I was ten, and my life revolved around soccer, peanut butter sandwiches, and the Lord of the Rings (much the same as it does now). As I write this, 15 years later, I finally understand just how much being ten years old changed my life.
I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma on November 20, 2002, almost exactly 15 years ago. I had begun having these pain attacks in my lower stomach, which started off subtle and annoying but quickly became sudden and excruciating after a couple weeks. I would double over in pain, bursting into tears and unable to do anything until the pain passed. The doctors first thought I was merely constipated, but the continued pain attacks made it clear this was not the case. Upon my parents insistence, I was finally given a CT scan and it was revealed that a bowel obstruction at the end of my small intestine was the culprit. The pain was being caused by the never-ending efforts of the sphincter into my large intestine attempting to pull through the obstruction, which it “thought” was food - an effort which was futile and painful. I was rushed into surgery immediately, first receiving an enema to cleanse my intestines for the procedure. Five hours later, I awoke to a gathering of all my family within a five hour drive, and I spent the next five days recovering in the hospital. Despite such a radical procedure and the blissful ignorance of what was to come next, I was the happiest ten year old kid ever: the pain was over.
Two days after returning home, exactly one week after my surgery, I found myself at a different doctors office with my parents. Being a kid, I had no idea what was going on, expecting only the typical doctor’s office things. The new doctor walked in, and began explaining to my parents that the cause of the obstruction in my intestine was a swollen lymph node, and that the procedural biopsy that they performed after its removal revealed the worst: cancer. All I truly remember from that doctor visit was my mom crying and my dad looking as if he had turned to stone. I knew what cancer was - one of my classmates had been fighting cancer since second grade - but I did not understand why this was happening to me. Over the next four months I was treated with chemotherapy at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. In total, I received three rounds of chemo and two surgeries to insert a port and to remove it. March 23, 2003 I was declared in remission, and I have been cancer free ever since.
My experience with cancer and with the children’s hospital was subjectively lucky. To be diagnosed with cancer and then declared in remission after only four months was nothing short of a miracle. I am truly blessed to be here today, and the University of Iowa Hospital doctors and nurses are still like family to me. While short, my experience changed my life forever, and I attribute everything I am today back to it. The most difficult part of my battle was not the treatment or the surgeries, but understanding why, why is this happening? Why do I have cancer? The answer my mom gave me when I asked her has stuck with me, and will forever be the words that I live by. She reminded me of the words that Gandalf told Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, when Frodo asked why did he have the ring, why was any of this happening. Gandalf, and my mother, said, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you...you were meant to have it - and that is an encouraging thought.” Just like Frodo and the ring, I was meant to have cancer. This was my battle, and I would defeat cancer one way or another. I could not sit around and wonder why, but only decide what action I could take. Whether or not you call it destiny, I was meant for this path in life. It has made me the person I am today, and has provided me with every opportunity to pay it forward. And so I stopped asking why, and I started asking what. What can I do to better myself and the world around me? As it turned out, Dance Marathon is a perfect answer.
The grim truth is that there are times when I feel guilty for how easy my cancer battle turned out to be. I feel that if only I could have been more sick, perhaps a different kid could have been spared; I could have handled it. But that is not the world we live in, and despite these feelings I am ever grateful for the success story I am. That is why I have plunged myself head first into causes like UNI Dance Marathon, because I am wholly devoted to paying it forward - to give back in hope of more stories like mine; more kiddos that can beat their illnesses and grow up to be part of their own Dance Marathon, but as a college student instead of a miracle kiddo. I dance to end childhood illness, and for a time when Dance Marathon is remembered instead of attended.