Flashback Friday: “Not Even Cancer Can Stop Me”

What is more difficult to comprehend than the complexity of the human brain, how it interacts with the rest of the body and mind to create a unique person? The scientific community is only just beginning to grasp how billions of neurons work together to keep our bodies, and personalities, alive and well. Throwing cancer into the mix throws the balance of this complex organ into chaos and can transform someone into an entirely new person.
This month is Brain Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to do our part to bring to light some of the effects of this terrible type of cancer, while bringing hope to those who are in the midst of a battle with this disease. It is entirely possible to heal and thrive after such a battle – we know this because 61 of our awesome recipients are brain cancer survivors! One of them, Dalton Bouchles, allowed us to share some of his story on the blog last year, and believe that his story is so encouraging that we wanted to share it again with you today.
Take a look at his story, and remember that through trials and challenges, even brain cancer, there is always hope for you to battle through it all and victoriously stand tall on the other side, ready to accomplish your dreams.
“My dream has always been to attend college,” wrote 19-year-old Maine resident Dalton Bouchles last year in his Cancer for College scholarship application. “However, once I found out I had cancer, that dream became blurry.”
At age 18, Dalton was diagnosed with craniopharyngioma, a brain tumor which develops near the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor but suffered many physical and cognitive impairments from the procedure.
“At this point in my life, I was unsure as to whether or not I would be able to attend college like I had originally planned,” Dalton continued.
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But Dalton would not be deterred, not even by something as ominous as brain cancer. Following is his story in his own words.
I worked very hard in high school to prepare myself for college. I maintained an A average, participated in many school activities such as Key Club: as a member, president, and Lieutenant Governor for my division. I was a member of Boys’ State, National Honor Society and a Student Representative for the MSAD #52 School Board during my senior year. For sports, I was a member of the golf team and enjoyed two years participating on the soccer team. I am very proud to be a 2012 graduate, ninth in my class at Leavitt Area High School.
In the Fall of 2012, just three weeks before I was due to head out to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for my first year of college, I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, a craniopharyngioma. How the diagnosis came to be was through a routine eye exam, which showed swelling on my right optic nerve. An MRI the next day confirmed the eye doctor’s suspicions and revealed the tumor which attached itself to my pituitary gland. The surgeon gave me four days to get my things in order and then I was in the hospital having brain surgery to remove the large tumor from the center of my brain and save my life. Those four days between diagnosis and surgery were filled with shock and fear. I knew from this day forward that my next four academic years as well as my future life plans were about to change.

Surgery did not go as planned. Due to the tumor’s size and location it created surgical complications, resulting in a two month hospital stay. Each day held many challenges for me, which included occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy. While all of my friends went on to college and started the next chapter in their future, I have spent the last two years of my life in rehabilitation and recovery. Because of the type of tumor, its size and where in the brain it was located, the surgery has left me with substantial physical and neurological impairments. Most significant are my vision loss and cognitive challenges. I still have all my marbles, but I have to work harder to process and organize information. I lost over 80% of my vision and now I am visually impaired and partially sighted, which has left me unable to drive, limiting my mobility.

Due to the tumor and its effects, it has made Worcester Polytechnic Institute no longer a viable option. The cognitive impairments now limit my ability to attend school as a full-time student. I am now working on a degree two classes at a time, allowing me to reach my dream of going to college. Although the tumor has slowed my education, it will not stop it. Along the way, I have remained a very positive person and a hard worker.

I have always felt that education was a top priority in life. It opens up many doors and possible careers that would have not otherwise been available. I want to go to college, receive an education and walk through one of those doors myself. Nothing, not even cancer, is going to stop me. I pushed myself hard in therapy from day one in order to get as close as I can to where I was before surgery and get back on the college track. The tumor was a roadblock that I overcame and now I am where I am supposed to be, heading back to college.

Nothing, not even cancer, is going to stop me.

Dalton is currently attending Central Maine Community College and enrolled macroeconomics and critical thinking. We applaud your fighting spirit and determination, Dalton, and wish you the very best of luck in all that you do!

