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Member Spotlight -Danielle Rosoff

Dear Cancer, It’s Me

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Danielle Rosoff: 2016 First Place Personal Category Winner

by Danielle Rosoff



I Won’t Let You Win

Dear Cancer,

It’s me: the girl whom you first visited fourteen years ago.

Dear Cancer,

It’s me: The girl who fought you and won thirteen years ago.

Dear Cancer,

It’s me: Danielle Rosoff.

On October 19, 2001, when I was only fourteen months old, you came to visit me and changed my life. I was diagnosed with stage three Neuroblastoma. Even though I was too young to remember when you first arrived, I remember everything that came in the years afterwards. When you first came to visit, you manifested as a fever. Since I was my parents’ first child and had never been sick before, they were nervous and took me to the doctor right away. The initial doctor’s appointment was on a Monday, and the doctor said that if the fever didn’t break we had to come back in three days. I continued to have a fever, and so we returned on Thursday. The doctor said I didn’t look well, and ordered a blood test. He said he would have the results the next day.

On Friday, we returned. He said the blood test showed inflammation and ordered an abdominal ultrasound, because I had had an extended belly for weeks (although he had previously done a physical examination of my belly and said there was nothing to worry about). Well, Cancer, although you had been here for a while, you finally made your presence known to us, and the fight began.

Round One: I was admitted that very same day to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where my doctor saved my life. Luckily, my doctor found you and figured out what you were before it was too late. My parents were terrified. You came out of nowhere. Their baby had fallen victim to you. During the time of diagnosis, I had many tests including a needle biopsy and an exploratory surgery to determine just how bad you were. The results of the needle biopsy showed that the cells had burst, which suggested that they were weak. Therefore, Cancer, the doctors said that there was a 50/50 chance that you would win this fight. Because the cells had burst and they couldn’t properly stage you, the surgeons did an exploratory surgery through my abdomen. The results of this test suggested that my type of Neuroblastoma was better than they had anticipated. In fact, I was the first child in the history of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to show favorable treatment characteristics of the tumor, which meant that I had a better chance for survival. I was lucky. Each year, only eight children in a million get diagnosed with good genetic indicators, and I was blessed to be one of them.

Round Two: Beginning in late October 2001, I had several minor surgeries followed by six rounds of chemotherapy and a tumor resection in March 2002. The doctors thought that the surgery was very successful and that you had been fully removed. However, because we couldn’t know whether or not you were still there microscopically, we followed surgery with two more rounds of chemo.

Round Three: Ultimately, it was a knock out! I beat you, Cancer, however I continue to have testing at least once a year. I have been free of you for the last thirteen years. As you can imagine, the fight against you was hard mentally, physically, and emotionally for both me and my parents. As a result, you have changed my life for better and for worse.

On the positive side, the fact that you took over my body for a year has led me to want to help people and to be an activist in many cancer organizations. So, I guess this letter is a thank you note. Because, of you, Cancer, I get to go to my home away from home each year Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. This is a camp for cancer survivors and their siblings. Camp has also changed my life, but in a completely positive way. It gives me an opportunity to meet others who have been in similar situations. I get to meet people who have struggled, and continue to struggle, the same way I have. At camp, there are many kids who continue to fight you, Cancer, and many kids have disabilities due to their treatment. Camp provides me the space to offer other campers assistance, to talk or listen to other campers, and to offer a hug to someone in need.

Cancer, I don’t think that you know everything about me. My third grade teacher was a special person, whom I learned was also a cancer survivor. Because of her, I felt comfortable enough to ask her to assign our class an activity to support pediatric cancer patients currently in the hospital. My class wrote letters of support to the inpatient kids at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. That same year, I decided to donate my hair to “Locks of Love.” Afterwards, my hair was so short and my glasses so old looking that people teased me and called me “grandma.” I didn’t care, because I knew that I had helped someone in need. You see, Cancer, you had made me strong. Third grade was also the first year that I participated in Relay For Life, which is the American Cancer Society’s major fundraiser. To this day, Relay continues to be one of the major ways I help support the cancer community. You won’t understand this, Cancer, since you tend to take things away, but it feels great to give. I want to get rid of you forever, Cancer, so that you can’t ever drain the life of another person.

Finally, Cancer, you have also impacted many of my family members, both negatively and positively. Although painful, the experiences have given me the opportunity to provide love and support. My maternal grandmother and grandfather have been victorious over you, Cancer. During their battles, I showered my grandparents with constant love and support, just as they had done for me. My grandmother saw me beat you, and with my constant words of encouragement, her willpower, and the doctor’s skill she knew that she could beat you just like I did. On the other hand, my paternal grandfather lost his fight with you, Cancer. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. He was initially given four to six months to live, but, you took him in just twelve days. I like to think that, because I had cancer, I was able to talk to him about it and connect with him on a higher level due to our shared experience. Overall, my past has led me to feel empathy and compassion towards others. Because of my history, I believe I can help people who are going through cancer. I know that a kind word or a smile can make all the difference in someone’s life.

On the other hand, cancer, you have also changed my life for the worse. Even thirteen years into my remission, I still have to go to the hospital at least once a year. I go through blood tests, heart ekg’s and echocardiograms, hearing tests, and multiple other tests because of you. Next, the doctors believe that the chemotherapy that I endured during my brain’s development has affected my learning, memory, and attention. As a result, I need to work double or even triple the amount that others need to work to retain information and do good work. Finally, even though I don’t remember you in great detail, Cancer, I still remember you as the most terrifying experience in the world. I remember lines being shoved up my nose, having to drink terrible tasting liquids, the horror of being at the hospital, and the terrors of a needle. To this day, I won’t drink juices and still fear needles as one would expect.

Because of my experience with you, Cancer, when I grow up I would like to be a psychologist so I can talk to people battling cancer and other diseases in order to help them cope with their struggles. Furthermore, I think that one of the greatest medicines (besides actual medicine!) is laughter. That’s why I also want to go to hospitals to visit patients and make them laugh and be happy.

Cancer, you have changed who I am as a person. Thank you for making me compassionate, caring, thoughtful, and interested in the well-being of others. Most of all, thank you for giving me the gift and the ability to enjoy life to the fullest. Without you, I would definitely not appreciate life as I do or have the wisdom to make well thought out life decisions.

Thank you.

Dear Cancer,

It’s me: the girl whom you first visited fourteen years ago.

Dear Cancer,

It’s me: The girl who fought you and won thirteen years ago.

Dear Cancer,

It’s me: Danielle Rosoff, and I won’t let you win.

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