September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day a different guest blogger will be featured who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer. Stories are always more potent than statistics.
My name is Maya. I’m 14 years old, and I finished 27 months of treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on January 31st, 2015. You might remember me from my piece last year about Maintenance and my relationship with my mom. You can read it HERE.
When I finished treatment it was just a weight lifted off my shoulders, like I was finally free. Stopping medication was strange at first and suddenly became normal. I no longer had to count the days, there was no more waiting, I was just done. The last day I ever had chemo was the happiest day of my life. I had so much joy in my life, so much to be thankful for.
A huge moment of revelation for me was when I went back to my regular pediatrician for the first time. I had flashbacks to when I was first diagnosed. That was the moment I realized the fear I am going to feel every time I have a checkup, a physical, a hospital appointment, a headache, or even a bruise.
After about two months of worrying, I realized I needed to balance that out and let go of the worries over what I can’t control. So instead I started focusing on living my life and preparing for high school. And I became a happier person, yet I am still more cautious than most kids about my health.
This year I am in my freshman year of high school, it was nice to start fresh and to finally go to a school where I wasn’t “the girl with cancer.” I was ready for a new life for myself. I made the Junior Varsity dance team, which was a huge deal for me after all the physical stress that chemo put on my body, and I am coaching little girls on a community recreational pom squad. I am taking all honors classes and one AP class and I’m finally able to start having a normal social life and a real high school experience. And there are so many more exciting things to come.
As much as I like putting cancer behind me, I have also realized that I am meant to put that experience to use. Just before I finished treatment in January, I was approached by an oncologist at Lurie who I’ve known since the beginning of treatment, about being the Girl of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
I was ecstatic, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be picked for this role, but the opportunity to share my experiences with a whole group of people and to help kids like me (and grown-ups too) with blood cancer would be something really cool to be a part of.
I did end up being the Girl of the Year and from January to June I went to events encouraging people to become involved with LLS, to donate to LLS and to support their mission of curing blood cancers and supporting people going through cancer.
In the middle of it all, I realized I was making a difference in the world and that helped me move forward in living my own life too. I hope to continue helping other children and families who are dealing with cancer throughout my life and when I grow up I am still hoping to be a Pediatric Oncology Nurse Practitioner.
Cancer does not define me, but it will always be a part of me. Cancer has shaped my life today and the way I think about things. I think it has actually improved me as a person. Life after treatment is full of new experiences; it’s like starting over. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me and fear will not be a part of it, I won’t let it.
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