By Chandler Russell
Being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia a week after my 15th birthday was a life changing experience. I was playing softball, finishing my freshman year of high school, and looking forward to a summer that included getting my beginner’s permit and driving. Things change tremendously fast when I heard those three dreaded words… ”You have cancer!!!”
My plans were to become a Psychologist, get rich, and live the good life. It’s funny how life throws you curves when you least expect it. In just a few weeks, my entire life had changed and tasks that I normally took for granted were almost impossible; like walking, bending down, brushing my teeth, and getting dressed. All of these activities completely wore me out, and I need assistance to do everyday tasks.
I found myself spending a lot of time in and out of hospitals. I was missing a lot of school, but I was determined to keep my grades up, graduate with my class on time, and head off to college to fulfill my dreams. While I was in the hospital, I was amazed by the love and concern shown to me by my nurses, doctors, and even the custodians. Everyone was on my team, and they were all there, day and night, to lift me up and encourage me. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was called by God to become a pediatric oncology nurse. I met a lot of really great kids that shared my struggles. We would hang out in the craft room on good days. We would all be lugging around our IV poles and trying to keep our minds off reality. It was fun to see how simple little pleasures made the kids so happy, and the parents had ‘normal” kids for a brief moment. It made me even more determined to beat cancer and help other kids.
I have been involved in Relay For Life since I was 8 years old but now it meant so much more. I was a team captain and designed t-shirts to sell and I was the top fund raiser for our county. I went to my friends Relays and walked the survivor lap with them. I was given the honor of becoming a Hero of Hope for the ACS and was blessed to speak at several events including an event in Paris, TX, which was the home of one of my dear sweet friends, Mikyla. Mikyla and I went through treatment together but she lost her battle to cancer at the age of 12. It was a bitter/sweet experience that I shared with her family.
I am actively involved in my church youth group through mission trips and serving our community in many ways. Although I was not physically able to do everything I wanted to do, I was able to do something.
For two and a half years, I fought with all I had and I am currently in remission. Although my struggles are not over, due to the Avascular Necrosis (bone damage) I suffered during treatment, I am enjoying attending East Texas Baptist University and I am so excited to begin the nursing program. I am one step closer to realizing my dream.
The CANCER experience helped me find strength in myself that I did not know I had. I was strong enough to get up each morning knowing I would have to face needles, pain, wobbly legs, nausea, the mirror, and the self-conscious feeling that people were constantly staring at me. And I did it EVERY DAY.
Cancer has made me appreciate life so much more, and I want to take advantage of every opportunity given to me. It’s made me a harder worker, a better student, and an overall better person. I no longer take life for granted, and I now have the desire to give back to the community that gave so much to me when I needed it the most.