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Dalton, please visitcancerforcollege.org

 


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

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The Constant Caregiver: Happy Mother’s Day

I am a mama’s boy, and proudly so. It is impossible to be otherwise when my mom has been the single greatest influence in creating my love of learning, reading, exploring, cooking…essentially everything imaginative in my life stems from the infectious joy my mom imbued to me through the years. She taught me how to not only endure challenges, but to pursue them because only through great success AND failure would I become stronger.

But I am also a mama’s boy because my mom was my constant caregiver as I fought cancer, as we fought cancer because she took on just as much pain and stress from the disease as I did. A mother’s greatest pride and fear are often simultaneously wrapped up in her children, and when I was threatened I experienced the full force of love and strength that only a mother can offer in a crisis.

  • Through silent — and often secret — tears, she journaled a combination of thoughts, prayers, and medical side effects the week she learned of my diagnosis.
  • With grit, she overcame her lifelong fear of needles in order to become my at-home nurse and administer my shots, as that was a condition of being discharged.
  • And with a mischievous grin she snuck me out of my hospital room in the middle of the night so we could watch a rare and awesome lightning storm from the playground lawn.

 

These memories are both unique and shared, as nearly all of our recipients fought cancer with the help of their mom. We asked a few of them for a special memory of their mother that we could share on this special Mother’s Day. Take a moment today to read those memories below, and then share your own Mother’s Day memory (or photo) in the comment section.

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Happy Mother’s Day! My mom with all of her kids and grandkids.

 

Sarah McNeil:

My mom was a constant source of strength for me during my treatments. I could always tell from my hospital bed which footsteps were hers coming down the hall of Levine Children’s Hospital. The mothers (and fathers and other caregivers) of children with cancer face a seemingly insurmountable number of obstacles and hardships. Most people never hesitate to call me a “survivor”, but I would not have been able to endure my treatments without my mom’s selfless love to sustain me. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I am so grateful for you, and I love you so much.

 

Jackie Balliot:

I remember the day I was diagnosed, my family arrived at a hotel near the hospital late at night in preparation for the confirmatory scans the next day. My mom looked me straight in the eye and said “you are going to beat this, and a few years from now this is going to bring you so many amazing opportunities. you will get through this.” And of course- she was absolutely right! I love you Momma!

 

Anna Kellner:

When I was little, my mom was the sun and the stars. I thought that the entire universe revolved around her – her voice, her freckled skin, her attitude. She’d always sing to me while she cooked; our house was perpetually full of music. At some point, it became ritual for us to sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” together because no wind and no rain could keep us from each other. But then I grew up and when I was sixteen, the whole house was silent. It was the night before my first chemotherapy treatment and the silence was unbearable. We were all terrified and uncertain but there was one thing I knew for sure… There wasn’t a mountain high, valley low, or river wide enough to break our family. So I turned up that song as loud as I could and I danced down the stairs to my mama, singing at the top of my lungs, and she raced into the hall with her arms open wide and sang with me.

That’s one of those moments that I will tell my children and my children’s’ children about because it was so real and intense. It was the moment that I knew my mother’s love would never fail me.

Happy Mother’s Day, lady. I love you!

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors, please visit cancerforcollege.org

 


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Survivor Spotlight: Ryan Freydig

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Did Robert Frost, who penned these famous words exactly 100 years ago, know that he had just immortalized humanity’s heart? This is not indicative of one of the thousands of ordinary choices we make every day, but an extraordinary one made mostly by a gut-feeling and bated breath. Speaking with Cancer for College recipient, Ryan Freydig, this week forced me to remember how much bravery is required to take your life into your own hands and take the road less traveled. And just like Robert Frost, Ryan is able to look back on all the decisions that he made in the past 4 years and know that he chose well.

