Looking Back

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, here are two pieces I wrote about my experience with cancer and how it has affected my life up to the present.

The first one, which I named “A Retrospective” at age 13, has a more comical take on events, but it’s the clearest timeline that I’ve written from my memory alone. The second one I wrote for a college scholarship this year.

A Retrospective

Back in my yesteryear, back when I was about six years old, I had a lot in common with who I am today. For one thing, I was home schooled. I had parents who did concerts in churches for a living and a brother who annoyed the dickens out of me. I had a fluffy white dog that kept me company. I had a family who loved me. I loved words and I had a passion in my heart to be a writer.

One difference. I had neuroblastoma in my body.

Now that I am thirteen going on fourteen years old, I must say that a lot has also changed over the years. I have brown wavy hair instead blonde curly hair. I can now paint my toenails without help from Mom. I can now say “antidisestablishmentarianism.”

Yes, indeed, a lot of things have changed from that day when the doctor saw the tumor in my right adrenal gland. When I laid on the hospital bed in the emergency room, watching Scooby Doo, nurses bustled about, readying needles and the “bullets” they used for storing blood samples. After all that trauma I was admitted to the hospital and after the diagnosis of neuroblastoma, stage IV, the doctors decided to just go ahead and open me up in a futile attempt at retrieving the cancerous tumor from my 65-pound person. Turned out that the tumor was too large to do away with. On came the chemotherapy. Seven rounds of it. Seven hair-follicle-releasing-stomach-churning-cell-killing rounds, that is.

That said and done, the only thing left to do at the time was some radiation. Now, don’t get me wrong, but being shot with who-knows-how-many waves of energy and being a four-foot-two child of eight years isn’t exactly the most fun way to spend one’s day. But hey, at least they gave me cool prizes at the end of each session. I knew I did all that for a reason.

Having radiation out of our way, we moved to a house in Mooresville, North Carolina for about a year. I received my second-grade education at a little public school and, of course, passed with flying colors – especially in all the coloring pages and addition and subtraction speed drills. Easy as pi, I know.

That was when my family decided to move to somewhere new. A new somewhere called Smithfield, North Carolina: the place we would call our home-away-from-Heaven for the next five years. I literally grew up there. I know I was born in Duluth, Minnesota and was probably somewhere around Virginia by the time I started the ways of baby gurgling, but that’s aside the point, entirely. In Smithfield, I met some life-long friends and learned some life-long lessons.

People at school became my second family, and now I have to say farewell to them as I begin home school. My seventh grade year will always be very special to me, even with the long homework assignments and the struggles in math and science. I’ll miss my classmates, even the ones who weren’t necessarily my friends. Since, if you think about it, I spent about six and a half hours with them each day. You times that by five – the five schooldays each week – and you get a grand total of about thirty hours a week. That’s a lot of time to spend with the same eleven people. When you’re with them that much, it’s pretty hard not to get to know more them than you ever, ever wanted to know about them. This includes rather disturbing fishing and hunting stories and watching as some of the guys put together cars with cardboard, rubber bands, duct tape, and these huge batteries that I don’t want to know where they got them from. After a while, I got used to it, though, and even learned to enjoy it to an extent.

Now, in July of 2009, we are not really sure where we’ll be in July of 2010. But you know, that’s okay. For as long as I’ve been an avid fiction reader, spoilers are never fun. You go on the website Wikipedia and search one of your favorite books that is part of the a series you are not yet finished reading. Not a good idea. Wikipedia and other sources will tell you left and right what all happens at the end of the book or series, assuming you already know what all has happened. Perhaps all you were looking for was the last name of one of the antagonists, and you end up reading the very thing that happens at the end that you aren’t supposed to even know about yet!

It’s the same with life. If you knew what was in store for you in the future, where would the fun be in that? Like one of my favorite characters in the movie adaptation of one of my all-time favorite books Inkheart said, “It would be like turning to the last page of a mystery.”

Scholarship Essay

Among my interests and joys in life are spending time with my family and friends, reading, writing, video editing, graphic design, biking, traveling, and learning new things.

You could say that I was born with my love for traveling. As a young child, my parents, older brother, and I traveled the country as full-time evangelists and musicians. My mom home-schooled us and we figured out how to care for a puppy among some thirty states. That was our normal lives. But when I was diagnosed with stage IV of neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system, what we called “normal” suddenly seemed very distant. My parents’ career of fifteen years came to a screeching halt as we scrambled to find a hospital that could care for me. Since this cancer is known almost exclusively for developing in babies, I was considered to be ancient at age six, and therefore at a much higher risk. After days of unsuccessful testing, one of my numerous doctors opted to take one more scan. In it, the shadow of a tennis-ball-sized tumor was found. I was guaranteed no more than six months of life left.

Over half of the year 2002 was spent at Brenner Children’s Hospital. I received seven rounds of chemotherapy, which is enough to kill an adult. I lost my blonde curls and a third of the weight of my already small body. This process shrunk my tumor down to the size of a golf ball and it and the adrenal gland in which it had grown were removed. Following this was a bone marrow transplant, which completely wiped out my immune system before restoring it from the ground up. About a year later, I was declared cancer free.

