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Survivor Spotlight: Erin Marshall

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Erin Marshall is a Westlake Village-based artist and after-school child care provider for the Conejo Valley Unified School District. She attends the Young Adults Support Group offered by the Cancer Support Community. She loves baking, painting, horseback riding, movies and trivia games with friends.  She also volunteers with Make-A-Wish, as a wish granter for children with life-threatening medical conditions to help bring hope, strength and joy to their lives. Thank you for sharing your story, Erin!


I was diagnosed in September 2014 with stage three rectal cancer.  I made it through five weeks of daily chemotherapy and radiation and after a recovery period, I had surgery to remove the tumor and my entire rectum. I enjoyed some more recovery time, and this spring, had a second surgery to reverse the ileostomy from the first surgery.  I am continuing to get strong and heal, while following a plan of healthy choices and frequent monitoring.

The day after my initial diagnosis, I came to the Cancer Support Community office, devastated and terrified. I was met with open arms and a true caring spirit. I was comforted and encouraged, and I felt that this was a place where I could let down my brave front and experience support from those who have already walked this road.  What a relief!

I am a part of the Young Adults support group, which meets on the first and third Monday of each month in Westlake Village.  I also participate in the wonderful watercolor painting classes when I can, and enjoy the special guest speakers as well. The painting class is not only an outlet for emotions, but a great place to meet people and share a unique camaraderie. I also attended a great seminar on healthy cooking which was so useful, and I look forward to more! My husband has participated in the men’s caregiver support group, and my mother has attended the watercolor classes with me.

Before I was diagnosed I had attended several Cancer Support Community fundraisers like Cupcake Camp and Holiday Homes Tour. I have always been aware that CscVvsb served a great purpose in our community, but I never really understood the huge impact it has until I found myself battling cancer.

To someone dealing with cancer who is hesitant to try a support group, I would tell them that there isn’t a more caring, warm environment for a support group than CscVvsb.  I was hesitant too, because I am a very private person about things that might make others perceive me as “weak” or “sick”.  Having a new group of *friends* that totally get it, have been there, and give unconditional support and encouragement is new for me.

I think that the Cancer Support Community has provided me with an invaluable resource of support, encouragement, friendship, and courage. The people I have met have given me fresh perspectives, validation, coping strategies, and warm, caring new relationships. I hope that I can give back to the Cancer Support Community as much as it has given me.


Ask the Expert: What is the Alexander Technique?

ShulaSendowski-useThe Alexander Technique can transform physical stress and tension into ease, balance, and coordination. On May 19 and 26 and June 2, the Cancer Support Community is offering a free workshop called “Alexander Technique: A New Look at Tension Patterns” with Shulamit Sendowski, M.AmSAT. 

The Alexander Technique is a gentle psycho-physical movement-education technique developed in England over 100 years ago by F.M. Alexander. In the free workshop, Shulamit will demonstrate aspects of the Alexander Technique and discuss awareness of tension habits in simple daily movements like sitting, standing, walking and bending. This is a three week course, each week expanding on the previous one.

For those who can’t make it to the workshop or want to learn more in advance of the workshop, Shulamit has kindly offered to expand on the Alexander Technique in our Ask the Expert blog series!

One basic aspect of the Alexander Technique work is the Non-Doing aspect:

We don’t have to “do” so much.  Our daily movements can be carried out with less muscular effort, and more “non-doing” thoughts.  Once we engage our thought process and apply it to our movement, we can get rid of unneeded tension in the wrong places, while the needed tension is distributed more evenly in the right places in our body. We can not, and do not have to control every muscle in our body and order it what to do.  However – we can observe our tension-patterns, undo them, and prevent them from interfering with our body-activities. Imagine being at home, trying to talk over the phone while your TV is in full volume.  By turning the TV noise off, you clear the way, and make it possible for the phone conversation to take place.  We can carry our weight with less “noise” (stress, tension) and move with more ease.

We practice the Alexander Technique by applying its different principles in simple daily activities like sitting, walking, bending. We observe our movement patterns, learn from them, and lighten them up.

As a member of The American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT) – let me provide you with their rich website where you can get plenty of information including books, research work, events, teacher list, and more:

Shulamit Sendowski is certified by the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles and the American Society for the Alexander Technique. She has been teaching the Alexander Technique to individuals and groups since 1991.

Essay Contest Finalists: Photo Essay Category

Thanks to all the high school students who shared their personal stories in the “Dear Cancer, It’s Me” essay contest. We truly appreciate the effort, courage, and time that each of you took to participate in this event.