Back in 2008, Ryan had just received the news that he was finally in full remission after his battle with testicular cancer. Ready to leave that sickness behind him and charge, full steam ahead, into college and normal life, he quickly applied and was accepted in CSU Long Beach. But, as so many families have discovered, the cost of college is often just too much to fathom. Then something amazing happened

Ryan loved baseball, but when he was struck by cancer there was no way he was healthy enough to compete. So, it was momentous when he stepped back onto the field to play in his first game since beating cancer. The LA Times caught wind of Ryan’s story, came out to this game, and printed an article about his great comeback from cancer and the effects of chemo. Cancer for College heard about this and called Ryan to let him know about our scholarships for cancer survivors; it was the first time Ryan had heard about such a thing
and he hastily applied. After that, all he could do was wait.

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Ryan and his wife, Whitney.

And then it happened. Ryan got a call not only letting him know that he got a scholarship from Cancer for College, but that he would receive one of our coveted perpetual scholarships! College was possible again! Off he went to make all of his dreams of a college education come true. Nothing could stop him now. Nothing except an unexpected fork in the road. The kind of fork that Frost depicts in his poem: a fork that redefines dreams and helps you discover what you want, and who you are.

 

Ryan was in the midst of a great college experience, studying business and doing well, when he was given the opportunity to begin a career. He leaped at the chance to earn money and experience in the “real world” instead of sit in classes that would teach him how to earn money in the “real world.” So, Ryan left college and embarked on an entirely new adventure: working for AAA of Southern California, putting his business savvy to good use generating executive reports and ensuring that all claims are handled smoothly and efficiently.

 

Around the same time, Ryan met the woman who would later become his wife. Whitney was like a jolt of electricity, a breath of fresh air, and a drink of cold water that awoke Ryan to the possibility of life far north of normal. He was working full-time and had met someone who he felt like he could share an incredible life with. When you meet that person who turns your life upside down, and you realize life is better that way, it feels impossible to live any other way. Ryan not only came back from cancer, he was living life fully, in such a way that made up for time lost when he could not focus on anything besides fighting cancer.

Needless to say, Ryan took the road less traveled, said “sayonara” to college at CSULB, and started life with Whitney.  He and Whitney also have a son, Ryan Jr., and the three of them literally live out the life Robert Frost espoused as avid outdoor adventurers. They constantly go on hikes and camping trips around their Southern California home, and try

to visit as many state and national parks as possible. He also has dreams of someday returning to school to attain a degree in information systems, but feels there is no hurry as he is living a good life already.

 

Ryan, we cannot wait to hear what happens next. For everyone staring at a fork in the road, wondering whether or not you should trust your gut and venture out into the unknown, this story is for you. Great things await those who are brave enough to say “yes” to what they know is right, instead of simply following in the footsteps of those around you.   

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Ryan, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Survivor Spotlight: Max Mueller

Author, Wendell Berry, believes life’s ultimate anchor point is not time, as many people believe, but, rather, place. The right place has the power to invoke an immediate sense of belonging, whereas time requires…well, time to do the same. Why does this matter, dear reader? For Max Mueller, a Cancer for College perpetual recipient from 2008-2010, it is exactly what turned his life into a story worthy of a Hollywood movie.

Max grew up surrounded by France. He did not live in France, nor was he French, but his parents’ Francophilia seeped into his bones and created in him a love for the French, known the world over for its exquisite taste and unique culture. So, when Max got the chance to participate in an exchange program back in 2006, he leapt at the chance and embarked on a journey that would impact his life forever.

 

IMG_6076Just 8 months into his stay, Max felt like he had to go to the doctor to check out a lump he had found. With his ever-present homestay mom there for support, Max was given the terrible news that he had testicular cancer. The doctors thought it would be fairly easy to treat, as far as cancer goes, and once Max flew back to the US they removed the infected testicle and they thought that would be it. However, a short while later Max was back in the hospital and finding out that the cancer had returned and had grown so much that it was pushing on his gall bladder and causing great discomfort. This time, chemo had to be used to rid Max’s body of the tumor. They were successful, and Max began a second, long journey: this one taking him not to another country, but back to full health.

For the first time since finding out he had cancer and being forced to quit his time in France early, Max could breathe and think about what just transpired in his life. One moment he is studying and traveling throughout France, engrossed in a culture and language that felt like second-nature, and the next he is lying in a hospital bed receiving treatment for testicular cancer. In the blink of an eye, Max became a member of a club that no one wants to join: he was now a cancer survivor. Everyone who has survived cancer knows that even after beating the disease, there is still a chance that the cancer will return, and so you have to receive regular checkups for 5 years until the doctors are certain there is a negligible chance of recurrence.

