I am so grateful for Little Pink Houses of Hope. They gave my family a chance to see that cancer is not the defining factor in our lives.
Since I was seven years old, my mother has been battling breast cancer. She was diagnosed in late 2009, and in the beginning, I did not know why she always had doctor appointments or why she lost all of her hair. Eventually, when I was old enough to understand what cancer is, I saw why all of that was happening. It became a dull constant in the background of my childhood. She fought it off, but two years after her initial diagnosis, her cancer returned and became metastatic.
The second round was much longer and harder for me to watch. This time, my mom fought alongside her mother, my grandmother, when she too was diagnosed in 2013 and eventually succumbed to the disease in June 2016. The loss of my grandma was the first time I experienced the death of a loved one, and it made more real what I had forgotten was raging inside my mom’s body. In November 2017, she had a surgery that removed the last spot of cancer from her lungs, ending the longest amount of time to date that she had to spend every ounce of her energy fighting to continue to be our mom.
But nothing good lasts forever, and my mom’s cancer showed up in her scans again about a year after her surgery. Her new treatment burned her feet from the inside out, making it extremely difficult and painful for her to walk anywhere. She quickly stopped that treatment and began a new one in which her hair fell out again. She is still going through treatments as she continues fighting cancer, but she is just as resilient as she was over a decade ago with her first diagnosis. Every day she gets closer to achieving her goal of seeing my graduation, the first of her three children’s graduations that she is hoping she will have the chance to see. Her courage and persistence have instilled in me an appreciation of every moment and the ability to take the time to say, “Look how far I’ve come despite all of these things working against me.”
My family went on a Little Pink Houses of Hope retreat just over a month before my mom’s second fight against cancer ended. She had been wishing to go on one of the retreats offered for quite a long time, applying over and over again in the hopes of getting a week away from our life in Nebraska and experiencing a fun getaway with other families who knew the struggle ours went through. When we finally were offered a retreat in Oak Island, North Carolina, it was actually postponed because of Hurricane Maria’s path that took it right past North Carolina, but my family, along with all of the other families who also attended that year, only had to wait a month before we could safely spend a week on Oak Island.
My entire family thoroughly enjoyed our retreat, and we still frequently reminisce about our week spent in Oak Island. My mother and father loved the new support system it gave them, and my siblings and I immensely adored the activities planned for us, including a day at the beach, kayaking and paddle-boarding (neither of which we’d never done before then), and a trip to a nearby aquarium. We got to forget the horrible reality of our lives and simply make friends with kids that were going through the same thing. By the end of our retreat, not only had we taken a much-needed vacation, but we had found a group of families who understood the situation we were in and the feelings and hardships that come up because of it.
On our last night before everyone headed home, we all sat in a circle and had each and every person, whether they were parent or child, speak about what they appreciated most about the retreat. I can’t remember what most people said, but I can say with certainty that every single person in that room was crying even before we got halfway across the circle. We had all connected so much over the course of the week, and everyone left feeling a very strong bond between each and every person on the retreat.
Whenever my mom is feeling particularly down after treatments or scans, my dad tells her, “We are not cancer. We are affected by cancer.” I have heard this and taken it in as a part of me. As much as my life has been consumed by the disease, it has not stopped me from planning for my future like the other students my age are currently doing. I have loved designing rooms from the time I was little. I would arrange and rearrange my dollhouses and draw up floor plans for my bedroom. My mom went through an HGTV phase when I was in middle school, and I learned that interior design is a potential career option. From there, I’ve been able to take classes in my school where I tried out the skills, and I was able to confirm that I wanted to become an interior designer.
Outside of my future career, I would love to travel around the world after college. I have always loved traveling; my parents have taken me and my siblings on vacations across the country, from the sandy beaches of Southern California to the rainforests of Washington, and of course, to Oak Island. These vacations have instilled in me an appreciation for the natural beauty of other places and the people who live there. I find other countries and cultures to be fascinating, and being able to experience them firsthand would greatly expand my world view.
I have been preparing to go to college my whole life, by always doing my absolute best in my classes (most of which are pretty challenging), taking standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT, and setting a clear goal for what I would like to do and finding ways to try it out before college begins.
Of course, attending college will prepare me for a career later in my life. I will learn how to get into the design mindset to be successful in my career. I will have the opportunity to learn new skills, take in knowledge from my professors, and overall get the chance to live and learn in a way that high school can’t fulfill. I am excited to take this next step into college and to have so many new doors opened for me.
My most sentimental reason for going to college is to fulfill my grandmother’s last wishes for me. Just days before she passed, she told me and my siblings how proud she was of us and gave us each something that she hoped we would do once she was gone. She told me, “Enjoy high school and college.” It seems so simple when it’s written out, but her wish has reminded me in the tough times that I’m at the age when I should be having fun and enjoying myself–despite the situation my family has been going through for over a decade. I have spent the four years since her passing making the best friends I could have ever hoped for and creating happy memories in high school. Now, I will finally be able to fulfill the second part of her wish.
I am so grateful for Little Pink Houses of Hope. They gave my family a chance to see that cancer is not the defining factor in our lives. We may have been put in a situation for over 10 years that none of us asked to be in, but Little Pink gave us a week spent with such kind people who had similar things happen to them, and we are eternally grateful for the unforgettable experience we had with them.