Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Clarissa helps teens ride the cancer coaster

Here's a beautifully written blog by a Duke University student.  She introduces herself as follows:

Picture Hi! I am Clarissa and I am a two-time Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia survivor!!  I am now 20 years old and a junior at Duke University.  I love school and learning. I hope that one day I can become a doctor, and save lives as my doctors saved mine.  My passion now, however, is helping others cope with the ups and downs of life as a cancer patient or survivor!

In my free time, I volunteer as a Patient Ambassador for Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology.  I speak at fundraising events for them and foundations they have partnered with.  At Duke, I am Vice-President of Blue Devils vs. Cancer, a student organization dedicated to fundraising for the Duke Cancer Institute and supporting the patients being treated there.  I also love to volunteer each year at Camp Sunrise, a one week camp, in August, for childhood cancer patients and survivors.  The camp is sponsored by Johns Hopkins Hospital and is truly incredible.  Finally, with the help of an organization called Cool Kids Campaign, my friend and I co-founded a support group in Towson, Maryland for teen cancer patients and survivors.  Everything I have been through has motivated me to give back to the hospital that saved my life and to make a difference in the lives of teens who have or have had cancer.  

We turn to the photo section of the site, where we find this note:

Here are the pictures from my journey through cancer treatment. They are here to show you the ups and downs, but most of all to show you it is possible to recover.

And then there is the blog itself, candid and vulnerable.  Here's an excerpt from a post this past February, called "The unfairness of life: A survivor's perspective."

Sometimes, it can be really hard to see the reason why things happen.  I have personally ceased to try and find the “why” in it all.  Within the last 6 months, I have learned that not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, but 5 young people I know have relapsed.  Some are having bone marrow transplants.  Another of those young people lost her battle and passed away peacefully just this morning.  Others have relapsed for the second or third time and are attempting to beat the odds.  Many of these teens are my friends.  With that, I can’t help but wonder why.  I get angry, I cry, I pray, I hope, I hurt.

I have often thought that cancer can be as much of a blessing as a curse, because it unites people, refocuses people on what is important, and provides motivation to persevere.  These past few months have put me to the test, however.  After a while, it becomes less and less easy to find the good in so much bad.  It becomes harder and harder to feel safe, to realize that life cannot be the predictable journey for which we often wish.

After all the times my heart has sunk and my eyes have welled with tears in the last few months, after all of the helplessness and fear I have felt, I have only just today felt like I am once again on solid ground.  Why? Well, it is because I see the way these amazing young people are handling all of the incredible unfairness that they have been dealt.  I see the way their families, friends, and communities rally together to support them.  I see the way they smile and exceed the expectations of their doctors.  I see the way they persevere.  I see the way they handle tragedy with incredible grace and courage.

It is from their examples that survivors, like me, must learn.

And it is from Clarissa that we all learn, with gratitude.

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