I read that line twice, thinking I must have misunderstood. Or perhaps it was a typo. I looked again at the personal statement from the Cancer for College scholarship application in my hand. I kept reading.
“Parts of my body will be forever weaker, however, mentally I am stronger than I have ever been. Being sick gave me the opportunity to meet some of the most selfless people and gave me a new perspective on pain and what is important. I have since learned to appreciate the most elementary things where I used to take everything for granted.”
This was written by Nicholas DeHart, a scholarship winner diagnosed with osteosarcoma — bone cancer — one week after high school graduation. He is now a graduate student at George Washington University, obtaining a degree in art therapy. During his cancer treatment, art therapy provided a welcome escape from reality, and, with his Master’s degree, Nick plans to do just the same for others.
Gratitude such as Nick’s appears time and again in the words of our applicants. Yet, even after 20 years of reading applications, this raw gratitude still catches us by surprise. Our hearts ache for these brave kids, sharing their feelings so honestly. We feel so much wonder and respect for them, able to find the strength to survive, thrive, and, after coming through it all, feel grateful for their cancer experience.
Sometimes the words that are strung together seem to be at direct odds with each other. “My cancer diagnosis was the worst thing that had ever happened to me,” says survivor Samantha Loch, “so I never imagined it could have such a positive impact on my life.”
Her diagnosis was medulloblastoma — brain cancer — at age 15. “Being diagnosed with cancer helped me find myself and gave my life direction.” Sammy is now a sophomore at Western Washington University, working on a sociology degree.
Finally, thoughts from a young woman who was working hard to make ends meet in order to obtain her college degree. In the midst of it all, at 20 years old, she found herself diagnosed with gastric cancer.
“Looking back…I am able to smile and be thankful for all my experiences,” shares Stephanie White. “Not only am I healthy, but also I have found my calling in life. I have found my niche in the world, all thanks to the journey of cancer treatment. To some, it may seem crazy that I was inspired by cancer, I cannot blame them, it does seem rather bizarre, but I see all the ups and downs of my cancer treatments to have been clarifying.”
Stephanie was so changed by the passionate nurses who cared for her, that, upon returning to school, she changed her field of study and is now pursuing a nursing degree.
As a nation, during this season of Thanksgiving, we work to practice mindful gratitude. We hope you are as touched by these unexpected sentiments of gratitude as we are. As always, wishes for health and happiness to you and your families.
“Having had cancer showed me inner strength, for that I am truly grateful.” — Nicholas DeHart