Faith, Hope and Cancer: The Journey of a Childhood Cancer Survivor is my memoir.
Childhood cancer showed me God’s role in my life and how important faith and hope truly are. This is my story of surviving cancer treatment, struggling with being diagnosed with leukemia during already sensitive teenage years, and then navigating life after cancer.
Within weeks of learning, I had leukemia, my friends had disappeared. I found myself facing a new, somewhat frightening life on my own. In my memoir, I share how faith and hope played a part in my survival and what I learned about family and friendships. I share the mistakes I made along the way and the lessons I learned from them.
I hope this book will make readers laugh, cry and feel inspired. I hope it helps cancer patients, both now and in the future, realize even more deeply that they are not alone. I hope healthcare workers read this book and gain a deeper understanding of their patients’ needs, especially gain insight into approaching children and young adults diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I hope teachers learn more about how to support students when they are diagnosed with cancer. I hope family and friends of individuals diagnosed with cancer will read this and understand the importance of their role in their loved one’s journey. Lastly, I hope that all of my readers discover the importance of faith and hope, especially when it seems there is nothing else.
The Meaning Behind the Cover Design
My cousin Michelle designed this cover for me.
The cross represents faith. The dolphins represents hope.
The orange ribbon represents leukemia.
The gold ribbon represents childhood cancer.
Chapter 1 – Miracles Do Happen
I share how the pain in my back started and how it progressed over time. I explain how family and friends thought I was faking the pain to get attention and the beginning of all the things I had to stop enjoying, such as basketball, because the pain controlled my life. I end the chapter by describing my first miracle that occurred on Christmas morning.
Chapter 2 – The C Word
I share what it was like to be diagnosed with Leukemia as a teenager and how my life changed. I share the role the hospital chaplain played in my life and how my relationship with God grew due to my experience. I talk about how my uneventful life changed to include protocols and treatments. What I learned and what I experienced as a result of my diagnosis.
Chapter 3 – Initial Hospitalization
My initial hospitalization was two weeks long. Here I share what my initial feelings were being in the hospital. The procedures I had, people I met, and the overwhelming feeling my mom had of being thrown out of her comfort zone and into the world of the unknown.
Chapter 4 – Staff Who Just Don’t Get It
Unfortunately, not everyone who works in a Children’s Hospital should. Here I focus on the Resident, Social Worker, and Psychologist who just didn’t get it. They didn’t take the time to get to know me and made my hospitalizations memorable…but not in a good way.
Chapter 5 – Treatment
My treatment lasted two and a half years and included chemotherapy and cranial radiation. I share details about the protocol I was on, chemotherapy and the not-so-fun side effects of some of them, and what it was like to spend all day sitting in the outpatient clinic.
Chapter 6 – God Works In Mysterious Ways
Miracles do happen. I tell the story of my second miracle and the nurse who saved my life. God sent Linda to put all the pieces together, and because she wouldn’t stop until she had answers, she discovered a major medical mistake that could have led to a stroke, blood clot, and even death.
Chapter 7 – Control
I discuss the importance of a patient perceiving they are in control when coping with a cancer diagnosis. I share examples of how I took control and how that made me a better Recreational Therapist/Child Life Specialist when I worked with pediatric cancer patients.
Chapter 8 – Family
I share how cancer affected each member of my family differently. I share that it is alright for family members to experience the same thing but have different views of what happened.
Chapter 9 – Friendships
I describe how cancer affected my friendships. How I lost many friends, not to the disease itself, but due to my lack of ability to relate to them and my unrealistic expectations of what being a friend meant. I share the lessons I learned as a result.
Chapter 10 – School
I was diagnosed in the middle of the eighth-grade year. I describe what it was like to miss school, get a tutor and start high school bald. In my first two years of high school, I still had to skip class to go to the hospital. My last two years of school were spent feeling as if I didn’t fit in. My priorities were different. I had just survived cancer, I didn’t care about dating, clothes, football, finals, or other things typical high school students care about. This carried over into college too. For the most part, I feel as if I missed my teen years because of my cancer.
Chapter 11 – The Happiest Place On Earth
I talk about various places such as camp and my Special Wish trip and how those places changed my life and gave me a place to belong. I talk about the importance of getting involved in cancer organizations for support.
Chapter 12 – Dolphins
Dolphins have always been a symbol of my survival, and how they started giving me a tangible symbol to express myself. I share my experience working with them and how I witnessed two dolphins help a little girl visiting the Dolphin Research Center on her Make-A-Wish trip and how she decided to continue treatment.
Chapter 13 – Bald Is Beautiful
I was happy to lose my hair when I was diagnosed with cancer, as I never really liked my hair. 15 years later, I had the opportunity to shave my head for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Shaving my head, a second time changed my life. By shaving my head, I continue to bring awareness to childhood cancer and give hope to cancer patients. Bald is Beautiful.
Chapter 14 – Walking Away
This chapter touches on what caused me to walk away from cancer. My dream job of working with pediatric cancer patients took a toll on me when my boss refused to see the benefit of having a cancer survivor as a staff member on a pediatric oncology unit and forced me to hide I was a survivor while at work. My boss didn’t trust my professionalism and ability to discern if someone needed to know that information. Over time, parents and staff started to put two and two together, based on how I talked and understood my patients. In the end, I walked away from the job and caring for cancer patients.
Chapter 15 – Velvet
Velvet was my first dog. It was her cancer diagnosis that affected me the hardest. I finally knew what my parents must have felt. I was finally on the other side – the caregiver, not the patient. In the end, even Velvet’s diagnosis had a purpose when she helped bring joy to a man dying of cancer.
Chapter 16 – Death
Death is a part of life, but even more so when you are part of the cancer community. I have lost many friends to cancer, and I describe how their deaths affected my life. How even in their death, they were able to bring glory to God and remain hopeful and faithful while facing their own mortality.
Chapter 17 – Depression
Depression is worse than cancer. Cancer is a physical disease; medicine destroys cancer. Depression is a mental disease; medicine doesn’t destroy depression; it just lessens the pain. Depression hit when I saw how much cancer took away from me. I describe what depression felt like and how I was able to pull myself out of it with the help of friends, God, and Christian Rock music.
Chapter 18 – Trusting God
Life will always have its ups and downs. When I was going through cancer treatment, it was easy to trust God, to have faith in His plan, and hope for survival. Years later, when I was dealing with depression, I forgot God. I lost sight of Him, and it was only when I realized that He never left my side, like in the Footprints Prayer, that I was able to find happiness again. I share how important it is to never forget God, especially when fighting the most challenging battles in our lives. God is for us, not against us.
Chapter 19 – Being A Survivor
I focus on how it feels to be a survivor. How to transition back into society when treatment ends. I focus on the mistakes I made and how I became a healthy survivor, and the importance of staying positive and thinking of yourself as a survivor from day one. Cancer may leave your body, but it will never leave your soul. Cancer changed me, and it gave me insight into how to help others become healthy survivors.
Chapter 20 – Live Life, Love Life, Cherish Every Moment
No matter what happens in our lives we have to remember to live life to the fullest, as we never know when it will end. I finish my book with a quote from my friend Amanda, who died from Pancreatic Cancer when she was 28. It reminds us to live with hope every day.