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Book Awards - Essays - 2015

The following essays were submitted by students at Plymouth State University (PSU) when applying for KYMMA's Joan Merrill Book Awards and Michelle Morse Book Awards in 2015.

- Read essays submitted by PSU students in previous years: 2014, 2013, and 2011.

- See photos of Book Award Winners from previous years: 2012, 2011.

1) How Has Cancer Affected My Life?

I began a journey in 2006 that has changed my life. Every day in the sixth grade started out the same for me; this day, however, ended up like no other. I remember going to the doctor's office and having a routine blood test. Yet when I got home, everything seemed far from routine. My house, usually loud and busy with my sister and brother, became quiet. My dad who was working that night came home for what seemed like no reason. The telephone rang often and I heard hushed voices in other rooms. After one of the many telephone calls, my parents came to me and said we would need to visit a hospital for more tests.

I was so young. I can only remember driving to Children's Hospital at Dartmouth in a snow storm and telling my parents that it seemed like an adventure. The visit to the hospital confirmed a diagnosis of acute lymphloblastic leukemia and a difficult path to recovery that included chemotherapy and radiation through my sophomore year in high school. Although this was not the path that I expected to take in my life, it has shaped who I am and who I will be.

In the beginning, there were times when I could not imagine a future. However, as my treatments continued, I began to focus on helping others at CHaD. I have spent a lot of my time working for both CHaD and the Kristen's Gift charity trying to raise funds for furthering cancer research and bettering services for children in hospitals. I even spent time during my many hospital stays envisioning better treatment rooms, and hospitals dedicated to helping children.

One of the most difficult challenges for young people who need long term care in hospitals is being able to spend time with their parents and families. I hope to one day build a facility that integrates state of the art hospital services with family style rooms in which everyone stays together.

It was always hard spending so many nights each month in the hospital with only my mom or dad (but never both) sleeping in my room. My brother and sister could only visit on weekends for a short period of time and we did not have enough space in my room for everyone to be comfortable. This at least partly shaped my goal of managing the construction of family friendly hospitals.

I would love to be able to say that my journey with cancer has ended...

I relapsed in December of 2012. This was a giant life check for me as I was in college for my first semester and when hearing this news I knew I had to put college on hold for a while. I was at it again going through the same horrible stuff I went through before.

My life wasn't easy and certainly wasn't ideal for an 18 year college student. I would have rather been out hanging with my friends and make memories. Sadly, the only memories I was making was in the hospital bed. This round consisted of many overnight stays and long hours in the clinic receiving chemo. I pushed through as much as I could and it's a reason why I'm writing you this essay today.

Although I am in remission, I still have regular blood work scheduled for years to come. With each visit comes the fear of my cancer returning, though that fear never overcomes my dreams for the future. My current goals include making new friends, graduating college and getting a good job. It's safe to say that my goals, though they might seem common today, once seemed like little more than dreams themselves.

- Name Withheld, PSU Student

2) How Has Cancer Affected My Life?

My mom was first diagnosed with cancer when I was in the eighth grade. The first time around seemed easy. She got the surgery and did a few rounds of Chemo and the doctor gleefully informed us that the cancer had gone into remission. She didn't even lose any hair.

But by my sophomore year in high school, the cancer had come back and was much more aggressive. When she was diagnosed, the cancer (cervical) had already spread to her stomach. It was inoperable. My parents decided to go ahead with Chemo. She lost her hair. She was constantly sick. Eventually, she became bedridden and stayed in the hospital. Just to see my mom, I had to drive over an hour away. It became apparent that she was going to pass away very soon.

Miraculously, she became well enough to come back home. She was still very sick and needed a nurse around the clock, but it was nice to have her home.

Just to be clear, my mother was the closest person to me that I have ever had. She was the most giving, loving, special person I've ever known and her friends will attest to that. She grew up in Detroit and still made it into and graduated from Vassar, she overcame a heroin addiction, and raised two kids on a really tight budget. She is my inspiration for every aspect of my life.

