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Teen Essay Series: An Animal

This is the third in a series featuring the finalists in our inaugural Teen Essay Contest.  Mitchell Braun’s essay won 2nd Place in the Friends and Family category.

essayMitchell Braun Photo   (1)My name is Mitchell Braun.  I was born and raised in Camarillo and go to Newbury Park High School.  I founded the American Cancer Society Club at my school in my freshman year and have been involved with it for four years, ultimately helping to raise over $20,000.  Additionally, I have been heavily involved in the Camarillo Relay for Life where I joined the city wide committee sophomore year and have continued to participate for three years.  Currently, I am employed as a biology tutor at Prestige Tutoring Academy.  My career goal is to become a doctor to help others.  In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends in addition to playing the piano and running.  This Fall I will attend Loyola Marymount University to study biology.

An Animal

For her entire life, my aunt, Helen, had a deep passion for animals and the lives of other living things.  She worked hard in her career as a captain of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation to ensure that animals across the city were treated with respect and care.  Love and empathy radiated out of her like no one I have ever met.  During this time, little did she know that another type of animal, one she was not accustomed to, was growing within her.  This animal, a vicious form of breast cancer, successfully developed into stage four of the disease before it was detected at age 38.  For the next eight years, I watched in agony as my aunt continually battled against this monster, trying to tame the seemingly untamable, and ultimately succumbing to this disease.

When Auntie Helen was first diagnosed, I was a second grader living in ignorant bliss to the terrors of the world around me.  Cancer was not in my every day vocabulary, and I never thought it would be.  I still remember the day that my mom informed my brothers, sister, and me of the terrible news; the words “Your aunt has cancer” still echo in my head today.  Her battle was similar to that of the large amount of individuals that share her disease.  She went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation in the attempt to weaken the beast’s onslaught.  My family and I visited her when the side effects of these treatments became too debilitating for normal functioning.  My parents drove her son and daughters, my cousins, to sporting events and other activities to ensure some degree of normalcy in their constantly hectic and worrisome lives.  On the weekends, my mom cooked meals for the upcoming week while my sister and I helped clean her house.  Too often we heard my aunt vomiting in the upstairs bathroom as we attempted to make her life as easy as possible.  What astonished me the most being around my aunt during this time was her constant devotion and unwavering personality.  She continued to make us all laugh, smile, and crave her company.  The animals of Los Angeles still received her love as she still went into work, organized meetings, and managed multiple shelters across the city.  She never faded into the blackness of this disease that can become so incredibly easy to do; she never gave up.

Regardless of her resiliency, perseverance, and our incessant prayers, the cancer spread throughout her body and into her bones.  She lived for many years with the cancer omnipresent but speciously docile.  Treatments were still utilized, and her body began to wither away under the inevitable side effects.  Her heart began to weaken under the stress of the radiation and the weight that she gained.  Eventually, her body gave out while her personality remained strong.  After a week in the hospital after a series of small strokes caused by severe cardiac arrhythmia, my aunt passed away.  Even though my family knew that this end was a possibility for years, it was difficult to grasp the concept of her death; it was hard to imagine life without her.  My mom was with her when she finally passed away.  Even lying in the hospital bed connected to machines and monitors, my aunt did not think that it was the end.  Death just was not an option for her.  She had kids to look after, a job that she loved, and a family that could not live without her.  Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to say goodbye to my aunt.  During the last week of her life, I contracted a mild cold that, even though harmless to me, might have largely impacted her.  Instead of spending long nights at the hospital, I stayed home and watched my little brother whom my parents did not want experiencing the tragedy first hand.  Even though I miss her greatly and wish I had been able to see her one last time, I know that she is no longer suffering and is in a better place.

Throughout Auntie Helen’s battle, she suffered the primary effects of the disease while my family and I suffered the secondary.  Worry, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and sleepless nights were never uncommon during these years.  Every time I heard bad news in regards to my aunt’s condition, the symptoms that came along with this knowledge were immediate.  The constriction of my lungs, dizziness, and nausea characteristic of anxiety at times was difficult to live with.  Whenever I felt this way, however, I thought of my aunt and her incredible steadfastness and strength.  She never visibly worried or doubted that everything would be okay.  Determined to make a difference, I helped start the American Cancer Society Club at my high school freshman year.  The ACS Club helped spread cancer awareness and raise money to be donated for cancer research and wellness programs.  Sophomore year we participated in Relay for Life, an annual 24-hour event that mirrors a cancer patient’s continuous struggle and attempts to raise money and participation from the community.  The environment surrounding Relay was one that I had never before experienced.  I fell in love with the prodigious amount of support and overwhelming feeling that I was making a difference.  Just three months after this first experience, my aunt passed away.  I decided that the only way I could combat this animal that eventually won the battle was through involvement.  The following year I joined the city-wide Relay for Life Committee and helped plan the next three Relays.  Over the three years that my school club participated, we, as a team, raised over $20,000, and I felt that I was truly making a difference in combating this disease.

