“You have cancer.” These are the words my family and I heard when I was a junior in Gulf Breeze High School. I was devastated and wondered what the future, if any would be. Did I have the strength and courage to win my upcoming battle with this dreadful disease? The direction of my life and my future goals had changed forever. I would never have been able to imagine the journey I was about to embark upon.

When I woke up from my biopsy I was trying to focus on what the doctor was telling me. Did he say the dreaded “c” word? I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on February 11, 2011. My mind begin racing with questions on how this diagnosis would change my life. It’s ironic that a bump from a Publix shopping cart may have saved my life. My normal, healthy, childhood experiences did not prepare me for the frightening hospital stays I was scheduled to endure for the next year of my life. I was extremely fortunate to be accepted as a patient of St. Jude Children’s Hospital to be the fifth person in the world to have an experimental operation called the Ilvarav Bone Transport. My femur was replaced with a titanium rod, pins, and magnets. My body is able to produce new bone to support and strengthen the rod. This unique procedure is the only option that will enable me to enjoy my favorite hobbies of surfing and skateboarding. Although I am finished with my chemotherapy I am still attending physical therapy and I will have future surgeries to achieve my goal of walking again.

I appreciate the help, love, and support my family and I have received from family, friends and the community. Their strength, courage, and hope gave me the determination to overcome the urge to give up and to strive to achieve my goals. During one of my many hospital stays at Nemours Children’s Clinic, I was able to redirect my frustration of not being able to take the pain and sadness away from young children who were dealing with cancer seizing the opportunity to help a young child. Conner, a six year old boy who was diagnosed with leukemia, was screaming and crying in the room next to me. His outburst seemed to last for a very long time. I asked the nurse if there was anything I could do to help. Nurse Ms. Tracy told me that he did not want to take his medicine because it tasted so bad. I offered him a reward if he accomplished the dreaded task. I visited his room on crutches and showed him my bald head and my brace on my leg. He was amazed at the “big boy” who came to his room. Shortly after he was quick to report that he had swallowed his medicine and was ready for his prize. This experience gave me a feeling of satisfaction to be able to help someone else who was suffering with cancer.

My experience from cancer has allowed me to grow and develop in a more positive way. It has tested my strength and courage many times. The most important and hardest lesson it taught me was patience. I also learned things like persistence, courage, empathy, and not to judge someone by the way you see them at the moment. Meeting cancer survivors and listening to their stories and journeys gave me a lot of home while I was in the process of chemotherapy. I have come to understand how my future has changed. My original plan to attend college at the University of North Florida has been delayed until I am able to walk without assistance. I hope to start college close to home until I can transfer to the University of North Florida. My inability to work for the past year and my enormous medical bills have created a financial strain on my family. With your support from the Nicki Leach Foundation I hope to pay for my car insurance and other related car expenses to assist me in reaching my full potential. It is amazing to me that a devastating medical diagnosis can have such a positive profound impact on your life. It happened to me and I’m ready to impact the world.