You would be hard pressed to find someone whose story on finding a life calling in pediatric oncology starts with Taylor Swift. Well, congratulations. That person is me.
It started with a song. "Ronan." When Taylor released that heartbreaking song about a boy who died of cancer before he could even turn four, when she sang that song live for Stand Up to Cancer, I cried. Taylor cried. Everybody cried. After listening to the song a few times, I realized I couldn't just let this go. I had to learn Ronan's story.
I cried throughout the whole weekend reading the blog posts his mom wrote. It wasn't just small, controlled tears. It was full on ugly crying, with a waterfall draining out of puffy, red eyes. As I learned his story, his family's story, I kept looking at pictures of that beautiful little boy with the most gorgeous blue eyes I've ever seen. My heart broke tenfold.
Ronan's story was not the first childhood cancer story I'd read or heard about, but his impacted me the most. His story was the first that I'd immersed myself in. He was also the first child I knew of who died of pediatric cancer. Soon enough, I felt like I had known him and his family, especially his mom. They drew me in, and Ronan touched a deep, unspeakable place in my heart. Thanks to Ro, I started to see the world differently.
At some point, I just knew. There was only one way I could continue after reading Ronan's story, after falling in love with him and knowing the pain he and his family endured before and after his death.
I knew there was no way I could just stand aside and watch as hundreds of bright stars died every year, as they were torn from their family and friends. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't do something. That's when I realized that there was a reason I had felt compelled to learn his story. I believe there's a reason Ronan came into my life just then, when for the first time in my life I was lost and needing direction for my future. There's a reason the timing lined up so perfectly. I believe Ronan came into my life so I can save other children with cancer.
Call me crazy. Call me insane. Laugh at me. I realize it seems ridiculous, the idea of realizing your true calling because of one child you never met. It seems crazy to me, too, but I can't ignore the deep sensation that this is what I'm meant to do. I can't ignore the earth-shattering, mind-blowing, world-changing epiphany I had. It's a kind of epiphany that overpowers you and surrounds you with this strong, overwhelming realization. Something that you can't ignore. Something that you can't deny. My epiphany on my future fighting childhood cancer was the strongest realization I've ever had. The only moment that comes close to being one millionth of that feeling was when I held an actual human brain on an AP Psychology field trip.
When I tell people I want to go into pediatric oncology (and after I explain what "oncology" means), almost all of them give this look. It's the same kind of look every time. Sometimes it's fleeting, and sometimes it lasts longer. The look holds a twinge of sadness, some pity, and some of an emotion I can't name. There's also an inability to understand why I'd want to do something that comes with a lot of emotional heartache. That look frustrates me like nothing else in this world. At the same time, it motivates me almost as much as the kids themselves. Why? It's because I would like nothing more than to be able to make that look history, to help find a way to stop these children from dying. No more looks of pity or sympathy, at least not because of childhood cancer. No more pediatric cancer deaths. More effective treatments that hurt only the tumor -- not the child. Higher survival rates. That's my dream.
There's another reason that look frustrates me, and it's because it fluently reveals an attitude most people have about going into pediatric oncology. They don't want to fall in love with the kids only to have them ripped away. It's a hard and demanding occupation, and it's emotionally draining. Not many people want to face that challenge; they're afraid of death. I'm young enough and, I suppose, unworldly enough to be afraid, too. Plus, I'm the emotionally sensitive kind -- I cry when I watch a Nicholas Sparks movie for the seventieth time, and I cry reading every childhood cancer story. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be emotionally ready, whether the job is going to end up eating away at my soul. I'm afraid of what will happen if I can't become the doctor those children need me to be. But I don't let the fear of failing children stop me, and I know that even if I don't have what it takes to be the strong, fearless doctor, I'll at least still do something to help end childhood cancer, whether it's developing better and more effective treatments, studying how the cancers work, and so on. There's always more than one way to help.
The cynics will laugh and mock me. Cynics would have me believe that there's no way I can change the face of childhood cancer and revolutionize the way we fight it. There's no way a high school junior could one day make an impact in pediatric oncology. They're wrong. There's a reason why I push myself hard in school, why I only take the hardest classes available to me, why I'm taking five AP courses this year, why I make sure to guarantee I'll have a shining future full of opportunities. It's because there's a chance. There's always a chance. It only takes one person to start making a difference. If I could make an impact on just one child, if I save at least one life, I'll have shown the world. Nothing can get in my way, and nobody can stop me from reaching my dreams. And if whatever success I reach in fighting pediatric cancer benefits other cancers, then so much the better.
September is pediatric cancer month, and the gold ribbon is another one of childhood cancer's symbols. Not enough people know about pediatric cancer, and not enough people want to do something about it. I only have one thing to ask of you this year. Please help raise awareness for pediatric cancer. Scream it out to the world. Wear gold colors and ribbons. Let the world know what is happening to the bright stars of the future. Show everyone that childhood cancer does exist, and that we cannot, as a society, ignore the fight thousands of families have battled and continue to battle. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second counts. The babies who are diagnosed at birth, the children who die just five days after their diagnosis, the kids who bravely go through years of what so many adults can't even fathom -- they need all the help they can get.
No matter what happens, one thing is clear: I have to help end pediatric cancer. It doesn't matter which way I do it, just as long as I help cure the cancers that plague so many beautiful children. I have to help turn it around so that people don't get that look in their eyes when they hear the words "childhood cancer." I still have a lot more to figure out, though, and I have a long way to go. It's an uphill battle. But no matter what happens, I'll always have Ronan to thank for helping me realize my greater purpose and for helping me save children like him in the future. I'll always have Ronan to thank for touching my heart and for changing so much in my life.
I'll always have Ronan to thank for everything.