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.
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.
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.