BriannaCorbettMy name is Brianna Corbett. I am 15 years old and a sophomore at Foothill Technology High School in Ventura, CA. I love music and enjoy singing, playing the piano and guitar. I sing with the worship team at my church and help to lead worship for our youth programs as well as on Sunday mornings for the church services. I also enjoy playing volleyball and spending time with my family. My father was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer on March 9, 2014 and this past year has been the most difficult year of my life. He has completed 9 rounds of chemotherapy, 3 stem cell transplants and 2 surgeries, but at this time, it appears that he has beaten cancer.

“I have cancer.” It’s crazy how so few words can have so much impact, but as I heard my dad telling me those 3 awful words, it felt as if my world came crashing down. I felt so hopeless, constantly asking God, “why my dad?” But when I started picking up the pieces, with help from those closest to me,
 I took a new perspective, which I aim to show through this photo essay.

Brianna Corbett-Photo Essay




IvyAlannaPikeMy name is Ivy Alanna Pike I’m seventeen years old and I go to Ventura High School. My parents are Annie and Allen Pike and I have a little sister, Jade. I was born and raised in Ventura, CA. My favorite things to do are go on trips, go to concerts, and take pictures. I hope one day to become a photographer.





Ivy Alanna Pike-Photo Essay

Essay Contest Finalists: Family and Friends Category

Thanks to all the high school students who shared their personal stories in the “Dear Cancer, It’s Me” essay contest. We truly appreciate the effort, courage, and time that each of you took to participate in this event.

A Letter to Cancer, by Meybell Benitez

Dear Cancer,

I’m breaking up with you. You are out of my life and the lives of my loved ones…for now. You’ve struck me. You stabbed me directly in the heart. It doesn’t matter to you how strong I am, or how weak I seemed.

We first met when I was 15. I was a young lady, just beginning to explore the lifestyle of a young adult, where all the best opportunities begin to open up. A point in my life at which my biggest concern should have been the nerve-wrecking idea of becoming a freshman in high school. This was a time when a child turns to her mom and dad for support; it’s when we need them most. You, Cancer, decided to bust into my life, eager with arrows and puncture my chest without thinking twice. You hurt and stole the person I needed the most.

My mother was not just a mother. My mother took on the role of a father when I needed one. She was my mother, she was my father, and she was my best friend. She was my everything. When I needed her, she was there. When I needed her, you stole her from me. You dealt a colossal blow to my heart, soul, and life that will forever be with me wherever I go – you and I both know there’s no running from the havoc you wreak.

Despite this, I have to thank you. You brought my mother and I closer than ever. Every day with you in our lives I hugged her tighter than ever before, as if she was a teddy bear that I fell asleep with every night, anxious to wake up with it in the morning. Every night before falling asleep I thought about how lucky I would be to wake up to a hug and loving kiss from my mom. Every morning I would thank God for giving me the privilege to receive love from the most important person in my life one more day, with the fear that “tomorrow” might be the last day I’d receive such love from this person. All she ever dreamed of was proudly cheering for me as I walk my high school stage with a cap and gown. I wouldn’t wish this kind of anxiety on anyone, certainly not a child like myself. You made my life chaotic, devastated my mind, exhausted my body, and shattered my emotions.

Just hearing your name physically pains me. Never did I think that a simple word – cancer – would have such profound effects on me. Never did I truly understand you, your significance, and your malice.

When you first attacked my mom, I associated your name with only one word — death. I resented you. It all began when I heard the fateful statement from my mother’s oncologist: Ms. Bonilla, your biopsy came back positive with cancer cells and you have Stage 3 breast cancer.

That was the moment my heart first sank. I blacked out for about 10 seconds. I had been standing in a doctor’s office, but in those 10 seconds I wasn’t. I saw tornadoes destroying everything in my life. I saw dead trees being ripped from the ground, falling flowers, and most of all, darkness. It was chaos in a universe of darkness. From April 2013 onward, my life would never be the same. My former life had left me, and I was there in the dark, scared and devastated. From that moment on, all I could do was hopelessly fight back my tears and the deep aching pain in my chest. This was heartbreak, and it was real.

My mom was your new enemy. She fought you with all she had. She injected poison into her own body sixteen times in the hopes of finally meddling in your plans and killing you once and for all. She fought you even after you took her beautiful hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows away, after you inflicted severe pain, after you made her eyes sore from crying, after you made all her food taste like metal.

You left my mom in bed for months recovering from her bilateral mastectomy surgery. My mom likened the pain from radiation to being trapped in a home with a horrible fire, heat against her skin, it peeling from the burns. She asked if I knew the feeling of getting hand sanitizer in an open wound, and I knew that was what she felt across her entire body. The chemo, surgery, radiation, was all worth it though, because we were ridding her of you.

We thought we had won. When you finally departed, we were screaming with joy. We thought we got rid of you forever. You knew you wouldn’t leave us alone that easily. It was for naught.

Every good story has a falling action and a conflict, and the epic battle between you and my mom was no different. Even when we thought it was over, you still did not get enough of my beautiful mother. You were back.

