As a seventeen-year-old, the way you look, what you wear, how you are presenting yourself and who your friends are, is an essential part of your teenager years. For me, having a cosmetic surgery done to remove a wart from behind my left ear on my head was essential to me. The way classmates looked at me and teased me for having such an ugly mark on the back of my head, resulted in getting it removed in August 2008. Two weeks later, I went back to get a larger part removed.
After each of the incisions, I went back to school the next day with a smile on my face, a bandage on my head, pretending nothing serious happened, and not wanting to miss any more school of my Freshman year of college in Germany. And while the results came back negative, I didn’t get a call from the doctor until December. That time, the doctor called my mom and I into his office. I remember sitting down and being told that they had looked at my case again, did another biopsy, and found something cancerous.
Sent from one doctor to another, and from one test to another, soon, I had my first Oncology appointment, and this was when I first heard the words “You have cancer.” And so began my journey….. There was instant regret - for things left undone, Fear - that I would never get to do those things, The instant itemizing of 'life's most important treasures.' When I went home, I went into my room. I closed the door and crawled under my blankets, not knowing what to do. I stared at the walls, for hours, and was wondering how my friends and the rest of the family would take it. Was I really gonna die at 17? I hadn’t even started my life.
Weeks passed - filled with tests, checkups, and appointments. My life was starting to have a routine between home, school, and hospital. I learned I was 'stage 4' cancer and ‘a malignant melanoma’- the good news was, the cancer had not spread to other parts of my body. I didn’t exactly understand the situation I was in, but all I knew was that I had cancer.
Surprisingly, the moment I heard my doctor utter the words “cancer” I had this immense amount of energy come over me. Like I was immediately ready to beat the absolute crap out of this. Sure I was terrified, actually horrified, but not about losing to it, more so at knowing how much work I was about to have to do, and the fears that everyone around me was about to undergo.
And believe me…I tried everything to hide cancer’s marks on my body, from wearing big hoodies to cover up my full head bandages, to beanies and new hairstyles to cover up my bald spots. I was embarrassed and scared to be asked any questions if anybody would notice what was wrong with me. All in all, I was embarrassed to share my story. When I got my diagnosed, I spent the first few weeks trying to envision how my life would change. I think that my biggest concerns at 17 were, how I am going to fit in at school, how the chemo would change me, and how I would be accepted.
The word cancer has been in my life for 9 years now. After multiple scans, surgeries of removing affected skin areas and enlarged lymph nodes, too many biopsies, and without chemo therapy, I can now say I AM CANCER FREE. May 4, 2009, marks the day when the doctor told me everything was clear. My plans to spend that summer in California were on thin ice as my doctors were scared of all the sun exposure. With lots fighting and stubbornness, I made it happen. One year later, I even got the approval to make my long dream come true and moved to California to finish my education.
It wasn’t until 2011 when I was first introduced to the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life. That’s when my new life really got started. Just 9 month after I had moved to the US, I jumped into an unknown adventure. At first, I didn’t join as a survivor; I joined as a supporter who wanted to help. I founded the Colleges Against Cancer chapter at the Riverside Community College, CA, preceded my first year as the survivor chair, and moved up to hold the event lead position for the next two years. I then transferred to Chapman Universeity, where I led the Relay For Life of Chapman University and the Colleges Against Cancer Chapter with all my heart. I met other passionate college students who were ready to put an end to this disease. Survivors, caregivers, and friends...all of them my age...all of them understanding, kind, and driven to make an impact.
During my time with Relay and the American Cancer Society, I got more comfortable sharing my story with cancer and became a California Hero of Hope, traveling around the state to share my story and spread hope to keep fighting. Never in my life had I felt so passionate to work with an organization that gives so much. My dedication is shown through the local & divisional volunteer positions. I joined the CA Campus Leadership Team and the Western Campus Leadership Team as the Relay For Life Co-Chair while still being in college. I am currently serving as the lead of the Desert Coastal area, helping the Western Region and National Voice of Hope teams with social media, and mentoring our students at Chapman University & representing the United States as a Global Hero of Hope! With my passion and dedication to the cause, I am always on the lookout to get more people involved to help her celebrate more birthdays.
I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design, have been working in the Creative field since, and most importantly, I still support the students at Chapman, raise money and awareness for Relay. Life taught me how important it is to give hope, encourage others and fight back!
Because of Relay, I now celebrate my cancer journey, knowing that I’m not alone, and have so much hope for the future. I am 26 years old and I am a skin cancer survivor. But more than that, I am a passionate Relay For Life volunteer, who will be forever grateful for the opportunity to become a Relay For Life leader as a college student. But my passion for the fight against cancer has made me want to Relay For LIFE and I’m excited to continue volunteering as a young professional, so I can continue to paint my world purple.