Winning Story

As a high school senior, I competed against nearly 5,000 students worldwide to be chosen as a recipient of Guideposts magazine’s Young Writers Grace Award in June 2002. My first few years of being sick, I was extremely embarrassed, to say the very least, to admit to myself and others that I had leukemia. Below is the article I wrote.

High school junior ID - same photo used as sophomore year; even though this blog entry is about me as a high school senior, close enough! :)

High school junior ID – same photo used as sophomore year; even though this blog entry is about me as a high school senior, close enough! 🙂

Accepting God’s Plan

          “Hey, Amy, I heard that the reason you missed school in eighth grade was because you had leukemia. One of my friends told me. Is that true?” asked my chemistry lab partner, Steve, as we conducted an experiment with magnesium oxide. I pretended to be too busy to answer his question, but my cheeks blazed red with embarrassment. As a sophomore in high school, I was not comfortable talking about my illness with people, much less admitting that I had ever been seriously ill. Therefore, I dismissed Steve’s question, along with the inquisitive looks of my classmates who had heard the harmless inquiry.

            Since the summer of 1997 when Dr. Mody and Dr. Hanash stepped into my hospital room at University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital and informed me that I had Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, I was ashamed to speak of my illness with others. I could not readily accept the fact that I had a life-threatening disease. I hoped to simply receive three rounds of chemotherapy and erase from my mind the memories of being ill. I was sure God would never make me battle leukemia again.

            However, in November of my sophomore year in high school, Dr. Mody told my family and me that my latest bone marrow biopsy had revealed cancerous cells.

            I had relapsed.

            Unbeknownst to my dad, mom, and two older sisters, I already knew the leukemia was back. In bed one night weeks earlier, I stretched out my legs and felt the same permeating weakness course through my body I had felt over two years ago, right before my diagnosis. My suspicions were confirmed one day while my mom and I were at one of my doctor appointments. Barb, a nurse, stopped to greet me and remarked, “You look pale.” My mom thought nothing unusual of the comment, but I knew my paleness resulted from low blood counts because of the leukemia returning. I kept my knowledge hidden deep in the back of my mind, only allowing myself to absorb the actual truth once the doctors confirmed what I already knew.

            Doctors prepared me for a bone marrow transplant, and I dreaded the time when I would be forced to miss school once again and confront cancer once more. I planned to remain in school until the transplant, which was scheduled for March 24, 2000. Only my teachers were notified that I would be leaving school in a few months. Towards the end of Spanish class one day before I left, my teacher called me up to her desk. “Here’s work to do during the month of March, Amy,” she said. I snatched the papers and turned my head, hoping nobody had overheard. I feared that one of my classmates’ curiosity would become aroused and they would ask why I would not be attending school in March.

            I assumed that if my classmates discovered I was sick yet again, they would consider me inferior, even though it was not in my control. Although I maintained good grades and carried myself confidently through the halls of my school, the truth was I could not bear for my friends to know that I was sick. What’s wrong with me that I just can’t stay healthy? I thought over and over. Why won’t God keep me well so I can continue with my life?

            As much as I wished for time to halt so the date of the transplant would never arrive, the day came. I tried to behave as bravely and stoically as one could when about to embark on a treacherous journey. One of my doctors compared having a bone marrow transplant to “being run over by a bulldozer and trying to recover.”

            During my 76-day hospital stay for my transplant from an unrelated donor, I only had contact with my family and a few close relatives and friends. Throughout my weeks in the hospital I cringed when nurses talked about my leukemia to my family. “My” leukemia? I never once thought that it was my leukemia. Instead, if I had to use a word to describe the disease I had, I would refer to the leukemia as “it.”

            I figured admitting my malady would mean categorizing myself as just another of the world’s “pitiful” cancer patients, with a perilous present and desolate future. Each time somebody asked about my transplant, I shied away, not eager to tell the story of my years of combating cancer. I wanted to shovel the memories of my illness deep down in a far away place, never to be resurfaced.

            God had other plans.

            Approximately one year after my transplant, I relapsed for the second time — the bone marrow transplant had not done its job.

            It seemed like my insides detonated like a ticking bomb.

            God seemed to be trying to tell me something. Accept your leukemia with an open heart and I will help you through your difficult times.

            Relief filtered through me and I felt released from the grisly grips of shame and embarrassment towards my disease. No longer would I display a facade of being totally well and mislead those around me: Truth be told, I had leukemia twice before, and would soon be undergoing further treatment for my second relapse.

            For the first time ever in all my years of being sick, I acknowledged my illness as a part of God’s plan for my life. I underwent three four-week cycles of an investigational drug followed by a Donor Leukocyte Infusion, and felt contentment now that I had accepted my situation rather than refusing to admit the truth.

            Unlike the previous two times when I was leukemia-stricken, I did not immediately disconnect people from my life or recoil when anyone asked about my plight.

            Instead of pretending to be unlike the cancer patients I met in the hospital, I chatted with other patients and we exchanged stories of some of our countless hospital experiences. I enjoyed helping younger children with schoolwork and crafts. One of the hospital volunteers, an amicable lady named Ann, taught me to knit. The nurses and I talked about good recipes we had made and swapped jokes. I also kept in contact with all of my friends during this period, understanding that they would never let the status of my health regulate our friendship.         

            James 1:12 says: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” My hardships were made much easier this time around knowing that God never fails people who accept and love Him.

            Now if somebody asks about the leukemia I had, I am eager to talk of how God worked in my life during rough times, helping me to conquer my battles and strengthen my faith. For the rest of my life, I will try to accept the situations He has planned for me and use them to learn and to serve Him, never once forgetting the invaluable lessons I learned from my leukemia.

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