You killed my dreams of becoming a person that could mention my mom’s name and joyfully say, “My mom kicked Cancer’s butt!” You toyed with my feelings and got my hopes up. You have an incredible capacity to ruin lives, bringing families closer than ever just so you can destroy that in the end.

This was the second time you came into my life, but this time you came in with all your force. You knew we were fighters, so now you were prepared to really fight back. You didn’t show all your cards the first time around. You ravaged 10 times harder, Cancer, and thought it was a joke to make my mom fall and not let her get back
up again. You took away my strength by not being able to help her get up. An x-ray, ultra sound, or a CT scan couldn’t find you, Cancer. I underestimated you, hiding behind a mask of simple back pain. It was not until we tried an MRI scan that we found you wrapped up in my mom’s spinal cord. Cancer, you disastrous and awful disease, you took her ability to walk forever. Hadn’t you had enough?

Within time you invaded her liver, and then went for her brain. We thought she had already gone through the worst of it. The second time, doctors gave up, and you took over. You moved into her organs, unpacked, and there was nothing we could do to get you to leave. The worst feeling I’ve ever had was that there was absolutely nothing I could do to help my mother. For the first time in my life, I envied children with fathers or siblings, with more than one shoulder to cry on. All I had was my mom, Cancer, didn’t you know that? I had every person I ever needed in one body, I never considered what I would have if that body was stolen from me.

For three whole months, my mother couldn’t move one toe. Over those three months, my heart that had been carefully sewn back together after your first visit shattered into a million tiny pieces, impossible to mend.

One day, I’m going to help the millions of families world wide that you have broken and help eradicate you once and for all, so we can finally stop you from ruining families’ lives. You might have won this battle, but we’re going to win the war. You got what you wanted, Cancer, and on the afternoon of November 28, 2014, destroyed my everything in one body. Goodbye mom, goodbye dad, and goodbye best friend. The joke is on you Cancer, because now I have an angel looking over me.

MeybellBenitezMy name is Meybell Benitez, and I was born on June 22, 1997 in San Miguel, El Salvador. At the age of 5 my mother and I decided to emigrate to the “north” to live the American Dream. I attended Lankershim Elementary School, Walter reed Middle School, and currently attending North Hollywood High School. In the future I would love to attend the University of Southern California and become a successful oncologist, or an anesthesiologist, helping patients, find a way to defeat cancer.



Farewell For Now, by Lorraine Ador Dionisio

Dear Cancer,

It’s me, the young girl who you left without a father for the rest of her life. Why, Cancer, would you take the man whom I thought would be there to watch me graduate or walk me down the aisle? Do you find a sense of gratification within yourself for taking the lives of millions of innocent people? How great does it feel to know that many loved ones are suffering in pain because of you?

Well, Cancer, do you remember me? Or am I just amongst the multitude of people who have to live in the remains of your malice? It seems as if you entered my life just yesterday, but in reality, you have been part of it for the last five years. Within that time, you destroyed my family as you took away the lifetime of memories and experiences that we had with our father. You had the choice to leave my family alone, but instead, you made us one of your victims.

This all started when you came into the body of a great man who still had four young children to take care of and be there for them as they grew up. It was Christmas Eve of 2009, the day when you were first introduced in my life. My parents had just gotten home from a doctor’s appointment and I asked how it went. My mother, with a pale face and tears forming within her eyes said, “Your father has…”. In my head, I began to think of a manifold of things that could have been wrong with my father. Did he need surgery? Is something wrong with one of his organs? Then, my mother finally said the word that changed my life. My mother, with tears falling from her face, ended her sentence with “cancer”. It was you, Cancer. You were the one that caused all the pain and misery within my family the day before a joyful holiday.

Upon hearing about you, I could not believe what my mother had just said. What were you? How deadly were you? What were you going to do to my father? I had so many questions running through my mind about you, but no answers to support them. After the news had broke, my father then said that he had stage four terminal lung cancer and eight brain tumors. He told my siblings and I that the doctor said he only had two months to live and that he had to start radiation after the New Year began. At this moment, I did not know what to think but felt as if my life was coming to an end. I never knew what it was like to lose someone I loved until you came into my life. You started the fear that has haunted me for all these years. It was all because of you, Cancer, that the next four years of my life was filled with nothing but stress and anxiety.

After you introduced yourself to my family, you were nothing but a burden within our lives. However, my father kept a positive attitude about you and always said that he was going to beat you. His motivation was, “Nobody can ever put a good man down, not even Cancer.” With that, he was able to surpass the time that the doctors predicted he had left because of you. He completed two weeks of radiation, a total of fifteen sessions, and after a few months, was told that all his brain tumors had gone away. How did it feel Cancer? Did you like being killed with beams of radiation and having no way out? Did you finally feel the pain that you put on my family, especially my father? The pain of not having a choice, but instead being slowly weakened by something you cannot control? Well Cancer, the war was not over.

