This is the sixth in a series featuring the finalists in our inaugural Teen Essay Contest. Priscilla Duran’s essay won 3rd place in the Personal Category.
My name is Priscilla Yvonne Duran. I am fifteen years old and a sophmore at Adolfo Camarillo High School. My favorite subject in school is biology. When I am older I want to be a nurse and help other cancer patients. I love to travel and spend times with friends and family. On the weekends I like to spend the night with my grandma. During vacation I like to go camping and hang out at the beach with my friends.
Cancer has impacted millions of people all over the world. Even though there are millions of stories about cancer, each and every one is different. Cancer has been a part of my life ever since I was a little girl. At the age of eight my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia. Leukemia is a type of cancer where the body makes too many white blood cells. She was admitted into UCLA hospital and fought a long hard battle for a year. The cancer was too strong and took her life. I know my mom is in a better place now and that she doesn’t have to struggle any more. Finally, I know that she is okay. After losing my mom I hoped that my family and I would never have to go through anything like that again. If only I knew then that it was just the beginning of a long rough journey ahead:
The year is 2011. It is my last year of middle school and I just couldn’t wait to be in high school. Everything was going great! I had good grades and worked hard on all of my athletic teams. My goal was to make it on the varsity softball team by sophomore year. I had a lot of competition, but pretty soon that was going to be the least of my worries.
Around January I found a lump around my groin area. It didn’t hurt or anything so I just didn’t think too much about it – I just sort of forgot about it. Busy with my regular life of sports and school, I forgot about it up until May. One night when Lisa (my step mom) and I were at home, I had just taken a shower and was then going to go to bed. After I got out of the shower, I noticed my bump was even bigger. I told my step-mom about it and showed her. She was shocked at how big it was and that I hadn’t told anyone about it. At first look she thought it was a hernia from playing sports, but as she examined it, she could tell it was something much more than that.
Later that week, we went to the doctors where they completed many tests. They discovered that the bump was a swollen lymph node; and I had to have surgery to biopsy it. Once they biopsied it they found that it had swelled because it was filled with cancerous cells. That’s when I found out that I had cancer. The cancer I had was Leukemia. The news was devastating. It was even more frightening knowing that my mom had passed from it. I couldn’t believe that my family and I would have to go through a tragic event like this again.
At first I felt as if my life had been destroyed. I couldn’t see my friends or play sports. I couldn’t be a normal teenager. At that time high school was just a dream that may never come true. I slowly got more and more sick and I watched my long beautiful hair fall out. It was mortifying. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I shaved my head. I couldn’t believe it, but I was bald. For a while I was embarrassed to go out in public. I couldn’t handle all the people staring and giving me weird looks. I didn’t even feel comfortable when I was with my closest friends and even some family. It got even worse when the medicine I was taking made me eat like crazy. I was gaining weight and my athletic body slowly changed into what looked like a pregnant lady. I continuously thought to myself, what I did to deserve this? I blamed myself and thought I did something wrong. Then – at the same time – I knew that I had to be strong – not only for myself, but for others. I knew that my strength and hope would help not only me get through this, but it would help my family get through it as well. As my battle continued, things became more comprehensible. I knew it wasn’t my fault, but I still felt like it was.
Thankfully I have the type of leukemia that has a very high cure rate and response to treatment; I went into remission about six weeks after I started chemotherapy. Although the cancer was gone, my battle wasn’t even close to being over. I have to continue chemotherapy for two more years and I won’t be considered “cured” until three years of being in remission. Through my many visits to the treatment center I have met many new friends that have also overcome a life threatening disease. The treatment center I attend has a very positive atmosphere. Even though the children there are very sick, they always have a smile on their face. The staff is very encouraging and always has a positive attitude. After spending so much time with them, you don’t think of them as your nurse or doctor, you think of them as your friend, a friend that has been with you from the very beginning and has seen you at your best and at your worst. Since the beginning of my journey the treatment center has had a positive influence on my outcome.
Throughout my journey I was very lucky. I had many people who cared for me. Not only was it just friends and family, but people that were complete strangers. Until now I never realized how generous people can be. Many strangers and foundations have donated to my family money for medical expenses and they haven’t even met me. Over the years I have realized that this scary, life-threatening experience has only made me a stronger person. I have learned so much and have gone through much more than any other fifteen-year-old I know. This disease tried to kill me, but it only made me stronger.