Cancer Unwrapped is an annual teen essay writing contest, where teens share about their impactful experience with cancer.

Each year, the contest begins in the fall, closes in the spring, and culminates with a winners reception early summer.

Check out the 2023 Winning Essays!

Don’t forget to read the winning essays from previous years, too!

Learning about a cancer diagnosis – your own or that of a loved one – can cause a storm of emotions, and everyone experiences it differently. We want to know what this experience was like for you.

Did you feel angry, sad, lonely, or maybe something you didn’t expect? What happened in your life, and did it change you or your perspectives?

We invite you to submit a short essay about your experience with cancer for the opportunity to win cash prizes. Since the contest began in 2006, we have received over 7,000 submissions and handed out over $200,000 in prize money to teens.

Over the years we have received stories of triumph and stories of great loss, stories written in times of turbulence, and stories written in times of quiet reflection. Each one has been honest, heartfelt, and unique.

Listen to a teen read her winning essay on our podcast:

The 2023-2024 contest will open on
November 13, 2023

Contest Eligibility & Guidelines

  • Open to teens in the United States in grades 9-12
  • Essay length should not exceed 1,500 words.
  • Not eligible: poems, essays about a pet, or fiction
  • Cash prizes of $1,000 will be awarded to the winners (winners will be asked to fill out a IRS W-9 form).
  • Winners will be invited to a virtual reception and asked to read their essays

Judges Panel

Cancer Pathways employs a multi-step review process to select contest winners. Submissions are judged by an esteemed group of individuals, including cancer survivors, authors, influencers, politicians, business and community leaders, artists, and professional athletes.

Tips for Writing

Check out some online communities, resources, tips and tools to help you tell your story.

Winning Essays

Every year, we read incredible stories written by teens from all over the country about their experiences with cancer. We have compiled them all here to share with you. Browse the winning essays from previous years.


Our $1000 cash awards are made possible through the generosity of several major donors: The Lucky Seven Foundation, Sally Nordstrom

Connect with us!

Paige Hansen-Shankar
Program Manager, Cancer Unwrapped
[email protected]