Now, with my twelfth anniversary since diagnosis coming up in May, I am doing quite well. Neuropsychologists were sure I would struggle in my education due to the damage done by chemo, but I have been on the A/B Honor Roll and have taken multiple honors and AP classes all through high school. But with some hearing loss and minor cognitive disabilities, learning can pose a challenge at times and math has especially been something I have had to work at.

Despite the living nightmare of cancer, our lives have been drastically changed for the better. Being in the ministry, my family is able to empathize with people in similar situations and give hope to those who need it most. I experience a fresh appreciation for life each day.

Along with traveling, learning has been and always will be a lifelong love of mine. Ever since my mom taught me the alphabet, I have loved both reading, writing, and discovery in general. Being pastors and songwriters, my parents are both avid readers and writers, as well, so I have grown up around quotes used in everyday conversation, bookshelves filled to bursting, several dictionaries around the house, and a whole lot of puns. My parents’ collections aside, I own nearly 200 books and I am widely known as a bookworm. In the fourth grade, my class read The Lion, The Witch, and And The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and then saw the movie when it came to theaters. After reading the rest of The Chronicles of Narnia on my own, I was inspired to write in the fantasy genre and to explore not only the outdoors like the Pevensie children, but also my imagination. I began writing a story in 2006 and have been slowly but surely writing it ever since. I am now at 112,000 words and I hope to publish in my mid-twenties. I have been able to work on other stories and develop other hobbies in the meantime, but this seven-year-old project will always be very special to me.

Since words have always brought me such joy, it is a passion of mine to try and spread that joy by way of teaching. The English tutoring opportunities I have had combined with this passion and a love for helping others has led me to the decision of becoming a high school English teacher. I know that I am fortunate to have had my talent cultivated by my family and that other kids are not as fortunate. It is my dream to teach and nurture the next generations to not only live every day they are given to the fullest, but to also begin on the endless journey of self expression through writing and speech and better understanding others by reading and comprehending the words of another person’s mind and heart.


10 thoughts on “Looking Back

  1. Very nice posts from your younger self. I smiled at your statement ‘spoilers are never fun’ because I sometimes want a spoiler :) I was wondering how your book was coming, so I assume it is still in the works! Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you, Lesley! I try to avoid spoilers at all costs, but I have definitely been tempted to take a peak at the last page of a book! :) My book is coming along pretty slowly; what with my new schedule, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to write. I hope to get back into it, though!

  2. Sarah – well put ~ all this time I thought you were at Duke and instead you were at Brenner – I was sure surprised. God has given you a gift & you truly know it and don’t take it for granted. Kids will be very blessed to have you as their teacher in the future

  3. Sarah:

    Your recent post(s) were poignant and so eloquently written! You’re such an inspiration to so many and you’re destined for BIG things!

    I know you don’t have a lot of memories of those horrible years but you recall enough to teach others about kindness, perseverance, encouragement, patience and so on and so on and so on! Because your family (including MegaNate) are such lovers of words and have different memories, perspectives and lessons that could teach others have you considered writing & publishing (I know you’re already working on a book) a book as a family? I know so many people could learn from your journey & take away so much hope, love, strength and inspiration with your words!

    Your bracelet is beautiful! Be sure to share new charms and the meaning behind them as you build you bracelet?

    How are classes going? What’s your favorite class? Aside from kayaking, which I got the impression from your Mom you weren’t thrilled about it, what class do you dislike the most? Are you working a lot of hours? Is it really hard balancing work & school?

    How’s the driving going? When do you think you’ll take the test? There’s really no hurry & I know Summer (& your Mom) love driving you! I think it’s great that you waited! Personally, I’ve always thought 16 was too young! It’s scary that in some states a child can get a permit @ 14 and drive @ 15??? SCARY, SCARY! If I had my choice I’d of waited, but my Dad had other plans! LOL! :0)

    Random question, did you have a chance to see Victoria this summer? Did I read on your Mom’s BLOG that she’s PRE MED? You young ladies are amazing!

    Love and hugs from stormy Illinois,


    • Thank you, Jodi!

      Many people (including me!) have asked Mom why she hasn’t published yet, but I don’t think we’ve ever considered the family book.That would be quite the undertaking!

      I’ll definitely share new Pandora charms as they come along! :)

      My classes are great! My favorite class is Ancient Civilizations; there’s only ten people and the professor is a huge history nerd and is very engaging; I’ve always found that nerdy teachers are the best! I had my kayaking exam and it went really well! It wasn’t my favorite class, but it was taught by my Ancient Civ professor, I got to know some nice people, and it eventually got easier and more fun. I’m working about 12 hours a week, which isn’t too bad. Thankfully, my classes aren’t too intense on homework (yet!).

      I’ll probably take the test sometime this month. I’ve been practicing, but I’m a bit nervous and it’s been hard to find the time to go into the DMV. I definitely think 14 is too young to get your permit! :)

      Unfortunately, Victoria and I were very busy over the summer and didn’t get to see each other, but we’ve been talking over Facebook, so that’s been nice! Yes, she IS in pre-med! I’m so proud of her!

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