What was Max to do? College was just around the corner but cancer derailed any plans he may have had of finishing his studies in France. With more positivity than most could muster when their plans go awry, the Santa Cruz native chose to stay close to home and his hospital to attend UC Santa Cruz. It was at this time that the other price of cancer came in, and Max reached out to Cancer for College in order to help mitigate the high cost of college. Not only was Max granted a scholarship, but he and his application stood out so much that he became one of the Cancer for College perpetual scholarship winners, receiving our highest award every year until graduation.

France made another appearance in Max’s life in college, when Max decided to earn a degree in linguistics, and chose French as his language of focus. Little did he know that this “language of love” would soon sway the focus of his heart, as well. As most college graduates nowadays learn, you must go with the flow in order to make your way in the world. After graduating from UCSC in 2010, Max moved to LA and worked his way up in the restaurant industry, soon becoming manager of a renowned ice cream shop in Santa Monica.

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It was during this time that Max’s attention was drawn to pastries, or more specifically, to the woman named Charlotte making the sweet delicacies. Beautiful, talented, and raised in (you guessed it) France, Charlotte was a French-trained pastry chef with a knack for adventure. The two began to date, but were soon drawn apart when Charlotte went back to France. It was not until she returned that the two rekindled their relationship, fell in love, and were married just 6 months later.

“It is hard to believe that love stories that feel straight out of a movie actually exist, but it really did happen to me,” Max said, speaking about his fateful his reunion and marriage to Charlotte.

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That was three years ago, and Max and Charlotte are still living out their dreams together. Both are working for the same restaurant group in Santa Monica, and are continuing to move up in the industry. Max has just accepted another promotion that will take him back to the Huckleberry Café, where he began working and met Charlotte. Even though they remain very busy at work, they have found time to return to France. Not only do they visit some of Charlotte’s family who are still living in France, but they also remain connected with the family who took Max in back in 2006, who were with him when he first learned he had cancer. Max even attended the wedding of the family’s son, and has watched their two daughters grow up as if they were his own sisters.

Max can connect nearly every major event in his life to France in some way, and he is more than content with the outcome of his life today. “Place” truly is an anchor that holds us steady during difficult times and helps mold in the midst of great pressure. Now, Max has happened upon a new place upon which to ground a new chapter of his life. Santa Monica is already special because it is where Max met Charlotte and discovered his passion for the restaurant industry. Next week, that place will become home to another monumental occasion: not only will Max celebrate his birthday on April 6, but just a few days later he will celebrate surviving cancer for 10 years! The past decade was full of tumult and inspiration, more than most of us could imagine, and Max came through it like a champion. Moving forward, he can confidently face whatever comes his way, knowing that he will thrive no matter what happens, or where life places him.

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To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Max, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Remembering Isabella Corcelli

There is no easy way to learn that cancer took another young life from this earth much too early. It is even more difficult to respond in any way that could actually make the situation better; there is no such thing as better when it comes to this. Today, we received news that one of our amazing recipients from 2013 and 2014, Isabella Corcelli, passed away from Synovial Sarcoma on February 19, 2016. The best we can do is remember the vigor with which Isabella lived, for in sharing those memories we give eternal purpose to every step she took. Be inspired by Isabella as you watch the video of her wish-fulfilling “dance with a star,” and then read her 2014 application essay, one of the most creative we have ever received. You will always be a part of our family, Isabella, and we are so thankful for the gift of getting to know you these past few years.

The following is reposted from January 30, 2014: “Last Call for Applicants 2014, and a Poetic (and Award’Winning!) Personal Statement

Last year during our scholarship selection process, I wrote down the name of a young lady who had submitted a very memorable personal statement in her application materials. I felt a connection to her and was hoping that, through the rigorous review process, she would emerge with a scholarship in the end.

