“My Voice” by Amanda J. Woods

Amanda with her support team!Survivor: It is an interesting word and one that has many definitions depending upon circumstances. Mine is actually the story of my life and how I found hope and meaning through the process of surviving. It is a word that I have dealt with since birth. I was born two weeks late, not breathing and a larger baby than most at eleven pounds and fourteen ounces. Doctors told my parents they didn’t expect me to make it through the night; if I did I probably wouldn’t live past age two and would be mentally retarded. I spent the first few weeks of my life in the hospital hooked up to tubes and machines. I had to lose a pound before they would allow me to come home. Needless to say the doctors were wrong I am now twenty-six without cognitive or physical limitations.

From then on I lived a somewhat normal childhood with the typical challenges of school, family, parents’ divorce and minor health issues. Little did I know what challenge was awaiting me, one that would send me on a journey to find out what being a survivor means to me. Then my next major hurdle happened in my twenties when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This is when I learned becoming a survivor would be a process and one I could not do on my own.

I went to my advisor at my college to discuss whether or not I should continue with school. She immediately came on board and agreed to help me anyway she could. She told me I couldn’t quit or give up, both on school and on my life. She asked me to go speak with one of my instructors, one I had never met before to see if she felt like I could complete the semester. I was afraid to go talk to her because I didn’t want to have to give up school, but also I didn’t want her to see me as weak or sick. That first night of class was hard as I sat down to speak with her, but I can say I am sure glad I did. She also immediately came on board and agreed to get me through not just the class, but the cancer. They were both there for me no matter what. They were there for me through all the treatments, got me through the semester, helped me make sure I was eating, opened up their home to me to help take care of me after treatment and so much more. They became more than school advisors, but some of the greatest friends I could have and people I will treasure the rest of my life. They not only had my back, but stood beside me through it all and allowed me to lean on them when I needed the strength to go on. These two women gave me the hope I needed to survive and became heroes in my life.

You have to have that hope in your life. I learned I had to find something to focus on to make it through. School at that point was my focus and my goal. I had to hold onto my dream of getting through school to get my degree so I could move on to law school and become an entertainment attorney, my lifelong dream. I even moved to my state capital and interned for a legislator while still undergoing treatments. This gave me little time to worry about my illness.  Even when I was weak from chemo I still managed to make it to the Capitol. Without that focus and drive I never would have made it through. School allowed me to think about something else other than the cancer. I also had my support system pushing me and helping me along the way.

We began treatments with radiation and as the cancer grew more intense inside me so did the treatments as I then moved to regiments of chemotherapy and surgeries. With each treatment process I would grow more anxious and more scared. I went from being told I had about a 19% chance of living to moving up that scale to 35% then onto 67% and ultimately making it through to remission.

I learned a major lesson from this experience, not to take people for granted something I had been doing a lot in my life. I learned that life and time was precious and short, so I wanted to spend as much time with those I loved and cared for. In the past I used to be so busy and I would push back time with people and now all I wanted was to make time with my loved ones so that I would have memories to hold onto and so they would also have memories. It came down to relationships, not materials as it was the people in my life that got me through each treatment round. I can’t say being diagnosed was a blessing, but it showed me where my priorities had been and where I now wanted them to be. Even now I cherish those times and memories and still make them with my friends and family as much as I can.