“My Voice” by Kimberly Hicks

Kimberly Hicks - 'Survivor'

“You have an 80% chance of dying and we’re going to amputate your leg.” This was what I heard the first time I had cancer, at the age of 15. The last time I was diagnosed, I was told to “tie up loose ends and live for the short term”. My mother got upset when I snapped back to the oncologist, “You clearly don’t know me very well.” He did not, and I have been living for the long term, and planning for the future for the last 13 years.

My path to a career in medicine began amidst the turmoil of adolescence. While most of my classmates were focusing on homecoming, rallies, SATs and first loves, I was forced to focus on surviving. At age 15, I was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma- a rare form of bone cancer- and catapulted into the world of oncology. I experienced the pain of cancer and treatment, including a biopsy, an experimental limb-salvage procedure, a Broviac, a year of intensive, toxic chemotherapy and the numerous side effects of that treatment. Along with the physical challenges I endured, including learning to walk with my new prosthetic leg- a feat that took more than a year to accomplish- I was also faced with the emotional side-effects of a cancer diagnosis, such as being bald throughout high school. Despite these obstacles, I returned to school and graduated with my classmates – on time.

After graduating high school, I moved away from home and began my freshman year at UC Davis. I tried to return to a sense of normalcy, and immersed myself into college life. However, just before my sophomore year, the bone cancer metastasized to my lungs. I endured the same physical and emotional challenges as before, but this time lost one lobe of my left lung. My drive and determination enabled me to maintain focus on achieving my goals. I continued to take a full course load, while working a part-time job and undergoing additional chemotherapy and radiation. I had again beaten the odds and felt I was finally on track, when my life was turned upside down once again. Shortly before graduation, Renal Cell Carcinoma was found in my kidney. I prepared myself for another battle, and after months of anguish and the removal of my kidney, I survived. Through all of this, I beat the odds, continued my studies and graduated.

When faced with personal tragedy, people often gain a passion for that cause. Since being diagnosed with cancer, I have sought out every opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those living with cancer. THIS is what I consider to be a true survivor- someone who doesn’t only overcome their obstacles, but in turn strives to make changes for others. I currently serve on UC Davis Cancer Center’s Young Adult and Adolescent Survivor Board. This board serves to educate the community, as well as medical students, of the specific needs of young oncology patients. So often, only very young and elderly patients are the main focus, and this age group is neglected. The Board also works together on grant writing, communicating local events and planning social mixers. I also serve on the survivor panel to 2nd year medical students at UC Davis. Additionally, I was recently appointed as the Regional Co-Chair (and deemed “Chief Blonde Ambition” by the CEO) for the “I’m Too Young For This!” Cancer Foundation. In this role, I network with health care affiliates across the country, plan and implement leadership conferences and social events, and manage networking websites. My commitment as a volunteer to cancer-fighting organizations doesn’t end there. While in treatment, I attended Camp Okizu, a camp for children with cancer, and have since returned each summer as a counselor. I am currently one of the American Cancer Society’s go-to media spokespeople and have volunteered for the Society as a Team Captain for Relay For Life and for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. I have also spent time as an office volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and served as a Team Captain for their Twilight Walk for Wishes.

To date, my professional life has been in the non-profit arena: BloodSource, the American Cancer Society and Easter Seals. At BloodSource, I trained new employees about blood products, donation and policy. At the American Cancer Society, as the Director of Special Events, I managed 10 employees and ran large-scale fundraising campaigns grossing over $1 million. At Easter Seals, I served as a Program Director to 12 employees and 50 adults with developmental disabilities. Although I have enjoyed my career in the non-profit sector, I learned that my ultimate destination does not lie there.

My true passion was temporarily derailed by cancer. While much of my activism has been socially focused, my fascination involves genetics and biology. I want to better understand the scientific mutations that have so greatly shaped my life. With the breadth of medical procedures I have experienced, I have become intrigued by the manipulation of human cells and the resilient capacity of the human body. I am now in the process of applying to medical school. After my personal experiences and my career in non-profit, I hope to work as a physician, and ultimately create my own specialty- Young Adult Oncology.

Because of my battles with cancer, I have experienced far more than most people in a lifetime- gaining invaluable opportunities, unique perceptions, and empathy that cannot be learned. With wisdom that comes from adversity, and the tenacity of my spirit, I am eager to take on a new path – fighting disease from the medical front. I am confident that no matter what challenges I face, I am armed with the strength to overcome them.