How Cancer Was an 'Odd Blessing' for One Teen
BY Katie Vandrilla
PUBLISHED March 30, 2020
Friends, school, prom, driver’s test, SATs, applying to college— being a junior in high school comes with many stresses. Leukemia, chemotherapy, bone marrow aspirates, lumbar punctures, blood transfusions, hospital stays, homebound tutoring, low ANC— my junior year came with a little more drama than average.
Being told I had cancer was never part of my plan. It sent my life on an extremely different path for the next two and a half years. At first, it was horrible (I mean, who WANTS cancer?).
At 16, I wasn’t ready to let go of the goals I had made, nor come to terms with the possibility that I might not get better, or graduate with my class. (Priorities and perspective were two gifts cancer eventually gave me.) But like anything life throws at you, you learn to adapt and deal with it. I was fortunate to have an incredible support system and access to wonderful treatment, doctors and nurses.
When I was going through chemo, I desperately wanted books and movies that represented childhood cancer in a positive, realistic way. So many were exaggerated or had uninspiring messages. This made it a challenge to look at my situation with an optimistic frame of mind. There had to be more media available that kids could relate to that would give them hope about their critical conditions or illnesses.
I started writing a children’s book about my stuffed bunny, Thumper, and my cancer journey. It started as a therapeutic project for myself, then turned into something bigger that I continued to work on for a few years. The story had to be fun, educational and inspiring.
When my book was published, we decided to donate the royalties to Make-A-Wish® to help children around the world get their wish. Make-A-Wish® was an integral aspect of my journey. While I struggled to find media that I could connect to, I found strength and hope in looking forward to the day my wish would be granted.
This helped me to heal and overcome what seemed like insurmountable setbacks. I wished to meet my hero: my favorite actor whose work gave me an escape and inspired me to dream about the future again. We’ve also been donating copies of my book to children’s hospitals so kids will have access to Thumper’s story like I would have enjoyed.
As my life began to show me my new normal, I realized what an odd blessing facing cancer was.
I appreciate the little things and live life to its fullest. I have incredible people in my life I wouldn’t have known otherwise. My Make-A-Wish® sent me to a city I had never planned to travel, London, and is now a huge part of my life. Giving back to Make-A-Wish® is also a large aspect of my everyday life. Aside from my book, I volunteer as a wish granter to help other kids facing critical illnesses get their wish.
Cancer was never part of the plan. But it’s a big reason I am who I am today, which I wouldn’t trade.