acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) one month before finishing my freshman year of high school. It was shocking and devastating to me and my whole family. I had to leave school, be hospitalized, and begin intense chemotherapy immediately.
I spent the majority of the next eight months in the hospital and the clinic while undergoing the brutal treatment. Cancer took away so much from me. I lost my ability to attend school, to be with my friends, to sleep in my own bed, to go out of my house when I was allowed to go home, to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, to eat anything at one point because I had so many sores in my mouth. I lost all my hair and a lot of weight, and I lost all control over my life. It seemed impossibly hard to deal with cancer at times.
But I didn’t lose my love for music, and music helped me overcome all the hardships. I play several instruments ― piano, violin, and guitar. I sing in an advanced children’s choir, and I compose music. I went to a magnet arts middle school where I was the orchestra concertmaster, and I went to a magnet high school where I also played in the orchestra. I was very lucky that the hospital where I was treated for cancer had a wonderful music therapy program and a very passionate music therapy specialist who helped me see the beauty in the world when I was in a lot of pain, very nauseous, desperate, and unsure whether my life would ever be the same. She brought me instruments to play, composed and sang songs with me, and let me be my old happy self through music.
During my prolonged stays at the hospital, I played several concerts for the other patients, doctors, nurses, and the rest of the staff. I played my violin while my implanted port was hooked to a machine that was transfusing me with blood or platelets, and the music therapist and I played keyboard and guitar and sang for everyone. Many in the audience ― doctors, nurses, patients, and staff ― were moved to tears, and it made me feel as if I was helping them in my own little way through music to feel better about their own day and life. It felt good to give back to the people who were working around the clock to save my life. They had become my second family, and I wanted to do something to make their lives a bit brighter and happier.
When I finished treatment, I vowed to return to the hospital often and continue to brighten the lives of patients, doctors, nurses, and staff there. My school friends and I formed a quintet and started going to the hospital for holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.) and giving concerts. My friends are very happy to be a part of this, and I am thrilled I have found a way to give back to the people who took such great care of me when I needed it the most. And I will continue to do that and look for other ways to contribute to the betterment of society.
I don’t know yet what I’ll do with my life, but I know music will always be a part of it. Maybe I will become the next music therapist at the hospital where I spent some of my darkest days. After all, music is the one thing that cancer did not take away from me. It’s the one thing nobody or nothing will ever take away from me. And, as long as I can sing, play, and create music, I will use my talent and skills to make other people’s lives better, even if it is just for an hour between grueling chemotherapy treatments. It’s so worth it. I know it firsthand.
Now, as I am a sophomore in college studying at Boston University, I am happier and healthier than ever. I not only want to tell my story but the story of my best friend, also my boyfriend, Stephen, who also had leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), when he was just three. We met back in 2020 at a retreat up in Casco, Maine, called Camp Sunshine for kids dealing with cancer, kept in touch ever since, and eventually, our survivorship and love for music brought us together. We are closer than ever because of our shared experiences. We understand each other because we know just how valuable life, love, and meaning really are. Although I did not know him during my treatment, he is definitely a part of my after-journey and makes up so much of it. I’d love for him to also be included in this because of just how inspirational our story really is. I also wanted to mention that we took the opportunity, Stephen and I, to go back to Camp Sunshine this past summer which is where we met three years ago, and we volunteered together for an oncology session. They have a talent show at camp, and we performed Fix You by Coldplay together on stage for everyone. We love playing music together more than anything. Everyone in the crowd loved it. We hope to inspire so many more someday with our survivorship and music.