As time passed, you continued your battle with my father. He was almost in remission when you decided to fight back. You continued to take over my father’s body, little by little, and unfortunately, you succeeded. But, was the pain you put on my father not enough? Did you have to make him undergo countless surgeries and make my family suffer? From the sleepless nights to the countless number of hospital visits, you found pleasure in seeing my father ache in pain. You sought for revenge and you got it. You reappeared within his brain, and this time greater in number. You spread all throughout his lungs and caused many complications.

Among these, however, your worst attack was when you made my father permanently disabled. I remember that day clearly, as you made me hold my unconscious father in my arms. It was early in the morning and the pain you put onto my father caused him to have a stroke. I had just gotten home from passing my driver’s test and you decided to ruin a happy moment in my life. I was so excited to show my father my license when suddenly, the right side of my father’s face drooped to the side. His words slurred and his speech became incomprehensible. He fell over towards me and I caught his unconscious body in my arms. After this day, Cancer, you made my father unable to walk. You deprived him from being able to take care of himself and made him spend the rest of his days laying in bed.

From this moment, you made him fully incompetent and weakened all parts of his body. You made him lose over sixty pounds and have no appetite to eat. Then, after four years, you finally won your battle. After three months of being bed-ridden, my father could no longer take the pain and decided to give the victory to you. Cancer, not only did you take a life, but you also put many people in misery. With your selfish motives, you brought many obstacles into my life that I had to overcome.

Before you came into my life, I would have never expected to lose my father at such a young age. I expected my teenage years to be carefree and a time where I could learn more about life from my experiences. Well, Cancer, I did learn a lot about life but also suffered much pain. As a high school student, you made it harder for me to balance my studies with the responsibilities that I had for my family. But, despite your evil motives, I was able to surpass all your hurdles. Also, with the huge impact that you left, you have inspired me to become an oncologist to find a way to stop you from taking the lives of innocent people.

You have motivated me to strive for educational success despite the hardships that you put in my life. Even though I had to take care of my father and the rest of my family, I was able to get straight A’s in all my Advanced Placement classes and be at the top of my class. Also, you inspired me to start doing research at a young age to find a cure and end your existence. In the summer before my senior year, I conducted research at the University of California Irvine and found ways to limit the growth of tumors. You might have taken my father but one day, I will find a way to take you down.

Also, not only have you formed my aspirations, but you also allowed me to grow as a person. Through all the hardships you brought, I was able to get through all of them and better myself in a positive way. With all the responsibilities I had, including having to work in order to pay for medical bills and taking care of my mother and siblings after my father’s death, I became more responsible and thankful for everything in my life. Thus, even though you brought misery into my life, I was able to take something from my experience and make it for the better.

So, Cancer, now do you remember me? Or do I just mix in with all the other lives you have affected? Well, you may have forgotten all the pain that you caused, but in the end, you will be sorry that you did. But, thank you, Cancer, for opening my eyes and seeing that there is a problem that needs to be resolved. That problem is you. One day, I will end the suffering that everyone and myself endured by diminishing your existence and saving those who are under your control. Farewell for now Cancer, but I will see you again in the future.

LorraineAdorDionisioLorraine Ador Dionisio is a senior at Santa Susana High School.
 She enjoys baking, learning about different cultures, and watching movies. She is an active volunteer within her community and works as a medical assistant in a pediatric office. She plans to attend a four-year university and major in Biology.




Dear Cancer, It’s Me, by Wendy Darling McAleer

Dear Cancer, It’s Me

We need to talk. I just need to know where exactly I went wrong here. I know we were never really close, but
I don’t think it was cool what you did to my mom. Did she really deserve you attacking her like that? I certainly don’t think so. And boy let me tell you, your timing was awful as well.

My junior year was going great. Now granted, it was a difficult year with AP and honors classes as well as chemistry and math analysis, but I was getting by with A’s all around. I was told previously that junior year is the most prominent year for colleges to look at on applications, so obviously I was working really hard to complete such a busy workload and volunteer and perform both swimming and water polo. And then you threw us a curveball.

Cliché? Maybe a little, but it’s absolutely true. You threw a curveball at my family and it ended up hitting my mom, in the left boob to be exact. And as we both know, that did not go without repercussion. And to undo the damage you inflicted, we had to go through three different procedures and piles of medical bills and insurance statements. But of course, this took time. And during that time I was miserable; we all were, although we never showed it to each other. On several occasions I did cry silently, by myself. I even caught myself tearing up in my classes thinking about what you did, but I would quickly brush the tears away and step out for a bathroom break; there was no time for that at school.

