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My Milestone: Accepting Who I Am Despite Cancer 

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By: Kaela Cruz

I am currently a freshman in college, a cancer survivor and an amputee.

I was a normal kid until my life nearly ended when I was diagnosed with bone cancer the day before my 5th birthday. A few months later, I had an above the knee amputation on my left leg. I never thought that I was going to be considered one of the lucky ones.

I spent a lot of time in the hospital recovering from surgery. Life in a hospital was one thing, but outside it felt like it was me against the world. I was too young to process what self-love and appreciation meant, so everything presented itself as a struggle. 

In between school, there were endless doctors’ appointments, intense hours of physical therapy and hiding my disability from my peers. I entered first grade in a wheelchair and had a paraprofessional follow me around. There was always something that prevented me from living a typical life. The feeling of being an outcast was my norm. In public, people would stare at me inquisitively, and parents would often tell their kids not to look. I even questioned, “Is this normal?”

I’ve realized that despite what I've gone through, I am able to get back on my feet and experience the things that I've never experienced before. Even though I thought I was doomed, soon after my chemotherapy, I was introduced to an organization that granted me my first running leg, and from that point on, I was a survivor.

Graduating high school and entering college became major milestones for me. This year came with challenges on top of the ones I was used to facing daily. In February, and then March, everything just kind of stopped because of COVID-19. My school thought we were going to be out for a week. And then we were out for months. But I finished. I passed all my classes, I got my diploma, and I’m remote learning again.

Today, I keep myself busy in and out of school with my involvement as a student council representative, I train with an able-bodied and adaptive swim team and I am an inspirational speaker for a few foundations, like Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF). I speak regularly to pre-med students at Princeton University about pediatric cancer awareness and have taken part in ICAP's day of giving for charity.

In the past, I’ve also completed a hero’s journey program at camp – a metaphor for life and how everyone goes through their own stages of a “hero’s journey.” It was unforgettable. Two summers later, I got my scuba diving certification. A group of other athletes and I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Cayman Islands where we trained in the pool and then the ocean.

Through these experiences, I’ve realized that I’d rather use what I have now, what represents who I am, than try to change anything.

I've dedicated my life to helping others embrace their unique features and inspiring them to be themselves through various activities, such as sports. I also love helping the community through volunteer work. I feel grateful that this experience has allowed me to impact people from around the world and spread positivity. And I’m proud to have been able to complete so many milestone moments in my life.

Milestones in a child’s life are their biggest moments growing up. But when a child has cancer, they might miss out on some of these experiences. On Giving Tuesday, your donations will fund childhood cancer research that can lead to safer, more effective treatments. That means more opportunities for every kid to experience these milestones. 

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