“You don’t know it yet, but we’re the lucky ones,” a boy tells Lance Armstrong. I never fully understood this until I survived a grade IV malignant brain tumor and then it all suddenly became so clear.
I describe the moment I was diagnosed as Adam Sandler’s character in SPANGLISH states, “There was a crack in the planet.” Visions of sick, balding children I had seen from St. Jude’s Hospital flashed before my eyes. I could say nothing. According to Cedars Sinai only about one out of every four patients with this type of tumor (Glioblastoma Multiforme) survives two years. Not only is the prognosis for GBM grim, it is mostly found to affect patients 60 years or older. At age 21, I was one of the youngest GBM patients in the United States and believe me, cancer hadn’t seen a patient like this before. We attacked the cancer with rounds of radiation five days a week with a low does Temodar chemo agent seven days a week for six weeks total. 18 months of Temodar treatments followed. During this time I lost the majority of my hair, threw up more than I ever knew I could, and decided that the most important goal during this period of treatment was to remain as normal as possible.
During my one quarter away from school I took dance classes at a local university and continued my workouts at the gym and pool. I also attended a summer dance intensive called the American Dance Festival at Duke University. All the while never believing cancer could affect me and made sure to be my bullheaded stubborn, goal-driven self.Being a cancer survivor has opened my eyes to the beauty of life. An overwhelming sense of calmness and clearness has taken the place on held with worry and impatience. I look at problems with a silver lining and have learned how important my friends and especially my family are to me. The sun is brighter and the roses smell so much better on this side. We know we are the lucky ones because we now have the ability to live for the present and appreciate how valuable life truly is.
Sometimes, as human beings, we can emerge after a traumatic event stronger, clearer people; however, the evidence of this trauma still remains. This experience left my body unable to withstand the taxing nature of a dancer’s performing life. My natural reaction would have been to be angry at this situation, but then I looked upon the silver lining in the storm clouds that hung above me.
Teaching was my silver lining. I feel these ten years of survival have given me the opportunity to rediscover how I can positively affect not only my life, but also those around me. This August I was offered an opportunity of a lifetime to teach Physical Education and Dance full time at Alta Vista School. I get to wake up every day knowing that in my survivorship I am helping others learn and grow in creative ways.