Too often people do not choose to react when cancer enters their lives.  It is easy to sit by and let life continue, to grieve silently, and let this animal win.  This, however, will not bring the results millions of people desperately need: a cure.  A week ago, my grandmother found a lump in her breast that is currently being biopsied.  I fear that the experience my family has endured is on the verge of repetition, and I refuse to do nothing.  My aunt’s journey has taught me that no matter how much we hope and pray, cancer will not stop.  It will not rest.  It will take action, support, hard work, and dedication to destroy this beast and nothing less.  Auntie Helen’s experience and loss to cancer, even though sad and difficult, has opened my eyes to the nature of this disease.  Throughout her battle she has instilled in me the perseverance and dedication that is necessary to take on my future problems as well as fight for others.

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Teen Essay Series: Dear Cancer, It’s Me

This is the second in a series featuring the finalists in our inaugural Teen Essay Contest. Sarah Goldberg’s essay won 1st Place in the Personal category.

essaySarahGoldbergSarah is a 15-year-old freshman, straight-A student, at Oak Park High School.  She was diagnosed at 6 months of age with a solid tumor in her abdomen. After successful surgeries to remove the tumor, she subsequently developed severe scoliosis and has worn a body brace since age 5 1/2.  She has also been extremely active fundraising for children with cancer.  In the past 10 years she has raised over $6,000 by selling cookies, holding garage sales, and having bake sales, often getting her whole school involved in her projects. She has even gotten celebrities to donate items for an eBay auction. Other than that she is just an average teenager; she loves to read, swim, and hang out with friends.

Dear Cancer,

It’s me Sarah Goldberg. The girl you decided to infiltrate when she was only a baby. If you don’t remember, which you probably don’t because you hurt and kill so many amazing people, let me jog your memory.

Remember when I was four-months old, and had not gained much weight, so my parents and pediatrician began a long series of different medical tests trying to find out what was wrong with me, while you played hide-and-seek with them? Remember when I was six-months old, and still had not gained weight and my parents put a feeding tube in me. You were so excited – food served directly to you. But your game was up that night! The radiologist finally saw you. You had gotten so fat and so large feeding off my body, that you had collapsed my lung and started pushing into my diaphragm. Remember that?

I am sure you remember when my parents took me to the hospital and all the attention that followed. Remember the pictures of yourself taken from various angles and with various machines. You were so coy and so shy. You kept all the doctors guessing.  Were you lung cancer? Were you a liver tumor? Or maybe you were just a large blood clot. Nobody knew for sure, but everybody agreed you did not belong inside my tiny body anymore.

Nobody will forget your impeccable timing. Of course you chose the weekend of the anesthesiology convention, when all the experienced anesthesiologists for infants were out of town. You knew that would totally prolong your stay in my home.

Do you remember Monday, October 19, 1998, a.k.a. the day of our battle. Do you remember the pain and agony you caused my mom as she rocked me and held me close before I set off with the surgeons. Do you remember the pain you caused my father as he whispered goodbye to me, not knowing if that was the last time I would hear it? I’m sure you are smirking as you remember how you threatened my life and forced my parents to imagine all the horrendous possible outcomes.

Do you remember the fight you put up during surgery? Despite all the photographs taken in the days before, you were much bigger than anyone had anticipated. Oh that pleased you plenty – forcing the surgeons to change their plan of attack. Unable to pull you out through the first incision, you forced them to cut me twice, having to push you out through the second incision.

You were so proud of yourself. You were so big, so hidden, so massive, trying to take over my tiny body. But when the battle was over, you were the dead one, not me.  Although you weighed a whopping one pound, and I was only nine pounds, nobody anticipated how strong I could be.

But, dear cancer, we all know that you weren’t quite done with me yet. Do you remember the mess you left inside my body! You left my muscles weak, my insides unable to hold themselves together. You gave me feeding issues for years and created an environment that many believe caused my severe scoliosis. I had more surgery, more hospitalizations, and have even worn a body brace for the past 10 years, trying to clean up the mess you made.

Despite all that, cancer, I want to thank you. You did not affect my ability to think, to learn, and to be. You did not affect my intellect or my spirit. In fact, you actually made me stronger. Because of your evil, I was able to bring more good into this world than I, or my parents, would have thought possible.

