This past February, I was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia—a complete shock to my system. Cancer doesn’t run in my family, and I always thought Leukemia was something that young children got. Not 24-year-olds. I thought my life was over.
Luckily, it wasn’t just yet. As I learned, Leukemia is very treatable. Fortunately, I responded very well to those treatments. After two months in the hospital, (about half of the time without visitors because of COVID-19 precautions), I was in remission. However, I was laughably far from being done with the cancer experience. After a few more cycles of chemo, I was highly advised to get a bone marrow transplant to prevent the disease from coming back. I don’t know how familiar you might be with bone marrow transplants, but I knew absolutely nothing about them. In the months approaching my transplant, I was educated on how life changing of an event that it is, and how difficult and lengthy of a recovery process it has. Great. 2020 was going to be a long year.
I had one of my first conversations with my social worker. She told me about the AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) cancer community and about all of the resources that were available for me.
Earlier on in my long year, during my initial hospital stay, I had one of my first conversations with my social worker. She told me about the AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) cancer community and about all of the resources that were available for me. She asked me questions about myself, and I happened to mention that I’m interested in music. That sentence turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever uttered. She connected me with Teen Cancer America, specifically their Play It Back music program. A few days later, I met music producer Kenli over the phone so he could explain Play It Back to me. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He writes and produces original songs with AYA cancer patients like me, just because he has the heart for it? Well, it just so happens that writing and producing my own music has been my greatest dream for years. The only problem was, I had no idea where to start. And here he was, a professional music producer telling me that he can help make my dream come true at absolutely no cost to me.
As I went through chemo, radiation, and finally transplant, I was delighted to be involved with Kenli, co-founder Hilary, and the rest of the Play It Back artists. I could have a bone marrow biopsy in the morning, but look forward to a fun music-related weekly Zoom call (“Music Mondays”) with everyone in the evening. I always joke morbidly with my friends: “I should have gotten cancer a long time ago because this is awesome!” I’m also extremely impressed with how the program has carried on throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sure that the entire program could have been put on pause because we can’t go to Kenli’s studio in person at the moment, but it kept going. Recording sessions were switched to video calls and the aforementioned “Music Mondays” were instated. If the amount of effort wasn’t put in to work with all of us remotely, my entire 2020 would have been much different and much lonelier. I’m grateful to say that this year I have learned a ton about making music, gained new friends (that I hope to meet in person soon!), written several original songs, and am very close to having my first ever fully produced song. Who knew this could all be possible for someone who spent most of 2020 feeling sick?
If the amount of effort wasn’t put in to work with all of us remotely, my entire 2020 would have been much different and much lonelier.
The song that I’m working on right now is called “Above.” It’s about the miracles that God has done in my life throughout this scary cancer experience. He’s brought in incredible people and opportunities, kept me from mental breakdown, and made me a stronger person. One of the most important parts of the song for me is when I sing the line: “It’s not the end for me. It’s a beginning.” I wrote that line to remind myself that I have so much more left to do. My life isn’t over like I thought it was that day in February when I was diagnosed. While I still have my moments of mental weakness as I’m still recovering from my bone marrow transplant, I know in my heart that this year is a miracle—a story that I will tell many years from now. I’m thankful to Teen Cancer America for being part of that miracle.