In 1996, at the age of 16, I found a lump in my neck that quickly grew to an alarming size. After ruling out illnesses such as cat scratch fever and tuberculosis, the lump was biopsied at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, TN and I was diagnosed with stage 2A Hodgkin's Disease (now called Hodgkin lymphoma). I went through 6 months of chemotherapy, followed by 2 months of radiation.
Dr. Whitlock, my oncologist, and the other doctors and nurses at the Vanderbilt pediatric oncology clinic were so amazing and supportive. Despite the discomfort, pain, fear, and sickness that I felt going through treatment, I do not see this as a bad time of my life. I believe that having cancer taught me an early lesson about mortality, and gave me a sense of the preciousness and beauty of life.
When my hair began to fall out, I shaved my head, but was uncomfortable in a wig or head covering, and I continued to attend school when I felt well enough. Shaving your head bald when you're in high school is a very dramatic thing to do, and many kids who did not know me made fun of me. While I learned about how awful other people can be when they don't understand a situation, I also learned about the deep kindness of others, including my friends who stood up for me when others ridiculed me. I had always been a very shy person, but this experience gave me confidence, strength, and an attitude of not caring about the judgement of others when they make superficial conclusions about people.
The year after my cancer treatment, I went to my senior prom with a shaved head, in a $2 dress from the thrift store, and barefoot because I couldn't find shoes that matched. In an ironic turn of events, because I had become a very recognizable person at school, my friends managed to get this misfit art kid elected as Prom Queen.
Now, 24 years after my diagnosis, I remain cancer free. After high school I went on to study art in college and graduate school. I am a self-supporting artist with my own jewelry business, handcrafting nature-inspired jewelry from sustainable materials. I live in a log cabin the woods of Montana with my family, including my 4-year-old son, our dog Cricket, and 14 chickens. I am so happy to have survived childhood cancer so that I can experience the beauty of our world and this life.