The name I wrote down was Isabella Corcelli.  I loved the way her name rolled off my tongue. Isabella Corcelli, who was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma just three months before our scholarship application deadline. Isabella Corcelli, who was supposed to be enjoying her senior year of high school, but who was instead fighting a rare form of soft tissue cancer.  Isabella Corcelli who, despite her diagnosis, was determined to begin her freshman year of college in the fall as planned.

Isabella did receive a Cancer for College scholarship, and started school in the fall at the University of New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in Recreational Management and Policy.

With her blessing, we share her personal statement in its entirety. It’s both a touching piece of writing, shared from the heart of a young person facing a terrifying situation, and an excellent example of a unique and memorable personal statement.

Girls high school Lacrosse games
Varsity and junior varsity
Swing starter, love the action
Pain on my side
Must be scoring too many goals
Yes, I can handle that!

Spring drama production, stage manager responsibilities
Ballroom dance showcases and competitions
Junior prom, limo, nails and hair
Pain on my side near my ribs
Must be working too hard
As part time frozen yogurt girl
Yes, I can handle that!

Summer time beach days
Backyard fires with smores
Cartwheel competitions on the grass
With my two brothers and my two best friends
Oooh pain on my side, time to call the doctor
Yes, I can handle that!

Pediatrician visits
Blood work drawn, use my right arm please
Ultrasound tests
Let’s go for some MRIs
And certainly a CAT scan
Yes, I can handle that!

Referrals to thoracic surgeon
A tumor between my 7th and 8th rib
Could be Schwannoma, could be benign
We agree it shouldn’t be there
This should be a simple operation
Yes, I can handle that!

It’s the start of senior year
Honors classes, stage manager
Promoted to barista at work
And schedule a surgery on Halloween
A whopping six hours from start to finish
Yes, I can handle that!

Cool November football games
Research papers and senior project due
Pathology results unexpected
Synovial sarcoma tumor
Who ever heard of this rare 1% cancer?
Yes, I can handle that!

My new vocabulary words are
Hematologist, oncologist, surgical oncologist,
Chemotherapy, rib replacement
Reproduction endocrinology
Don’t forget fertility preservation
Yes, I can handle that!

Thanksgiving turkey, high school football game
Doctors moving fast, chemo drugs are harsh
Fertility is in question, need to freeze the eggs
Let’s start the hormonal self-injections
Mix up the Bravelle and Menapur
Yes, I can handle that!

More MRIs, more CAT scans, more blood work
My veins are feeling tight, my diet is neutropenia
Four rounds of chemo are planned for weeklong stay at the hospital
Ifosfamide, Doxorubicin, Mesna, Compazine, Zofran Sodium Chloride, Neulasta, blood transfusions, blood platelets

Yes, I can handle that!

As of this writing I have experienced several surgeries and procedures, with more expected in the near future. I have scheduled countless doctor appointments, completed two rounds of chemotherapy, received wonderful medical care, pampered by excellent doctors, nurses, CAN’s and of course my family. Ever since I was a young girl, I aspired to become a pediatrician. Having witnessed the medical community first hand, I truly appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to provide not good care, but excellent care. I have also been grateful for the doctors and nurses encouraging me to pursue my career. Their advice, inspiration and practical tips have been invaluable. Add to that my personal dedication of maintaining high grades, National Honor Society, volunteer hours, part-time job, lacrosse and ballroom dancing. As you can tell, the opportunity to attend and afford college would be an honor to receive. I cannot wait to be able to help a young child someday knowing full well that I too, was a patient once.

Yes, I can handle that!

Yes, Isabella, you handled all that and more, better than anyone could in your place. Thank you for reminding us to live fully no matter what. Our hearts go out to Isabella’s family and hope for peace and comfort for all her loved ones.

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of young cancer survivors, please visit cancerforcollege.org

 

This Valentine’s Day is for the Caregivers

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On Valentine’s Day, the idea is for people to finally stop to remember and recognize who they really love. Traditionally, this means someone you love romantically, like a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse. But there is another kind of love, a memorable love. The kind of love that sticks around when the road turns ugly and treacherous.

