True Beauty is Strength

October 19, 2018

For most people my age they have not come face to face with death. Whether it be directly or indirectly, they have not experienced much loss. I however have become very familiar with death and more importantly the preciousness of life. It began earlier this year in April. It was around this time that I was given my diagnosis. I was told that the results of my CT scan had revealed that I had a 99% chance of having cancer. A few days after that phone call, my biopsy revealed that I was not the fortunate 1% in the statistic. I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage 3A. Upon first hearing these words they carried little meaning or understanding, but what they did carry was a lot of uncertainty and fear. In my limited experience with cancer, I knew that it was often accompanied by death. There I was at 17 staring death in the face, and I was terrified. Of course later, I would begin to learn that the success rate of my type of cancer was very favorable. I had gotten one of the best kinds, if there was such a thing. Before finding out this news, I watched my grandfather pass away.
He had been struggling for about 6 years with Parkinson’s disease and it had progressed so quickly, that his quality of life was very poor. Towards the end he couldn’t walk without holding on to something and he was in constant pain. It was extremely hard on me to watch him go, but I was encouraged, because he was a man of faith who knew he was moving on to a place where he would not have to experience the same pain he had come to know for so long. I found myself in that moment to really be reminded of my faith and I don’t know if it was because of my grandpa’s inspiring faith throughout his life, or just the trauma of the experiences, but I was glad I began to focus what was going on around my faith. It helped to calm me and I no longer thought about the treatment I was going to undergo or the possibility of death, I thought instead about how I could continue to keep doing as many things as I possibly could while going through everything.
My first day of chemotherapy I had a calculus test first period and I decided that I needed to take it. I was not going to let a looming hospital stay stop me. So they scheduled my appointment around my first period and I went into school to take my test. Right after I left to check into the hospital for 3 days to do my first round of chemotherapy. That morning I was surprisingly more worried about my calculus test than what was to come in the hospital. It is because of this affect, that I found school to really become something I felt I needed to attend. I wanted to continue to get my grades, and see my friends and more importantly not miss out on opportunities. I was my class president that year and I had already ran and was elected to be the student body president for next year, and I wanted to fulfill my obligations under these roles. My teachers and parents especially always encouraged me to only do what I felt up to doing, and they were the ones who often had to remind me to slow down, but school had become my replacement for athletics.
I have always participated in athletics and I was in the middle of track season when I was diagnosed. I had to stop running and doing club soccer, due to the amount of fatigue and general state my body was in. I hated sitting out on the sidelines, even when I was healthy and suddenly I found myself forced to remain there. I soon, looked to school to be the arena for which I would challenge myself, and a challenge it was. I had a rigorous course load with 4 advanced placement classes and even without the medical challenges I was facing, it was hard, but now I was adding on a constant feeling of fatigue. For anyone that knows anything about the affects of chemotherapy, they know that it drains you. I was no exception. I found it a daily struggle to find the energy to go to class and do things I normally did without feeling tired from them. This was a big change from before when I used to do all of these things on top of athletics, and other outside obligations. However it is because of these very challenges that I found myself more appreciative of everything.
Just this November I got a set of scans done that came back clear, and I was told that I am officially in remission. After about 6 months of treatment, I had finally made it. I had finished all of the chemotherapy and radiation and it felt amazing. It had also felt like an incredibly long 6 months, but it was finally over. Now, as I have finished my treatment, two of my fellow classmates are undergoing theirs. One was just diagnosed in October with Leukemia, and the other relapsed earlier this year and is still dealing with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As I celebrate my end of treatment, it does not really feel like the end for me. I am watching my classmates experience the same form of adversity that I had to face, and I empathize with them in a way that no other person can. I have tried to support both of them as they are progressing with their treatments, and I have come to realize that because God has given me this particular adversity in my life I can be a light for others experiencing the same challenge. I am appreciative that I am now able to declare myself cancer free, but at the same time, I almost feel guilty that I am no longer going through the trial, but my classmates are. I know that this is not how I should be feeling, but I cannot seem to shake the subtle feeling of guilt. As my family and friends are celebrating my good news, my classmates’ family and friends are facing terrible news, news that I am all too familiar with receiving.
Due to my experience with cancer, I find that I am now more thankful and receptive of what a gift it is to be alive. I know that I am going to live my life more fully than I probably would have having not experienced this, because it opened my eyes to the fragility of life and just how precious it is. I no longer look at a day at school begrudgingly, or even as an obligation, though it is, I choose to look at it as a gift. I had a brief time where I was not able to go and where I found myself missing out on some school, and after being removed from it I realized how much I took it for granted. As I watch the response of my high school community to the affects of cancer, I am encouraged by their graciousness and willingness to support not only me, but also the other young man and lady who are currently facing this same battle. Through my time being sick, those around me supported me. Family, friends, and other community members helped put together fundraisers to raise money to help my mom and dad pay for my medical bills, and while their financial support meant a lot, their emotional support meant even more. They were the ones who visited me and helped me to smile through the chemo. They were always there to lend a helping hand and offer prayers and love, and because of this love and support I was shown I know that the other two kids who are dealing with this same trial will be shown the same amount. It is now because of these events in my life that I find myself in the position I am currently.
I am into my senior year of high school and I have just finished soccer season. I was glad I was able to play this year as earlier I was thinking that I might not get the opportunity too. Within our season we did not have the best record, but it felt like one of the bests, in the fact that I was able to play. I was able to round off my last year with the team, and was able to obtain a 4th year varsity honor. With soccer having ended I am now looking forward to the upcoming track season and the opportunity to run again, and hopefully make it back to the state meet, as I was able to do both my freshman and sophomore year. More importantly as the student body president I am currently working with my class and advisor to partner with the Leukemia and Lymphoma society for a campaign to raise money for the organization and to raise awareness for the different blood cancers. This is something that I am very excited for and passionate about as I have personally been affected and have watched as my two classmates have been affected as well. I believe that the campaign will be extremely powerful at our high school, because of how intimately we have come to these cancers. I have also just recently gotten a puppy. He is a black lab and his name is murphy. I am planning to get him trained to be a service animal so that I can take him to visit children in the hospitals. This used to be my favorite part of my hospital stays. Seeing the dogs always make me light up, and it made me think about my dogs at home. I have just started Murphy’s training classes, and I am optimistic that he will pass when he is a little older. Both training Murphy and partnering with the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, are things that I find myself doing to try to help give back to the organization and people who supported and helped me through my treatment.
I want all kids who are going through this time to feel supported and loved and to know that there are people who they do not even know who are working so hard to support them. I have come to realize how hard it can be to try to support someone going through this, as I have tried to support my classmates. It can be hard to know what to say, and while I have a better idea than the average person, because of my own experience, it is still hard, because everyone is different. A cancer battle is in no way the same from person to person. Everyone has different experiences with it. I know that from my own experiences I have found I am a stronger person. I am more determined and not as afraid of failure. I am emotionally more mature and have grown to accept myself more. One of the hardest aspects of the treatment for me was a lot of the physical changes, and primarily the hair loss. I had long hair that used to stretch all the way down my back and then I found myself with no hair at all. It was a time where I began to realize what beauty really meant. It was not about my appearance, not matter how much I had valued it and put time into it, it was about my character. Many people told me how beautiful I looked while I was going through treatment, and at first I didn’t believe them, but later I would begin to see what they saw. A strong, kind, and determined young lady who lives life passionately and will not let adversity stop her.
Morgan Greene