It is because of this cancer journey that I am capable of taking care of myself and others, which is why I am unafraid to venture into this next phase of life and independence, but it also makes leaving home more difficult.
As a senior in high school, this final year at home is full of bittersweet moments. The fun of taking senior pictures, the tireless work of filling out many college applications, and the lump in my throat at seeing my cap and gown hanging in the closet have led to a variety of emotions. Most of my friends are excited to leave high school and home behind, while a few are terrified of everything changing and going to college without their family and current friends. It is difficult to explain to them that I am caught in the middle because the past decade of my life has taught me to be independent, yet to cling to my loved ones for as long as I can.
My mom’s original breast cancer diagnosis came in November 2010. I had just turned nine years old. I had been homeschooled since first grade, so my mom had an even more involved role in my life than most parents. Until that point, I had a fairly easy-going childhood, but nothing will make a child grow up faster than seeing her mom’s long, curly hair shaved off and watching a highly active parent be confined to bed for days on end. That battle with cancer was a rude awakening for my family, and it made me realize that life is uncertain. While it is not an experience I would wish on anyone, it made me more responsible, more independent, and gave me a more mature perspective on life.
After my mom was declared “cancer-free,” my family’s life went back to “normal,” or so I thought. In 2016, we realized that there is no such thing as “cancer-free,” just “no evidence of active disease” because my mom’s breast cancer was back, but this time it had metastasized in her liver. With her cancer classified as Stage IV, we knew that the outcome was probably not as bright as the first time. As a high school student, I tried to balance helping around the house, driving my little sister to her activities, managing my schoolwork, maintaining an upbeat social life with friends, all while carrying this heavy weight of concern for my mom.
When we were offered the opportunity to go to Hatteras Island for a retreat as a family through Little Pink Houses of Hope, I had no idea that it would be the highlight of my summer. My family lives in NC, but we had never been to the Outer Banks, so the change of scenery in itself was amazing, but it was the other people that truly made that week special. Connecting with families and volunteers who did not personally know us, but who showed incredible kindness and actually understood what we were going through was amazing. My family made some great memories, and I also enjoyed connecting with the other kids, as they knew what it was like to want to have a good time, but they also had a heaviness on their hearts that could relate to mine. Being able to enjoy a week at the beach without my parents or myself having to plan it was such a relief and a blessing that I will always cherish.
As my mom’s cancer has spread to her spine, brain, and lungs, I am continually blown away by her strength to keep fighting, her selfless love toward others, and the inspiration that she has become to so many people in our community. It is because of this cancer journey that I am capable of taking care of myself and others, which is why I am unafraid to venture into this next phase of life and independence, but it also makes leaving home more difficult. My mom has been fighting for years to stay alive and healthy so we could have more time together, but now I am expected to spread my wings and leave home. No matter what the upcoming months bring with my mom’s health and with heading off to college, I am grateful that my family’s experience with cancer has allowed us to make the most of these past few years together, rather than taking them for granted. I am also thankful for the resilience that this journey has helped me develop, as it will serve me well wherever I go in life.
As this next chapter with college begins, I am planning to pursue a career in the medical field. My goal is to become a Physician’s Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner, both of which are master’s degrees, so I intend to major in health science or nursing for my undergraduate degree. I know that I want to be involved in a career that helps people, makes a visible different in others’ lives, and allows me to be a source of encouragement for those I interact with. My fascination with anatomy and physiology, as well as an appreciation for the medical teams that help my mom, have led to my desire to go into the medical field. I am motivated and ready to attend college, as it is the next step to reaching my career goal and being able to help others on a greater level.