My name is Lauren Telesz and I’m 20 years old. I love nothing more than taking long walks with friends, a good game of Scrabble, shopping for Christmas presents, and reading books into the wee hours of the morning. The oldest of four siblings, born and raised in rural New England, I’m a fervent believer in the beauty of fall, a fresh apple cider donuts, and a hot cup of tea. I’m currently a Junior at Yale University. I’m also a Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology major with a penchant for history and creative writing classes. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of college life, with my long brown hair and endless energy, I can say (with a chuckle, I assure you) I am the complete opposite of my high school self. Well, Sophomore year Lauren to be exact.
August of my Sophomore year, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In a matter of minutes, my busy school day was swapped out for a strict schedule of never-ending appointments, friends were replaced with a constant parade of doctors and nurses, and dance dresses returned for flannel pajamas, scarves, and fleece hats to keep my bare scalp warm as Connecticut descended into cold weather. To effectively attack my malignant cells and return me to daily life as soon as possible, my chemotherapy regime was hit me fast and hit me hard. I was incredibly fortunate to have wonderful doctors and an extremely supportive and caring family. With their help, I got back on my feet after a round of PET scans and that December, they declared me all clear. At school, my teachers welcomed my return with sensitivity and care, catching me up with patience and compassion. Eager to forget my time at the hospital, I threw myself back into work. However, I never managed to shake that something was amiss about my experience; thoughts swirled around my head.
When I met Teen Cancer America, I instantly knew what I had been missing, what had been off about my treatment. Their mission articulated what I had been feeling all along. Teenage cancer patients are truly members of a lost generation. We are forgotten and separated in the hospital, leading us to spend the most vulnerable and crucial part of our lives in the company of five-year-old’s or a 50-year-old. I strongly believe that a special health niche created for teenagers with cancer is not just a good idea, it’s something that needs to happen. I would not change my diagnosis; it has brought me closer to my family, my friends, and, most importantly, myself. But if given the chance, in a heartbeat, I would change my cancer experience. From the beginning of my journey, I was alone and isolated. I felt my teenage years were being cut short and I was utterly out of place in high school. Surgery caused me to miss school trips, hospital stays prevented me from attending school, homecoming fair, and dances. In three months, I attended only 14 days of school. And for a girl like me, who loves learning and reading, doesn’t mind homework and secretly smiles when a presentation is assigned, I witnessed a huge passion dissipate. I grew distant from my friends and struggled to stay in the loop of it all. Many days I struggled with depression, not seeing a single teenager in treatment, convinced I was alone. I was lost and separated amid the jumble of small kids in pediatrics. I want to change that.