Speaking of school, things got a bit harder for me. No longer was my mind completely focused on what I was learning; there was always a nagging worrying sensation in the back of my mind. I remember getting a C on a quiz I took in math and being absolutely devastated about it. I partially blame you of course. If you hadn’t been distracting me, maybe I would have paid more attention to trig identities.

However, devastating as this C had been to me, it also served as an eye opener. I was not going to let you ruin my schooling that I had worked so hard for. You are not worth it. If anything, after that incident I began to work harder than ever. I brought all my grades back up (which only went down a little to begin with) and finished out the year with straight A’s once again, but not without struggle.

Back at home my mom was recovering well from her mastectomy and from the looks of things everything was going to go back to normal, but the doctors were not 100% pleased with the margins. And so began our journeys to radiation therapy. For the duration of nearly the entire summer, my mom would wake up early five days a week and drive fifteen minutes to the radiation center to get her treatment. The amount of time, money, and energy invested to get rid of your damage was absolutely absurd.

Even now that the radiation is done and her foob (that’s what we call her fake boob) is looking positively normal (I mean as normal as a fake boob can look) she still is not quite done. Every day for the next five years she has to take tamoxifen to help lower her chances of getting hurt by you again.

Are you feeling bad yet? Because you should! What you did to us and what you have done to millions of other people is absolutely, positively, and utterly unacceptable. But you know what? Even after all the nonsense that you put us through, I cannot recall one moment when my mom ceased to be my mom. Even after her big surgery, when I went to see her in the hospital, the first thing she asked me was how I did at my big swim meet that day. And for your information, I totally crushed that swim meet. Best times in everything.

I digress though; this is supposed to be about me reprimanding you. So, I will ask you one more time; what did we do to deserve this? What did anyone do to deserve your malice? This has gotten far out of hand.
I’m warning you now; you hurt my family, my friends or myself ever again and I guarantee that I will not go down without a fight. You think that’s a threat? I can assure you, that’s a promise.

WendyDarlingMcAleerMy name is Wendy Darling McAleer and I am a senior this year at Royal High School in Simi Valley. Next year I plan on attending the University of Redlands and study psychology. I love swimming and playing water polo and hope to continue training in these sports as I move on to college. I am quiet and would prefer to watch hours of Netflix shows or read a book than go to a party, but I love to hang out with my close knit group of friends and have a good time.



Essay Contest Finalists: Personal Category

Thanks to all the high school students who shared their personal stories in the “Dear Cancer, It’s Me” essay contest. We truly appreciate the effort, courage, and time that each of you took to participate in this event.

Living with Leukemia, by Camille Elizabeth Vigna

“You have cancer” is the last thing you want to hear from your doctor, I received that unexpected news in February 2012. Having cancer has impacted me tremendously in more ways than I could ever imagine. To begin, my entire social life and physical state have been changed completely. Similar to how before Christ and after Christ is used as a landmark in time, now with my family it is before cancer or after cancer. Leukemia has pulled out every possible emotion from me. Lastly I have gained so much knowledge through this whole experience. My life has been altered forever because I got this disease they call Leukemia.

My social life turned upside down as soon as I was diagnosed. In seventh grade I was succeeding in all honors classes, a co-publicity director and I fit in with everyone else. When the news got out about my illness I received an overwhelming supply of get well cards and presents from people I knew well as well as people I had never even met. I began feeling left out. I hated the question “how are you doing” I just wanted to be treated how

I was before all of it happened. Not being in school for half of seventh grade, most of eighth grade, almost all
of ninth and none of tenth so far has made me feel isolated. People always say, “I am here if you need someone to talk to.” I rarely took people up on those offers because I felt they had no idea what I was going through. I’ve also had to miss out on adventures where there are many germs, because I wasn’t feeling well enough or I was stuck at the hospital. For example, I was planning on celebrating my sixteenth birthday party with a tea party but unexpectedly had to cancel because I had a fever which is a sign of infection for low immunity patients like me. One day I’m feeling fine and the next I’m in the emergency room with a high blood pressure. I can never make concrete plans since my health can change from hour to hour. I have spent over two-hundred nights at five different hospitals. Some of those days included holidays; two Fourth of July’s, two Halloweens and one Thanksgiving. Cancer has a tremendous effect on the family as well. This disease has made me become a lot closer to my father and my step-mother, on the other hand it has provide some gaps between me and my siblings. I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. As soon as my teacher, at the time, heard about me she drove to the hospital and missed teaching the rest of the day. Now she is not my teacher but we have stayed extremely close, whether it’s going out for a treat or just someone to talk to, I know she is always there.
I have also met some incredible nurses and health practitioners. Cancer has definitely affected my social life.