It is the fierce love of caregivers. A love that hopefully every cancer patient knows.

Whether the caregiver comes in the form of a compassionate nurse, a loving friend or a dedicated family member, the caregiver’s job is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and overlooked roles imaginable. Why? Because caregivers are there during the difficult times, the embarrassing, and even just the mundane.

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Tosh, a hospital volunteer, and my friend, Kaiden, went above and beyond normal support as two of my caregivers.

Here is what I mean:

  • Holding your friend’s hair as she throws up from chemo.
  • Bathing your spouse because they are too weak to do so themselves.
  • Sharing a “nice meal” from the hospital cafeteria, atop a hospital bed, with one of those rolling trays as a table.
  • And if you are really lucky, going for a walk outside in the fresh air and sunshine (just the two of you and an IV pole)

 

This Valentine’s Day is for the caregivers.

For the people who constantly give selflessly, for the purpose of making their loved one a little cozier in a permanently uncomfortable hospital bed. The ones who give up their social life for the hope of eking just a little more life out of a sterile environment. And the ones who are able to care so well that cancer is unable overcome a sense of home, wherever you may be at the time.

This Valentine’s Day, get flowers and chocolate for your loved one (PLEASE DO THIS!) because it is fun, but let’s also celebrate those who share their love with us in many different ways.  

And let’s remember that every other day of the year is when acts of love truly count.

Happy Valentine’s Day, especially to all of you caregivers, ever faithful and unwavering. You are loved.


To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of young cancer survivors, please visit cancerforcollege.org

The Holiday Hospital: How to Love Christmas even in a Cancer Ward

By: Mitch Friesen, CFC recipient 2011 & Director of Growth and Community

Music in malls, restaurants, and on the radio all over the country tout this season as “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many people, that is exactly what it is, coming together with family and friends for all sorts of blissful shenanigans. Christmas is supposed to be a time of relaxation, rejuvenation, and reconnection. However, for some people every year – like me and my family back in 2001 – the holidays feel more like the embodiment of a Batman villain: smiling out of one side of your face and grimacing out the other. You are stuck in this surreal place wondering how so many emotions could be packed into one person, which one you should portray, and how all this even happened.

You see, we are told that cancer changes everything, that it takes so much, but we do not expect it to take away the joy of the holidays.  To us, those are sacred times for memories to be made and traditions to endure. All of the preparation that goes into creating that memorable space came forcibly to a halt when I was diagnosed with an advanced stage III form of B-cell lymphoma on December 14, 2001 (my sister’s birthday, no less). The next week was a blur of medical information and shock that I just won a lottery of an illness. As our new reality came into focus we realized that Christmas was just around the corner, and this year would be spent in a pediatric oncology ward.

How do you deal with a situation like this: recognizing that there is a pall cast over a normally-carefree and happy time, and that it is unavoidable and for the health of a child? It can be a scary and overwhelming dilemma, especially if you keep those feelings bottled up inside you where no one else can help. The truth is, though, that as a family you go through these trials together, and everyone is feeling the exact same way. Even so, each member of a family (and the many friends who would be by your side in an instant) has something unique to offer as part of the solution – however temporary – to hospital holiday. The point is to do so together.

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For me and my family, this meant decorating the room with our own tiny Christmas tree, lights, and wintry window art. Everyone also unwrapped presents in that little hospital room, cramping the space with bodies and wrapping paper, but worth it because there was no way that anyone could mistake the life overflowing from all of us. I probably felt nauseous at some point, and a nurse periodically dropped by to change my IV, reminding us of our location. When faced with having Christmas in a cancer ward, make it as good as possible, but even more important is for your holiday to be memorable. Time with our loved ones is too precious a gift to waste waiting for a perfect moment that will never come. May you be able to seize a wonderful Christmas for others and yourself, wherever you may be.

At this time of year, we especially want to remember how cancer has altered the holiday plans, not to mention lives, of so many families, including many future members of the Cancer for College family. This Christmas, please join us in giving the lasting gift of a college education to deserving cancer survivors (donate HERE). Have a Merry Christmas!

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.

~Peg Bracken