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A Success Story - Summer Sexton

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Summer Sexton

       Summer is attending Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, majoring in Fine Arts.  Through her battle with cancer, Summer realized that her dream is to become a drama teacher so she could help inspire students with disabilities and lack of self confidence to find their passion, just like her teachers did with her.  She has survived Retinoblastoma (cancer of the retina).  In her own words:

C-A-N-C-E-R.  It is a six-letter word that can throw a lot of people through a scary loop.  Even though I was really young when I was diagnosed and cured, having cancer did cause me to have to face some major challenges in my life.  It also taught me that cancer was just the first battle I would have to face in life. 

The first thing I tell people after I tell them how I lost my eye to cancer is that I do not want their pity.  My mother raised me to know that I was just like any other kid, except I have a small difference in how I look.  I remember being teased at school by kids who would make fun of my prosthetic, and how it didn't move like my other eye did.  As I look back on the things those kids would say to me, I realize that I wasn't upset with what they said.  I was upset with the fact that I couldn't fix what they were teasing me about.  It took me awhile, but I noticed I was doing the one thing I didn't want other people to do to me.  I was pitying myself.  I forced myself to look in the mirror and acknowledge the fact that I looked the way I did and that there was no surgery to fix it.  I became happier with who I was as a person, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. 

Growing up, you are always asked what do you want to be.  I always dreamed of joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot, but when I got older, I was told that dream was not possible for me to be able to accomplish.  Being blind in my left eye made me have to stop and rethink my entire life goals because it prevented me from my dream.  After being told that, I was so upset that I couldn't do something that I began to tell myself that I probably couldn't do other things that were fun and exciting either.  Basically, a full-blown pity party. 

Then my life changed.  My eighth-grade science teacher saw how upset I was and told me that my high school was having auditions for the marching band color guard.  I ended up going, with the mindset that I wasn't going to make it because of my eye.  After the auditions, I was shocked because my instructor actually gave me a chance and I made the squad! 

After that amazing and wonderful day, I slowly started to come out of my little rut of 'Oh, woe is me' and started to get excited about trying new things again.  After going to see my eye doctor for my yearly exam and clearing with him that I could actually do color guard, I began to wonder how many more things I could try and do.  Even after the season was over, my mind was begging for the next exciting adventure.  Actually, that next adventure led me to my new dream career. 

I was one of three freshmen to make it into the spring musical at my high school.  I didn't tell my director about my disability until after callbacks because I didn't want that to change her decision of me being in the cast.  It was probably the best day for me when she told me that she would do her best to treat me like a normal member of the cast.  Preparing for that show was probably the most difficult three months of my life.  The choreographers didn't make learning the dances easy, and they had people on my blind side.  I was afraid if I told them, they would change everything and people would get mad at me.  Once we performed the show and I made it through without hurting myself or my cast mates, my choreographers told me that they knew about my eye.  It turns out  that they saw how hard I was trying and realized that I could do anything that the other cast members could do, so they didn't bring it up. 

As I was performing in my final show in high school, I looked back on that very first show and how those kids accepted me for me.  It made me realize that if you love something so much and other people see your passion for it, they will not care if there is anything wrong with you.  They just sit back and watch to see how you do it.  As each show I participated in passed, I began to wonder: how many other students who had a disability were stuck in the same rut I was?  How many of them never got out of it and never tried something new? 

Every time I would think about that, I also thought about how I could help them.  Through the inspiration my directors and drama teachers gave me over the years, I realized what my new dream had become.  I want to be a drama teacher to help students get out of that rut; whether it is a rut from having a disability or a rut from having a bad day, and help them find their passion.  To a lot of people, fine arts students are very strange; but to me, we are a dedicated a special group. 

I have always tried to give back by volunteering: my local food bank, I have performed at the volunteer banquet for the Hensley Awards judges, I have fostered shelter dogs, I helped with my brother's Eagle Scout service project, a pavilion at our church, as an usher at the Fox theater for A Christmas Carol through our local 4-H, and took part in the National Assessment of Educational Progress test group.

As I began my theatre career, my mom taught me a quote from the T.V. show version of FAME: 'You got big dreams? You want fame?  Well, fame costs.  And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat.'  This quote not only applies to theater, but to life, because for Cancer patients and Cancer Survivors, nothing is ever easy.  Cancer patients have to struggle through treatments and fight for their lives.  Cancer Survivors have to stay positive and pray that the cancer does not come back.  This quote to me means that even if your dream sounds crazy to one person - because now that I look back, a one-eyed pilot who can't even walk down the hallway without tripping over her own feet performing in theater doesn't sound like a good idea - it could change the life of another; a teacher helping someone find their new dreams and potential. 

Thank You Cancer Survivors' Fund for encouraging and supporting my dreams of touching the lives of so many students in the future to find their big dreams and fame.

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