From having an athletic body who danced seven hours a week to being in an unmovable state in ICU my body has experienced so much. As soon as I started getting chemotherapy the changes were very visible. I started losing my hair which was hard but I found some great wigs so I wouldn’t feel so self conscience. My face
became super puffy and ugly from a steroid I was on and I was hungry all the time. The hardest thing I have gone through is getting an infection call E coli. I was in ICU for seventeen days and the overall stay at the hospital was seventy-two days. I was so close to dying so many nights but I don’t recall being scared because I was all doped up on drugs. Then when they weaned me too fast off a narcotic I had crazy withdrawal symptoms where I could not control my mind’s thoughts. Luckily the hospital I was at had a rehabilitation facility where it took a huge amount of effort to regain some of my strength back, work on my speech therapy and return to normal daily activities. I had to start from the beginning with learning to walk again and even hold a pencil. I haven’t had chemotherapy in a year and a half since it didn’t work with me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped having

side effects. Leukemia’s side effects are just as rough; joint pains, fevers and tiredness. I get out of breath easily, I can’t run and I am not strong. I miss dance but have accepted that this is how it is. I find joy in other activities I can do like painting and piano. Some days I feel great and go out with a friend or out to dinner, but other
days I feel like I can’t even get off the couch and getting up to go to the bathroom is tiring. I can no longer count the number of infections I have had, which means a hospital stay, feeling horrible and scary situations. I never knew how great the toll the disease would have on my body, but I am grateful it keeps functioning.

I have been on an emotional roller coaster for the past three years that Leukemia has been a part of my life.
I have felt alone, fearful, frustrated, sadness, confusion and relief. Jealousy takes over my mind when I am watching my thirteen year old sister live the life I thought I would be living. Taking yoga classes where senior citizens are more flexible and stronger than me is very discouraging and spending most of my time with adults has made me feel out of place. Cancer has not allowed me to have a normal teenage life, leaving me feeling
that I am missing out on so many opportunities. I try to keep a positive outlook on life, but some days my circumstances have made that impossible. At times I believe I will never get better. I have been told that I am not going to live for more than three months by many doctors. Imagine how scary it would be to have someone give you your death sentence. It has been two years since the first time I heard that and it inspires me that I am defying what the doctors think. I have felt such extreme emotions; deeper than I thought was possible.

This disease has taught me a tremendous amount of knowledge. When I was getting the standard Western medicine treatment I learned about blood and medicines, but I started learning so much more when we stopped traditional treatment due to the chemotherapy failing to put me in remission and I started trying to heal naturally. I have been to over forty health practitioners and doctors such as naturopaths, dietitians, a hypnotist, acupuncturists, integrative doctors and tried many other different healing methods. Anything that had worked for anyone else in a similar situation my dad and I wanted to try. I have learned so much about how your diet affects you. I have gone through many different diets that practitioners recommend; the most intense was being a vegan, gluten free and sugar free. Currently, I am not too strict on what I put in my mouth but

I try hard to eat clean, meaning no preservatives, as little gluten as possible and no artificial sugar. After I have seen how what you can eat can help or hurt you in so many ways I have considered a career as a dietician so
I can help others live a healthy life. An important lesson that I have been forced to learn through this process
is to live in the present. In my opinion everyone should live by this philosophy because in reality no one really knows when our lives will be taken away from us. I have been closer to death than most, but unexpected deaths can happen too. I think we should all learn to appreciate every moment and be grateful for what we have. I gained a lot of wisdom and a new outlook on life because I have had this disease.

Leukemia has affected every aspect of my life. It has altered my relationships with friends and family in both good and bad ways. This disease has beaten me to the ground, but the important thing is getting back up.
I have learned so much about myself and not giving up, which is especially hard due to the fact that I have been dealing with this for three out of the sixteen years of my life. I just have to live my life one day at a time, and for now, continue to live and love my life with Leukemia.


CamilleElizabethVignaCamille Elizabeth Vigna, 16, passed away March 21, 2015 at her home in Thousand Oaks, California after three years of living with leukemia. Camille was born in Laguna Niguel, California on January 28, 1999
to Lia and Eric Vigna. The third of four children, she attended Mates Elementary School and Colina Middle School in Thousand Oaks, where she was an honors student. Camille was involved in student government, chorus and theater. Camille was enrolled at Westlake High School where she attended classes via independent study for the majority of her freshman and sophomore years.

Camille’s extraordinary love of life touched everyone she met and was uniquely expressed through her creativity and generous nature. Camille wanted to do and experience everything! Dancing, cooking, scrapbooking, playing the piano, yoga and oil-painting were some of her favorite activities. Camille loved playing board games with her family and enjoyed the challenge of crossword puzzles and word games. Camille ended each day by writing in her journal and reading the “Daily Word.” She had tremendous faith in God and was grateful for every day.

Camille impacted many people as they witnessed and supported her during her three-year struggle with cancer. Her fortitude and bravery inspired everyone around her as she took ownership of her health and healing process. She survived over a year and half longer than expected by using natural methods of mind, body and spiritual healing. Camille never allowed this disease to rob her of her kind, giving and graceful spirit.