Because of you, and what you did to me, at age 5, I started a charity, “Cookies for Kids with Cancer.” Every year since then I have been committed to decimating your existence and the effect you have on others. I donated stuffed animals to other kids you put in the hospital, signing each card with my painted handprint since I was too little to write my name. I donated books to the children’s hospital waiting room, so other kids would not have to think about you while waiting for treatments. For years, I sold cookies and pencils, had garage sales and bake sales. I have received matching donations from cities I lived in, donations from survivors, and parents and spouses of survivors of you. I have had my communities and friends involved in all kinds of events raising money to get rid of you. Over the past 10 years I have raised over $5,000!

You should know, cancer, that despite all the good that came of your invasion in my body, you do not get credit for it. The fact that something beneficial to the world came out of your decision to permeate my body has nothing to do with you. I, and many others, will continue to work together, to eradicate you from this world. There will come a day when you will be but a distant memory, a disease we learn about in history class.  You will be nothing more than a boring, inconsequential, irrelevant, and meaningless disease. You will no longer be able to cause anyone pain, sorrow, and suffering like you caused me and my family, as well as thousands of others.

I truly believe that good will always prevail over evil, and you, cancer, are pure evil.  After reading this letter, I hope you understand that continuing to fight is futile. Perhaps you should take a lesson from the lemmings, and just give up. But if you won’t, remember this, I will always be here to fight you. I, and many others, will never give up.

Sincerely,

Sarah Goldberg

Teen Essay Series: Let It Be

This is the first in a series featuring the finalists in our inaugural Teen Essay Contest. Veronika Kruger’s essay, “Let It Be,” won 1st Place in the Family and Friends category.

essayVeronika Kruger PhotoMy name is Veronika Kruger and I’m from Oak Park California.  I’ve enjoyed participating in many sports such as Soccer and Cheerleading.  My family and my friends are a huge aspect of my life.  I’m a typical teenage girl and I love to shop and go to the beach!  One day I would love to go to a college, I’m not sure where I want to go yet but I really enjoy literature and photography and I would really like to continue to write and take pictures!  

Let It Be

Dear Cancer, it’s me… If I’m writing this to you, it must mean that you are out of my house, out of my family, and out of my life- at least for now.  I first met you when I was only 5. You were close with my Dad.  At that point in my life, I didn’t know exactly what you were or what you were doing to my father.  I imagined you as a man in a black cape and mask, sort of like a comic book character.  You would play pranks on him like make his hair fall out, and make him so skinny that he could barely keep his pants on.  You even made him fall down sometimes, but my dad would just laugh, so at the time I didn’t think you were a bad guy at all.  I first got a sense of fear from you when I had to visit my Dad in the hospital because he was getting an immediate transfusion.  I remember crying, and saying to my dad “I want to take those things out of you arms.  I want to take you home with me right now!”  But my dad said, “No, let me show what these tubes are.  They are giving me blood.  They’re going to make me feel better, and when it’s all done, then I can come home and be with you and read you a story.”

And Dad did come home.  And he did read me lots of stories, and played animals with me.  And Mr. Cancer, I thought you were gone forever. My family and I had a lot of fun.  We went on vacations, to beaches, mountains, and lakes.  We had campfires and game night, puzzles, and gazing at the stars through my brother’s new telescope.  We also got a puppy, and we named him Buster.  Buster loved my Mom the most.

One day when I came home from school, my Mom, my Dad, my Brother, and Buster were all sitting in the living room.  My Mom and my Brother were crying.  I could feel there was someone else in the room, but I didn’t see anyone there.  It was you Mr. Cancer, opening the door for me, but this time you weren’t standing behind my Dad, you were standing silently behind my Mom.  I sat down, and then my Mom said, “Honey I have some bad news.  Remember when Daddy was sick with cancer? Now its my turn.”  I said, “Don’t worry Mom! I know you will be alright, Dad is healthy again.”   My Mom sat there and said, “I won’t worry Sweetie, I want to be there when you graduate, I want to be there when you get married, and I want to be there when you have kids of your own.  Everything will be alright.”

Over the next few years, you were much meaner to my Mom than you were to my Dad, Mr. Cancer.  You made her cry.  You made her legs and arms hurt.  She had trouble seeing, and breathing and even talking, and you never did this to my Dad!  That’s when I knew you weren’t some kind of masked prankster; you were a heartless, cold, vicious, mean spirited entity.  And the worst part was that you were a kidnapper. You took my Mom away from me, even though her body was sitting right there on the couch.  You took the one who used to hug and kiss me, and say goodnight to me every night and never forgot to tell me that she loved me.  She was the one who would make me pancakes on the weekend, and take me shopping and let me try on clothes, even though we couldn’t afford them.  The one thing you couldn’t take away Mr. Cancer, was the day she let me try on her Wedding Dress.  A big smile crossed her face that I hadn’t seen in such a long time.  She told me the Dress was mine, and her biggest wish was to get to see me wear it on my Wedding Day.  The days passed and just when we would think she was getting better, she would get worse and then worse again.  I would come home to see a grey skinned, emaciated body sitting on my couch, who would just look at me, those painful dark brown eyes that tore my heart out.  There was nothing I could do to help my Mom and that was the worst possible feeling.  It became so hard to see her there that I didn’t even want to come home anymore, so my Dad let me stay with my friends on whole weekends.  I tried to keep moving and keep busy all the time so that I wouldn’t have to come home.  But what I really wanted to do was come home, hug my Mom and make everything all right again.  I wanted to bundle my Mother up in something you, Mr. Cancer, couldn’t get through.  I wanted to make her safe.

