a Master’s degree, I am a teacher, and I am getting married soon. All these big life decisions and accomplishments allow me to stop and think of where I have been (a child with cancer) and how far I have come. It keeps me humble I feel too.
Do you remember when you were diagnosed and what you felt at the young age of 6?
I do remember bits and pieces of when I was first diagnosed and when I was being treated. As a child you don’t know what cancer means or how sick you really are. I don’t think we used the word “cancer” so much in my family but called it Leukemia. I don’t think it was until I got a little older around middle school that I made the full connection that the Leukemia I had was in fact CANCER and how seriously sick I really was. I knew I was sick and had to go through lots of different things going to the hospital constantly, being poked constantly, and couldn’t go to school but it became my normal. I felt sort of normal also because my mom made it a point to make sure I got out of bed when I could, that I got dressed into regular clothes, not just a hospital gown, and that my hair was somewhat done. She kept me busy too in the playroom and bringing me toys and games so I felt like a normal kid not just a sick child.
What helped/supported you most during your treatment?
My parents and sister were my biggest support system. My mom never left my side for one minute except maybe to use the bathroom. I remember she had gotten sick with a cold while I was in the hospital and she couldn’t be near me so my dad and other family members came to took care of me and she felt so bad to be away from me. My dad would also stay with me sometimes overnight to give her a break occasionally. He took care of my sister a lot too who was only 2 years old at the time. He was also the one who got my hospital involved with PCF so he brought another support system (PCF) to my life by making that connection. My sister, Brooke, was only 2 at the time but would be there for me always making me smile and get my mind off of being sick.
How did childhood cancer change your outlook on life?
Being only a child when I had cancer I feel it has made me humble and I try not to take life for granted. I try to really soak in and appreciate the great moments in life and make the most of it. I try to make the most of my life and do the things I love because I feel that I have been given another chance at life so I should appreciate it and make the most of it. I like to do lots of fun activities and explore the beauty around me to live my best, fullest life.
As a survivor and now an adult, have there been decisions in your life that you made as a result of your experience?
I think that being a survivor has really shaped all my decisions in life. I feel that I can do anything I set my mind to because of what I have been through. When things might have been overwhelming in college or at work I try to remind myself of what I have overcome to get through it. I feel that I have put myself out there more than I may have because I think that I’m a survivor and I should take chances when it comes to big life choices.
Can you describe how you became involved with PCF and what that meant to you?
My dad is responsible for my involvement with PCF. While I was in the hospital, and first diagnosed, my dad was watching the news and they were broadcasting from the rotunda at the PCF Walkathon. My dad did some research and found out that they supported children with cancer and the hospitals that help to cure them. He realized that my hospital, LIJ Schneider’s Children’s Hospital (now Cohen’s Children’s Hospital) was not one of the hospitals they were involved with. He contacted people at the hospital to get them involved with PCF and the rest is history. I’m so happy he was watching because PCF means so much to me. It has been an organization that has always made me feel supported, and allowed me over the years to feel important as a survivor. I have done things because of PCF I normally wouldn’t have done, such as being the leader of the Walkathon or standing in front of a whole crowd of people cutting the ribbon to being the walk. I have also met some incredible families who I hope I have given some hope to showing them how well I am doing after surviving cancer.
You are now a teacher, does your survivorship influence the impact you have on your students and how you teach?
I have wanted to be a teacher forever, even before I had cancer, but I had some incredible teachers who showed me what being a teacher really means. My kindergarten and first grade teachers came to my house the first time I came home from the hospital to see how I was and bring me goodies and cards from my first grade class. That made me want to be a teacher who really cares not just about the grades they produce or the answers they get, but who they are and to be the best people they can be. I feel that being a survivor and that experience I’ve had with my own teachers, I try to instill in my students to be kind to everyone, help others no matter what they look like or who they are. For the past two years, I have been a first grade teacher and that is the grade I was in when I was diagnosed. Being their teacher in the same grade I didn’t even finish feels special. I try to make their first grade experience, and especially their end of year experience, special for I think both them and me since I missed out. In the past 2 years, we have also written holiday cards to children in the hospital who couldn’t make it home for the holidays. I have been in that boat before and if I heard from another child in school I think it would have made me feel a little better about being in the hospital for the holidays. I bring the cards to the same hospital I was treated in to give back.
Recently engaged and embarking on the next chapter of your life, what do you look forward to most?
I look forward to living my best life healthy and happy with my best friend by my side. I look forward to having a family with him one day, and exploring the world. I have known my fiancé, Eric, since I was 12 years old so I look forward to finally being husband and wife with someone who has always supported me, and loved me, and felt that being a survivor is a real strength of mine. He knows how important health is to me, and I just look forward to all the wonderful things life will bring us as husband and wife.