Camille was welcomed into heaven by her mother, Lia Sargent Vigna, who passed away in 2007. She is survived by her father Eric Vigna, her step-mother Debby Reid Vigna, sisters Olivia and Elise, brother John, step-brother Reid Levin, grandparents Beverly & Fred Sargent of Scottsdale, Arizona and Dolores & Anthony Vigna of Santa Barbara, California. Camille is cherished by 7 aunts, 7 uncles and 18 cousins who all loved her deeply. She has countless friends, teachers and loved ones who also will miss her terribly.

We can all honor Camille by taking the time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of creation as she did.


Dear Cancer, It’s Me, by Seamus Morrison

Dear Cancer, It’s Me

It’s me, the boy whose dreams you shattered, whose innocence you soiled, and body you stomped on. I have something to say about that.

I’ve been torn apart and put back together again. Patched together with pain, and stitched up with sorrow. The stiches serve as painful reminders that you have taken what is rightfully mine. You ripped it out and walked away without regret. You pretended nothing had happened, but we both knew it had.

You’ve been gone a long time but I still think of you. I cannot forget you. I’m reminded of you when I stumble and fall because you compromised my balance, when I look in the mirror and see my eyes drifting in different directions, when I can’t remember to close the front door behind me or what I’m supposed to be doing at any given time because you messed with my memory too. I can’t forget that you took the friends I made in the hospital, my aunt, my grandmother then made me wonder why you didn’t take me instead.
Why was I the lucky one? When my right hand struggles to strike at the piano keys, there you are, mocking
me, just like you used to when you would sit at the edge of my hospital bed with that wicked smile on your face. I was mute at the time – a small price to pay to get the tumor out of my head – and couldn’t cry out for help.
I was scared of you. I imagined you as a shadowy figure with a hat, a plaid fedora with a feather in it, fashioned at the perfect angle. Brain surgery does strange things to a person’s mind. For a while, that hat was the only thing that mattered. I could not resist thinking how good it would look on me.

If we’d never met, I would have been more charismatic – you took away my personality. I remember being quicker, funnier. People liked me and it was easier to talk to them before you came along. I would’ve had more hair without you and more friends, too.

I want to take all my anger out on you, but rage won’t resolve anything. I have decided to make an agreement with you instead, or really an agreement with myself to make peace with you. From now on, I will start to look for the good things about our relationship, like how you introduced me to golf when I could no longer play baseball. Thank you for buying me extra time on math tests. Because of you I have a strong bond with my family that makes me feel loved and safe. I’ve learned that they will stay with me even through the darkest moments. You’ve taught me not to take little things for granted like the warmth of my cat sleeping at my feet or the taste of strawberries in mid-July. 
Maybe now that we have made peace, you can tell me where you got that hat.

SeamusMorrisonSeamus Morrison is a sophomore at the Oak Grove School in Ojai. At the age of ten he had to learn to walk and talk again after brain surgery to remove a malignant tumor called Medulloblastoma. He underwent radiation, a year and a half of chemo and intensive physical therapy.

Seamus is a sea creature enthusiast and aspires to protect the ocean. On weekends, you can find him talking to guests about the animals
at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum Sea Center and this summer will be his second year volunteering at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in their Teen Conservation Leader Program. He is passionate about ocean conservation, has organized beach cleanups and is on a mission to educate people about ways to reduce our use of plastic. Seamus is a pretty good pianist and enjoys composing classical music, especially during math class. His poem ‘I Loved It” won first place in the 2013 Ventura County Writers Club Poetry Contest. He loves Joseph Campbell, Chopin, Beethoven, John Steinbeck, nudibranchs, cetaceans and his cat Danny Boy.


Aftershock, by Elida Anne Bryan

Dear cancer it’s me, the Elida Anne Bryan edition. My life was hard enough and now another complication on my plate, as a twelve year old this seemed impossible, I was supposed to be invincible, what happened? Dev- astation. Sacrifice. Battle. Loss. Hate. Fear. Shock. Denial. All these emotions boiling up in my mind, and
the feeling that I was going to explode did not seem to help at all. My life as I knew it… over from that very moment. Driving to the hospital October 1st with my mom and dad trying to hold back the tears and calm me down because I cried so much it was enough for the three of us. It seemed to all make sense, all the headaches, weight-loss, bottle after bottle of water, and complications playing soccer. How could I have been so oblivious, then again I am not an oncologist, how could I have known? I know I should have been thinking what will happen to me? Will I make it out alive? I was so scared and the excruciating pain seemed to seize these thoughts, but somehow I knew that I would make it out and it would all be just fine. How was I, a twelve year old with a brain tumor, supposed to cope with this? All I kept asking was why me? What did I do to deserve this?
I am a good person I am yet to understand what I did so terrible to end up with this fate? What does anyone do to end up with cancer?

