Thursday, July 21, 2016

An Impactful Moment

Pediatric cancer is diagnosed in one out of three hundred children and is the number one cause of childhood disease related mortality. Because there are twelve major types of cancer and one hundred subtypes, pediatric cancer is a major scientific problem, with thousands of researchers working around the United States to find cures. My dream is to become a researcher - and one person in particular influenced my thinking. His death tremendously impacted my life.
Several years ago, I had the chance to volunteer as a host family with a non-profit organization called Blue Skies, a ministry that provides families with pediatric cancer a chance to enjoy a no-cost week at the beach. Pediatric cancer causes many families a multitude of problems including divorce and debt. When guest families arrive at the retreat center, their emotional walls are up. They don’t really want to talk and are extremely cautious. The children are exhausted and it appears like the parents are afraid to smile. Blue Skies matches volunteer families together with guest families in order to encourage bonding and fellowship. Part of a host family’s job is to help them have fun - and break down those walls. By the end of the week, the guest children are playing with the host children. It’s a blessing for all who are there. Blue Skies gives those families a hope for the future. They look for happier skies ahead.
Our family was paired with the Davidson family. Their oldest son, Drew, was a year older than me and had two younger sisters. Drew had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was in remission when I met him. Over the course of the week, we got to swim in a massive pool and build sand castles on the beach. We had water gun fights and played manhunt. We played cards and went fishing. Our families enjoyed special themed dinners like Hoola by the Poola and Nautical Night. We opened each day by reading our Bibles together and talking about God. It was one of the best weeks of my life. Cesare Pavese, an Italian poet, once said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” I remember laughing and talking with Drew over the course of the week that I was with him. I remember seeing his smile light up the room. He was a joy to everyone around him. Even after the trip, I stayed connected with his family.
Sadly, Drew’s tumor came back this past year. In December, I heard that Drew had passed away after almost six years of fighting the disease. This was a turning point for me. Talking to his sisters, I saw their grief - and felt their deep sorrow. But I didn’t know what to do about it. For a long time, I’ve been interested in medical research and I’ve thought about diabetes, alzheimer's, ebola, anthrax and cancer research. But I had no idea which one to pursue. After Drew’s passing, I knew that cancer research is the right place. It is the right field for me. His death impacted my life, because at that moment, I felt a sense of direction and purpose.
I had always thought that I could not make a difference. Why would I find any answers to problems that hundreds of scientists are studying? I won’t find a cure, and I can’t change anything. But recently, I’ve felt like I could. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.” After Drew’s passing, my mindset was changed. I was no longer afraid of my dreams, or what I needed to do to get where I wanted to go. Since then, I’ve been focused on achieving my dreams in science. I’ve researched current progress in cancer and comprehensive cancer centers around the United States. Knowing Drew showed me how to help the world. Because of Drew, I’m hoping to do scientific research with professors as an undergrad. I’d like to do a summer internship at a cancer lab in college. I’m working through high school to save money for college - so that I can afford a good school. He pushed me to follow my dreams and work my way up. It may take me a long time to get involved in cancer research but I will never give up. Pediatric cancer may have caused Drew’s death, but it changed my life.