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A Success Story - Sarah Bradley

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Sarah Bradley 

Sarah graduated in 2012 from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, majoring in Pre-Veterinary Medicine, with a specialty in Equine Science.  Her experience with cancer has given her a determination that she never felt before, and strengthened her longing to help sick animals.  She has survived Ewing's Sarcoma.  In her own words:

“ "My Life, My Future"

When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with cancer.  Back then I was a quiet and shy child who wanted to blend into the crowd.  I played with Barbies and believed in Santa Claus.  I was healthy.  I was normal.  Death, dying, and cancer were only words that my mom talked about when discussing her job (she is an oncology nurse).  Unfortunately, these words came to be a part of my very existence on a cold winter day in 1998.  I was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma of my right clavicle, and my life was changed forever.  Nine years have now passed, and with them the memories of four surgeries, six weeks of radiation therapy, and nine months of intense chemotherapy.  I have packed away my Barbies and do not believe in Santa Claus. 

I am eighteen years old.  I am not normal and never will be.  Cancer has impacted my life far beyond the noticeable scar that stretches from my sternum to my shoulder.  I am changed forever.  I am a survivor.  The experience of cancer has given me a determination that I had never felt before.  When standing in a crowd, I now wish to be noticed and acknowledged.  When achieving a goal, I am not hindered or frustrated by obstacles that may occur along the way.  While discussing topics in a classroom of peers, I openly share my thoughts, opinions, and emotions.  It is disappointing to see my fellow classmates hide their anxieties, fears, and feelings.  Being faced with death brought about an awareness of life.  Holding back on living is a waste.  I wish I could show them that life is happening now.  Experience it! 

Long before I was diagnosed, I had the desire to become a vet.  I have always had a strong passion for horses and my experience with cancer only heightened it.  Knowing how scared and imprisoned I felt while undergoing treatment gave me an insight into fearing the unknown and feeling helpless.  Being a survivor has strengthened my longing to help sick animals.  My experience with cancer has instilled a strong desire to be reassuring and comforting.  Now that I am 18, I work with horses daily.  My biggest hope in caring for and teaching horses is that I will make a difference.  I want to make a difference in at least one horse’s life, like my doctors made a difference in mine.  I have learned from my experience that one smile and word of encouragement can change the world.  One reassuring hug and a thumbs-up can make someone’s day. 

Before I went into surgery for the first time, the nurses stopped my wheelchair outside of the O.R.  They turned the chair towards the revolving darkroom door where x-rays could be developed.  One nurse asked if I’d like to see a magic trick, and warily, I said yes.  Another nurse stepped into what looked to be a black cylindrical hole in the wall.  The wall was closed, and then reopened, and POOF!  She was gone!  That was the only time I ever entered the O.R. with a smile.  This proved to me that there are people out there who will strive to ‘turn a frown upside down’, and I decided that I want to be one of those people. 

I believe that I am living proof that cancer can affect someone’s life in positive ways, not just in negative ways.  I am striving to share my feelings with all who will listen to my story.  One attribute from surviving cancer would have to be my sense of humor.  I love laughing and have made it a goal to share at least one laugh a day.  When my friends or family are having a bad day, I am usually the one who can get a smile out of them by telling a silly joke or a story of one of my many misadventures (clumsy is sometimes my forte).  The latter usually causes painful cramping of the person’s sides from laughing too hard.  Laughter is contagious, spread the disease! 

If I could give advice to any young person who has been diagnosed with cancer, it would be that no matter how bleak the diagnosis, do not give up.  This is my second attribute as a cancer survivor.  It is important to believe everyday that you will get better.  Always have HOPE!  Surround yourself with people who are positive.  If you feel like crying, do it.  There is nothing wrong with letting out your emotions no matter what they are.  Cancer is not your fault or anyone else’s.  It just happens.  If you can take a day or two out of your treatment regime, do something that you used to do before you were sick that made you happy.  You have cancer, cancer doesn’t have you.  However, the most positive attribute as a cancer survivor is recognizing my drive to learn.  I have discovered that only through knowledge can you overcome fear, hatred, anger, doubt and ignorance.  I am no longer afraid to ask 'why?'  I have gained self-esteem and confidence from what I have encountered.  Surviving a life-threatening illness has given me a sense of accomplishment.  I have come to accept that my life will never be the same and that I will never be normal—and for that I am thankful.

I volunteered as a Math and English tutor to younger children throughout my senior year in high school.  I served as a volunteer camp counselor at Camp Coco (a place that allows children with cancer to experience summer camp the way healthy children do).  I volunteered at Willet Stables cleaning stalls, and assisted with crafts and activities in our local Cub Scout Troop.  

Once I found out that I had been accepted at SIUC, my family and I started trying to find ways to pay for it.  I had no idea there were such things as scholarships for cancer survivors.  When my mom printed out the applications, I was shocked!  I was so overwhelmed by the people like Cancer Survivors' Fund who cared that I survived a life-threatening illness, and who wanted to help me attain my future goals.  Thank you, Cancer Survivors' Fund!”

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