The next step for me was decisions. Who can I trust my life with to perform my surgery? It was between
Dr. Krieger at CHLA and Dr. Bergsneider at UCLA. I knew from the first meeting that Dr. Bergsneider was
the correct choice. Coming back to school before my surgery was hard but comforting, I never wanted to leave. Support from friends and teachers were exactly what the doctor had ordered. My teacher, Mrs. Banks threw me a surprise good luck party and invited all my friends. I felt so lucky to have so much support. Then on Sunday October 28, 2012 (the day before my surgery), my soccer team threw me a pizza party at Shakeys. Soccer was my life it was all I wanted, all I had, my heart broke knowing I would never go back to playing
like before. That night my dad slept on the floor outside of my room. I cried the whole night both from fear and pain. At that time I was in so much pain I finally made peace with the thought knowing I could not last any longer in this pain. Finally, October 29, 2012, 3 a.m. time to wake up and go to the hospital. Waiting for the surgery to finally begin seemed endless as I was drowning in anxiety, fear, and pain. Finally, the last thing
I remembered was being pushed away from my parents, the last touch of their hands and their faces watching me being rushed into the room gave me some comfort.

The next thing I knew, I was awake, and I made it! I quickly noticed my black eye shut all the way closed.
I was bummed being stuck in the hospital, but I was kept occupied, receiving visits from a therapy dog (Ike), painting, watching TV, walking, and more. I thought that I was going to have no Halloween, 2012. Surprisingly, they had costumes for patients, I was Tinker Bell. All the patients walked around, collected candy and games, watched a magic show, and saw dressed up dogs. I walked with my Mom and Grandma. It cheered me up so much and exceeded my expectations, it was so much fun. Surprisingly, I was able to walk most of the time at Halloween. I was on a road to recovery! The day my head wrap was cut off I was so upset seeing a shaved head, and a huge scar. However, before I knew it, a week and a half later, I was home! My dogs, Bobby and Goldie greeted me happily, but gently knowing something was wrong.

Spring Break 2012 was spent at Houston Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Of course a second opinion from one of the best cancer centers was a good idea. Luckily it wasn’t all cancer and doctors, my dad and
I had fun sight seeing and going to the beach, etc.

Summer 2012, my Make a Wish trip! My parents and I went to Orlando Florida. We visited Discovery Cove, SeaWorld, Aquatica, and Disney World. It was the best time of my life. From swimming with dolphins, stingrays, rides, Disneyland plus 5000, and a SeaWorld water park, this gave me the light, which guided me through hard times.

High school. 9th grade, my dad’s lymphoma came back. At this time I could not deal with cancer any longer but I still hung on to the hope I had left. We all stayed strong and the radiation killed off the lymphoma tumor. 10th grade, I started taking growth hormone shots (sounds great doesn’t it?). Since my pituitary gland doesn’t work anymore I had to make up some inches lost, which caused rapid growth. Joint pain, rapid growth, and swollen joints left me unable to play soccer again. It seemed as though my soccer dream was slipping away through the cracks of my fingers. Just when I was back at it another problem jumps out at me. Today, February 2, 2015 the day my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t understand how one person can be struck three times, each completely devastating. My dad, my mom, and I all three people in my family struck with a form of cancer. How can this only be happening to my family and I? I guess three times a charm? I don’t know how much more I can take and I’m pretty sure all hope I had left was shattered to pieces, but I guess that’s the power of cancer, because it can’t just be satisfied with striking once, it comes back for a stronger aftershock.

The future is in my hands. I see myself battling cancer with my family. I see myself supporting my mom through her dark times as she did with mine. I see myself getting back at soccer. Finally, I see myself coming back stronger than before and I will not lose sight of my hope.

So dear cancer, if you took a walk in my shoes I can assure you that you wouldn’t stay long, and I can also say that you would never have the courage to face the everlasting battle that I have been faced with.

ElidaAnneBryanMy name is Elida Anne Bryan. I was born in Los Angeles on a beautiful fall day, October 15,1999. The earth was so excited with my birth that Southern California moved, shook, and earth quaked! I attend Van Nuys Medical Magnet High School, attend Med-Cor at USC, receive great grades, and play soccer and volleyball. At home my mom and dad have helped me cope and navigate my life. My dogs Bobby and Goldie are the best and simply the most caring dogs in the world.

I have dealt with cancer since I was born. My dad has been battling his lymphoma cancer for 19 years now. I was diagnosed with a craniopharyngioma brain tumor at onl12 years old. October 29, 2012 was my surgery date. February 9, 2015, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. As you can see, my whole family and I have had to overcome not only our own cancer, but also each others. I have grown, learned, and prospered since then. I am more compassionate, loving, and no longer take life for granted.