I truly believe in the power of young people. I believe in the profound connections that adolescents and young adults can make and how these connections can help heal and grow. I remember as soon as my cancer treatment finished, I connected with Teen Cancer America. TCA has taught me about how important specialized treatment is for Adolescent and Young Adults facing cancer an I’m happy they have provided me with a community to be around others like me.
Before I get into my story, let’s rewind. I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the summer of 2014. When I was diagnosed, I was genuinely terrified. I didn’t know anyone else with cancer and was treated alongside young children and older adults. I always talk about my first day of treatment; my nurse asked me if I wanted a balloon animal. I was 15 years old… My nurses were unbelievably kind, but they treated me like a child, and at that age, that’s not what I needed. I didn’t have a community to reach out to or a space to reflect on my situation. I was desperate for a connection. I didn’t want to dwell on the experience, but rather move forward and create change.
At times, I believe I had cancer for a reason, and that reason is to help others going through similar experiences like my own. When my doctor told me about and introduced me to Teen Cancer America, I jumped on the opportunity to join. Not only did they give me a chance to express myself after facing cancer, I was also given an internship opportunity, to which I am currently on my second internship with the company.
I’ve always wanted to channel my experiences into work and truthfully, it helped me heal from my experiences. I didn’t want a support group or to feel bad for me, what I needed was motivation to keep going. Not only did TCA give me my first work experience, but I also gained access to a community of people who were motivated, fearless, kind, accepting, and like-minded. Throughout my last two years of high school, TCA was my family, my second home, and my first real opportunity. I was able to create social media campaigns for young people to feel connected and serve as an ambassador at many of their events as an advocate for teen and young adult cancer.
I would like to take this time to share with you a little bit more about what I am passionate about. In general, I’m a huge advocate for mental health and wellness. The cancer experience does not end when treatment does, and I have definitely struggled with mental health post cancer. Whether it’s PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or other general mental health struggles. I’ve realized the importance of reflection, therapy, and other holistic ways of healing from traumatic experiences as well as transitions (i.e. my transition from high school to college). I’ve also learned that it’s okay not to be okay. I’ve challenged myself to be completely honest when someone asks me, “how are you?” and challenged myself to be vulnerable with others. I’ll admit, sometimes my life is more complex and it’s not always “all good,” but that gives the other person and opportunity to know me and the complexities of understanding.
I wanted to note how important it is right now that we all maintain and practice self-care, and to also lean on the communities you have when things get tough. Particularly in the climate of COVID-19. There are many hard conversations we all need to have, and there are inherent ups and downs, especially for those coping with cancer or healing from a cancer experience. It is something that is not talked about enough, and I hope to make a difference in that respect.
Lastly, I want to share a little bit more about me! I currently a rising Senior at the University of Pennsylvania double majoring in Sociology and Communications. I’m hoping to eventually get my MSW (Masters in Social Work) and then go on to become a social worker that works with children, teens, young adults, and families in low income neighborhoods. I’m also a part of a hip-hop contemporary dance company called Strictly Funk. I currently choreograph many of my school’s musicals on campus, give campus tours, and Chair of the Dance Arts Council, where I oversee the 12 dance groups on campus.
Somehow, through it all, Teen Cancer America has always found a way back into my life. As most of you know, COVID-19 definitely impacted both the end of my Junior year as well as this summer semester, so when I reached out to TCA, just as they did six years ago, they welcomed me back into their community and I’m currently doing volunteer work and serving as an intern. I’ve worked on a campaign for National Cancer Survivors Month and I have a couple more projects in the works. TCA will always be my family. I know whenever I am available, they will welcome me with open arms and integrate me into their vibrant community. Even at college, they continuously check in, catch up, and invite me to all of their events. They have a magical community, and I know that they’ll find some way to stay in my life forever, just as I will always find them as well.