At age 17, my life was full, and my dreams were coming true. I had been selected to sing in the Florida All-State Chorus conference in January 2009, and I was going to China for spring break!
Inexplicably, I started getting awkward nosebleeds. They began that January with a weird, random cold and then subsided for the rest of the month. But throughout the entire month of February, they never stopped, even in my sleep.
I had to stuff something inside my nose to stop the bleeding. I began falling asleep during class. Finally, my math teacher, Ms. Walters, one of my favorites, called my mom. Ms. Walters wondered if my sleepiness was because of my losing so much blood.
Then I noticed the lymph nodes under my chin were swollen. We were supposed to leave for China on April 4, and I wanted to know what was going on. I had been saving for my trip for two years.
Toward the end of March, we saw an ear, nose and throat doctor, who scheduled a CT scan. We received the results the first week in April, and they were not good.
The day before we were supposed to leave for China, the emergency doctor said, “I cannot let you go.”
It really hurt. I spent the next week in the hospital doing biopsy after scan after biopsy. On April 8, my dad, my mom, Ms. Walters and my best friend were with me when I received the test results: “What you have is a malignant tumor, polyps in your nose … ”
I stopped the doctor. “Do I have cancer?”
“Yes, you do,” she answered.
Everything after that is a blur.
My uncle bought me a pink teddy bear. I strongly dislike pink, but immediately after my diagnosis I clung to that teddy bear and drifted into a daze. As we walked through the cancer wing I saw kids of all ages—some playing, some smiling, some crying, some numb. I was numb. I don’t remember anything except clinging to that pink bear.
Interestingly, it never crossed my mind that I could die. In fact, it stunned me when someone asked, “How long do you have?”
Shocked by the question, I replied, “Why would you ask me that? Ma’am, I am not going to die,” and walked away.
I knew I was going to face the toughest time of my life, but I never doubted I would live.
And tough it was. The very next day, I woke to a finger prick and a “Good morning!”—in that order.
Though only in my junior year of high school, I had to withdraw. Hospital staff ran every scan and test they could think of. My cancer was labeled rhabdomyosarcoma.
It was exciting to start fighting the disease, but also scary and unreal. I felt like a test subject. I didn’t start treatment right away because there was a national shortage of chemotherapy.
The staff taught me how to help my family and taught my family how they could help me. My sister, a cosmetologist, came to cut my hair. That was exciting, too, because I didn’t like my hair. I had always used a relaxer and was more than ready to go au natural.