When the time came where it was very clear that she was not going to pull through, I struggled with being around her without crying and I didn't like to cry around her and bring such a negative energy. Her friends and family were also always around, so I rarely got to spend alone time with her. But there was one day that I got to finally be alone with her.

She was on a lot of morphine and seemed to really be losing touch with her surroundings. We sat mostly in silence while we watched our favorite movie. Finally, she turns to me and asks, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

I was stunned. Do for me? Hadn't she done enough? She devoted her life to me! With tears building in my eyes I replied, "No mom, of course not. You're perfect! Is there anything I can do for you?" Her response is what shaped the rest of my life: "Love me," she said.

She could have told me to never do drugs, or to go to college, but instead, she only wanted me to love her always.

She knew that her lasting impression on me would develop my character [better] than any will that she could push upon me. Her love makes me strong and makes me who I am today and there is nothing more powerful than that.

By telling me that all she wanted of me was to love her, she showed that she had confidence in the way she raised me. She didn't pressure me to make good decisions. Everyone makes mistakes and I feel that, if she had given me a different answer, all it would have done was given me guilt and made my life about something that I didn't intend my life to be about. She really set me free from the guilt that so many people feel when they lose someone close to them.

I didn't know it at the time, but this was the last real conversation I would have with my mother before the treatments made it hard for her to stay awake and be able to focus on a conversation. It is my most treasured memory and, whenever I feel weak, I remember that her love is strong enough to get me through it.

- Name Withheld, PSU Student

3) How Has Cancer Affected My Life?

This question will get you many answers, but to me cancer was a major life changer.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. At the time, I was around age seven and did not know what was going on. However, as time went on, I caught on to her illness. Her battle was rough and long. She went through radiation and multiple chemotherapy treatments. There were many highs, as well as lows. As the treatments failed, it also caused many consequences, it brought her to the brink of life itself and back three times.

Our relationship was not only mother-daughter and best friends. I made it my responsibility to take some of the burden off her shoulders, so I became her caretaker. I researched everything I could to take care of her, from her medications and treatments to how to be something of a nurse to take care of anything medical that would affect her.

I was able to enhance my research skills and apply my research into real life situations. These skills included the ability to treat and manage most of the injuries, keep track of all medication, and keep with a diet plan, when it was necessary.

In 2008, the treatment that she was on shrunk the cancer to a point where she learned that she went into remission. My mother decided to have a mastectomy and reconstruction to make it impossible for her to get breast cancer again.

She almost reached her one-year mark; she learned that she had a cancerous tumor in her sternum. With her previous battle, she went through many treatments with her previous battle and she did not have that many options for treatment because they did not work on her. Her battle ended in 2010.

She was my role model and that has made me a better person. My mother was kind, brave, patient, and courteous. Her kind heart touched everyone she met; she would help those who were struggling with their diagnoses.

I followed her kind-heartedness when my best friend found out that her mother was diagnosed with cancer. I helped her come to terms with what she and her family was going to go through. I answered all the questions she had and helped her with her troubles.

Unknown to me at the time, my teacher found out about my kindness and nominated me to the youth appreciation in our community. When I won the nomination, they said I was a role model, but to me, I was being a friend and had only done it out of love of friendship. With this experience, our friendship grew to the point where we now call each other family.

The one thing she taught us was to make sure we live every day to the fullest because it might be your last. I took that to heart; I make sure that I do my best in my courses, and in relationships with family and friends.

At the beginning, I told you that cancer was a major life changer. Let me rephrase this sentence with this experience of having a loved one with cancer; it made me the person I am today. I am now more confident in myself, I am now more open with those around me and I made sure that I live to my potential because you only have the time you have. I want to make my mother proud of me knowing that I am following her example of living.

- Name Withheld, PSU Student

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