Sophomore and cancer survivor Olivia R. addresses the crowd at Shorecrest's Relay For Life:
Each year more than one million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. About 16,000 of these people are children. On January 26, 2015, I found out that I was one of them.
Since I was in first grade I’ve attended Relay For Life, aware of its importance but never really thinking that it would have any real connection with me. You always hear about people getting cancer, but you never think that it will ever happen to you. The thing is that cancer doesn’t discriminate. No matter what you’ve done or no matter who you are, cancer doesn’t care. No one knows why people get cancer. We know ways to prevent certain types and how to deal with many of them, but we are yet to find a true cause for cancer.
When I was first diagnosed, it didn’t feel real. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I - a healthy, normal 16 year old girl - had cancer. “Why did this happen to me?” I wondered. I always felt that everything happens for a reason, but now I wasn’t so sure. If everything happened for a reason, what was the reason for me having Hodgkin’s lymphoma? When you’re 16, your biggest problems are supposed to be studying for tests, what you’re going to wear, and where you and your friends are going to hangout. Instead I was faced with problems like how am I going to feel after my next chemotherapy? When can I make up that test that I missed? And how am I going to make it through this? No one should ever have to go through what I did, and I got LUCKY. My diagnosis and treatment were much better than what some kids have to go through.
That first night after I was diagnosed, I posted a picture on the social media site Instagram letting everyone who followed me know what was going on. Within 24 hours I gained over 200 new followers and had a ridiculous amount of comments wishing me luck, praying for me, and sending other uplifting messages. The hashtag "#Livstrong" started trending on Twitter, which I don’t even have an account for. The support from the whole community was absolutely overwhelming, but it was exactly what I needed. How I could not make it through this with a whole city behind me? It was just another reason to keep fighting.
After my initial diagnosis, I flew up to St. Jude’s Children Cancer Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. There I was enrolled in a study for low risk Hodgkin’s patients. The study involved chemotherapy once a week for 8 weeks. Then, I would fly up to Memphis again for further testing to see if the cancer had disappeared. If it had, I was done, but if not, I would have to undergo one month of radiation at St. Jude. While I was there, I also decided to cut my hair for Locks of Love. I felt it was important to donate my hair to someone like me, especially since I would have no use for my hair since it would most likely all fall out.
The weeks went by fairly quickly, some better than others, and I tried to maintain a positive attitude the whole time. I think that I am a naturally optimistic person and didn’t have too much trouble with this. I couldn’t imagine handling this situation any other way. I would like to think that I had a smile on my face 98% of the time. I’m not going to lie though, there were hard days, too. On days like that, I relied on my amazing support system of family and friends to help pick me back up.
The two hardest parts for me were losing my hair, which was not a fun experience, and the effects the chemotherapy had on my running. I do understand though that losing my hair is just a side effect of a treatment that saved my life, and I am very grateful for that. The chemotherapy made running extra hard on my body. My endurance was much lower than it had been previously, and the whole thing was very frustrating. I couldn’t train as much as I would have liked due to fatigue and overall feeling bad some days. On days like that, I just had to remind myself that it was okay to let myself rest and heal. Even though I didn’t make it to the State Championship this year, I’m just very happy to be getting back into my prior shape. I finally feel normal when I run, which I’m very happy about.
Throughout my treatment, I tried to blog at least once or twice a week, sharing how I was feeling and what I was thinking. It added up to be a combination of updates, inspirational messages, humor and even some sadder thoughts. I think writing really helped me deal with the whole thing. I actually enjoy writing when no one is forcing me to do it. Sometimes I would feel very inspired about what I was going to write, and I got excited about it. I hope to continue something with writing even if it’s just a pastime for fun, and I encourage all people to find something they enjoy doing that helps when things are hard. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn into something bigger or maybe it’ll just help you deal with daily life.
When I found out that I was cancer free, it was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. I wasn’t super surprised though because I told myself throughout the whole thing that I wasn’t going to need radiation. I refused to miss a month of school and social activities.
I learned many things from this whole experience. I would like to share some of them with you all.
- First, attitude is everything. No matter the situation, if you have a positive attitude and try to make the best of it, it will be better, I promise. Your mind is stronger than you can ever imagine.
- Second, you are not defined by the obstacles that you face in life, but by how you handle them. I think of that line often because it somehow gives me hope.
- Third, in hard times you really find out who is there for you and who is not. I definitely know who I can trust and rely on and who I can’t from this experience. It has been very eye opening.
- Finally, someone always has it worse than you ,so be grateful for what you have and don’t take little moments of happiness or peace for granted. I have learned to enjoy each moment of bellyaching laughter with my friends, each hug from my parents, and each sunrise just a little bit more than before I was diagnosed. Life is so fragile, and we need to enjoy each day as much as we can because you never know when everything will change.