My Mom went to her doctor in Santa Monica for a routine check up and they decided it was best for her to stay overnight.  The next day the phone rang.  I was getting ready to go with my friend to Venice Beach when my Brother answered and had a terrified look on his face. It was my Dad, he was with my Mother in the hospital and he wanted us to get down there immediately because there was something very wrong.  We both got in the car and headed down to the hospital as fast as we could.  I didn’t know what to put on the radio, and I remember thinking, “What song do you play when you’re on the way to watch your Mother die?”   I decided to go with Let It Be, by the Beatles.  As soon as we got there we went to the ICU and joined my Dad in a small room with wires and machines that I had seen before.  Before long my Grandmother came too.  My Mom had a big blue oxygen mask over her face and we all crowded in close as she tried to talk to us.  I was the closest to her and she wrapped her hand around mine when she spoke, squeezing it with every word.  She first said to my Brother, “I’m so proud of you…you grew up so well…you’re so kind, and so smart.”  She asked my Dad to go find the doctor and then she said to me, “I love you so much…I’ll still be there, watching over you at your graduation and when you get married.”  I held her hand so tight.  I never wanted to let her go.  After that, my Dad came back with the Doctor, and the Doctor checked one of the machines and said nothing, he just looked at us.  My Dad nodded sadly.  He was shaking.  He went over to my mom and stroked her head and kissed her cheek.

They moved my Mom out of ICU to a room in the hospital where people go to die.  We were at the end of the hall.  No one could bother us, my Grandma, my two Uncles, my Brother and my Dad.  In the new room she lost consciousness some time in the night. We still talked to her like everything was okay, but she wasn’t talking back anymore.  After the first night, nothing much had changed.  We all sat there and watched as her breathing got worse and each of us took a turn in crying.  There would be some times where she wouldn’t breathe for a long time and we would all stare, wondering if it would be her last.  My Dad had been sleeping on a bench outside in the hallway and on the second night, he came in very late.  I watched as he stroked her hair and held her lifeless arm next to his and whispered words of wisdom.  I fell fast asleep and woke up to the red, wet eyes of my Brother, shaking me to wake up.  He said no words.  He merely looked at me and back at my Mom.  I stared, waiting for her to take a breath, but she never did.  I ran out to get my dad and I didn’t say anything to him either, but instantly he knew.  It’s odd, how in times of such heartache all you need to communicate is just a simple look.  There you go, Mr. Cancer.  You got what you wanted.  Not only did you take the soul of my Mom but you took the soul of my whole family with you.  I hope this makes you feel good because I know that’s what you do.  Some day, someone will conquer you.  They will figure out how to stop you from making so many people miserable and having little girls watch you “prank” their Daddies and make their Mother shrivel away, and there won’t be anymore stories like mine.  I can’t wait for that day.

Sincerely, Veronika Kruger

 

Teen Essay Contest Winners

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On April 27, 2013, we held our 2013 Essay Contest Awards Luncheon. It was a gathering of truly talented and inspirational young writers and their families. Seventy-four students from 21 area high schools participated in our inaugural contest.

Congratulations to the Finalists and Winners!

Family and Friends Category:

1st Place: Veronika Kruger, Oak Park High School

2nd Place: Mitchell Braun, Newbury Park High School

3rd Place: Ryanne Bamieh, La Reina High School

Personal Category:

1st Place: Sarah Goldberg, Oak Park High School

2nd Place: Amanda Jackson, Buena High School

3rd Place: Priscilla Duran, Camarillo High School

The winners received Apple iPad minis and $500 scholarships. Second place also won iPads, and third place received $250 scholarships. We will feature a different essay finalist each week here on our blog. Please check them out and be inspired.

Thank you to our generous sponsors who made this event possible:

essaymajorSponsors

Qdoba Mexican Grill

Rusted Wagon Photography

The Sun Valley Group

Ventura County Star

Abby’s Millstone Baking Company

The Cheesecake Factory

Pacific Beverage Company

Sage

Focus on the Future: The incredible stories we received from 74 local teens highlighted the need for support resources for young people affected by cancer. We invite teens affected by cancer to a Pizza Party and Focus Group on Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 5pm, to make new friends and help brainstorm ways CSCVVSB can help teens. Click here for details.