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A Success Story - Hendrick Haataja

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Hendrick Haataja

Hendrick graduated from Montana State University, in Bozeman, Montana, majoring in Electrical Engineering.  He has survived Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).  The incredible amount of love Hendrick received during his struggles has made him much more compassionate and supportive of others around him.  He has been inspired to use his degree to help develop nano-robots that could someday eliminate the need for chemotherapy.  In his own words:

“Christmas is normally such an exciting time for me.  My birthday is just four days before, so you can imagine the level of excitement for a little boy.  I still remember Christmas 2000; it was different.  This Christmas was a little tense.  It was the first Christmas after I had cancer.  I had just turned six years old.  My parents had been searching for a different health insurance provider, and they had been looking for help with paying for travel expenses. 

I could not go play with my cousins because the chemotherapy had lowered my immune system so that even a mild cold could turn fatal.  On top of that, I had a tube hanging out of my chest that I had to cover with waterproof tape every time i bathed.  It was so difficult to keep a smile on my face.  I remember asking my mother if I was getting any presents.  There was pain in her expression as she assured me that I would.  

I was happily surprised on Christmas morning.  The area under our Christmas tree was overflowing with presents and cards.  All of our friends and relatives sent their best wishes, and I even received cards from my favorite doctors and nurses.  Along with this, I received a significant amount of gifts from a family organization that had recently promised to help support my travel expenses to and from the cancer specialist.  I was amazed at how many people had reached out to support me and my family in our struggle. 

The amount of love shown was inspiring.  Throughout my whole period of treatment, I felt this love hold me up and keep me going.  Anytime I struggled with something, whether it was walking across the room or eating an entire meal, I was encouraged with this love that was shown to me by everyone I had contact with. 

Every day I am reminded of the support I received.  Without it, not only would I not have been able to take advantage of the countless wonderful opportunities that I am presented with, but I would have died.  That is quite a sobering thought.  It makes each step I make an amazing leap; each thing I do a miracle.  There is no way that I can even begin to repay the blessings that were bestowed on me.  The best I can do is to quietly help others in need. 

Someone once told me that one should not attempt to repay blessings, but rather it is best to "pay it forward."   

I hold this thought close to my heart.  I do my best in my day-to-day life to be helpful and supportive.  I have made at least one new friend every week since I started college last fall.  This is a very big change for me since I came from a town of barely seven hundred people.  I study with classmates, help them out with their projects, and support them whenever they need me.  Cancer has helped me appreciate the value of relationships, opportunities, and sharing; and to take none of these for granted. 

After I was finally cured, I was faced with the most monumental challenge of all.  The challenge of adapting to a normal lifestyle.  This was very hard for me.  People of all ages can be insensitive, and middle school boys are some of the worst.  I was not able to run as fast or throw a ball as far, so I was largely shunned for a few years.  This was the part I never could understand.  Out of all the people I had contact with, the only ones who gave me no patience were my peers. 

My personal experience has made me sympathetic towards others who struggle with being accepted and fitting in.  I do my best to help others who are having a hard time in life.  If anyone is shy or afraid to join a group, I always include them because I very well understand how they feel.  I work hard to be someone whom everyone can trust. 

I volunteer at the Cancer Support Community office in Bozeman, Montana, helping with landscaping projects.  I have also volunteered as a children's coach for both Nordic skiing and mountain biking. 

Due to my young age, I did not have many goals for my future before I was diagnosed.  So it is difficult to say how my goals have changed, but I know that my experience with cancer has had a large impact on what is important to me.  I am studying Electrical Engineering.  When I graduate, I hope to help design nano-robots that can selectively target and destroy cancerous cells in the human body.  I remember very well the harshness of chemotherapy, and I would love to have the chance to help make it obsolete. 

Having Leukemia as a child has caused many difficulties for myself, my family, and my close friends; but it has also been the source of inspiration and some great life lessons for me.  It has made me into a deep thinker, a responsible young adult, and a trusted friend to all who know me, 

I am very thankful for all the love and care I received, and I show my gratitude every day by doing my best to affect the lives of others in a positive manner.  Thank you Cancer Survivors' Fund for partnering with me as we develop new technologies to fight cancer and comfort patients.” 

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