Because You Still Can

October 20, 2010

My favorite birthday present did not come wrapped in paper with a bow placed delicately on top. In fact, I received it in a square white room, clutching a bottle of hand sanitizer, as “Finding Nemo” played quietly down the hall. Just a few days after my fifteenth birthday I became a statistic, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. At the age where my most cumbersome decision was what to wear I was diagnosed with childhood cancer. I refused to be just a number, a figure in a pool of percents and fractions. My diagnosis was a curse, but it was more than that, it was a blessing. My experiences have molded me into the person I am proud to be today.
It seems peculiar to the people I meet that I consider cancer to be my “gift.” Especially when it began to cripple my ability to do many of the things a normal teenager could. Having Leukemia has had such a profound effect on my character and the way that I perceive the world around me that I would not have chosen any other fate. I now know that life is fragile, and that every moment I am given on this year is precious. I’m determined not to squander away a second of it. I feel that because I was confronted with such a serious situation at a young age that I am a stronger person emotionally. I was also able to learn what is really important in life, like family and dedication to what you really love while most people my age were frittering away their youth on seemingly trivial matters. For this I am grateful because having cancer taught me how to be comfortable with my true self, a concept that most adolescents struggle with.
Having cancer not only shaped who I am, but the person I desire to become as well. I will dedicate my life to helping children like myself who at a young age are challenged by a life altering illness. My goal in life now is to become a pediatric oncologist where my experiences would influence the way I care for patients because I have gained knowledge in the emotional aspects of childhood cancer having experienced them first hand. I was given Leukemia for a reason. Not to grieve and lament my situation, but to enact change and to be an avid supported of other children with this condition.
I am a survivor. I stared calamity in the face and smiled back. I was battling cancer most of my high school career but I still woke up every morning to greet the day. I ran for student council offices, did the best I could in school under the circumstances, and kept myself active and involved because I knew that one day I would be here. I’d be walking across that stage and tossing my cap in the air. I would be admiring the cherry trees at they blossomed on the University of Washington campus as a student, not just a spectator. Now this fall what seemed like a far away possibility is going to become a reality, and I could not be more excited. During treatment I dreamt everyday about the opportunities that lay ahead of me and worried less about what I was leaving behind.
It is not the fact that you are diagnosed with cancer that makes the difference, it is what you take out of the situation. Anyone who has heard the words “you have cancer” has all the reasons in the world to cry, pity themselves, and spend their life in fear, but whatever time you are given is much better spent celebrating the gifts that God has given you. Make the conscious decision to wake up each morning and tell yourself that today you have been blessed with the ability to get up out of bed and just live. That knowledge in itself is the best birthday present I have ever received.
Life happens. It is moments like this that define one’s true character. Are you going to back down or stand up to the challenge? Give up or win? I’m embracing every blessed moment I have been given on this earth. I am one of the lucky ones, I have been given a second chance at life and can still awake in the morning a put my dreams into action.
Kaitlyn Barratt