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My Cancer Journey has Impacted My Life in Every Way Imaginable

Garrett Gulden


$1000 Winner

“Suffering is a part of life, no more or less than the water we drink and the food we must eat in order to live. And to truly live, one must also truly suffer. And we do. Everyone will have at least one great struggle in their life, some very different from others, and some very similar. Nonetheless all struggle is individual and has its individual effects. Yet these effects can be so easily polarized and divided into two outcomes, victory and defeat. So often struggle will consume a man, it’s not often that a man will consume the struggle.

My struggle came to me on December 9th, 2013. I was a 13-year-old boy who was in the middle of my 7th grade year. After school that day I had yet another appointment with my Pediatrician trying to figure out why I still wasn’t feeling well after months. We had explored the idea of a virus, the flu, and a muscle disorder. All of these ideas provided a relief that we finally had answers and a plan to get me well, but all of them would eventually disappoint and I kept getting worse. It was at that final appointment that a large swollen lymph node was finally found behind my collarbone, something I didn't think much of at the time. To avoid having to wait 24 hours for results from a blood test, my parents and I went to the emergency department.

The thing I remember most is watching my parents talk to doctors and nurses then amongst themselves, then to the doctors again. In studying their faces to try to figure out what was going on, all I could see was fear and confusion. And with every passing minute they seemed to become more and more panicked. The doctor who had been assigned to my case had come to talk to my parents again, this time he had news. But this wasn’t like some dramatic soap opera. In fact, I don't even remember hearing the words ‘you have cancer’.

Through the next 3 ½ years, I would endure my struggle. There really aren’t words to properly describe the hell my life had become. With each bag of chemotherapy, I felt more virulent, with each shot more lifeless and with each pill less human. I likened it to be the first one that gets grabbed by the monster in a horror movie. People simply going on with their lives, for which I don’t blame them for doing so now, I saw as people running away from me and not looking back which allowed circumstances to dehumanize myself even further.

In all honesty, cancer and subsequently cancer treatment destroyed me. It destroyed the latter half of my childhood, it destroyed any chance of normal teenage memories, it destroyed my school experience, it destroyed my body, it destroyed my social life and it destroyed my mind. By the end of the 3 ½ years I was a shell of someone that used to be here. What was left was not me. Obese, weak, stagnant, sheltered and constantly depressed. What was the struggle really worth if it was only to buy this sad existence? There had to be more that my struggle had bought for me. But back then I was looking in the wrong places for it, I thought that whatever I had gone through my struggle for would be handed to me when I should have learned that nothing ever is.

I slowly began to make changes in my life, one small step at a time. I registered for half a day of classes at my regular high school so I could have some typical high school memories of my Senior year. My mornings were spent at an Options school where I did my work online. Unfortunately, it happened to be so much work that I wasn’t even able to really graduate with my class and walk the stage with the people I had gone through all of this with. A reality that twisted the knife that was already deep in my gut. I ended up having to do summer school to graduate as class of 2019. Summer school made me miss out on a lot of fun during the summer, and while it was summer school that was my ball and chain in that moment there was always the common denominator of cancer that was responsible. Not for loss of experiences but for exchanges in experiences, seemingly always good for bad.

It was a bitter pill to swallow watching friends leave for colleges across the country one by one. I had been so focused on achieving my High School diploma that my dream of applying for college myself was set aside. I admit I spent some time feeling sorry for myself but then once again found the strength to forge ahead. Even though I had decided to move on I was still angry at my situation. As an outlet for my anger I started working out. In the beginning it was just that, an outlet for anger but eventually I started to see changes in myself. My clothes started fitting differently, some clothes were too big. I had lost weight before but have never been at the point to consider myself as fit. The majority of my life I have more or less been over-weight and this new feeling made me fall in love with the gym. The gym became my oasis in the desert. I didn’t have to think about anything or talk to anyone, it was just lift, push or pull. In a matter of months, I had made great amounts of progress with my body, all by myself. I had no trainer, no coach and no one to tell me what to do or how to do it. It was all me, and hours in the gym seeing what worked and what didn’t. Even when I just look at old pictures of myself, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride. Having a level of fitness is something that can’t be bought with money but rather with discipline, dedication, passion, patience and self-respect.

One day my hope is that I will be able to help others achieve this for themselves, the sense of triumph for the accomplishment of fitness and the discipline instilled in order to maintain it. And I know that pursuing an education in exercise science is the next step to do that. As I had wanted to do the year before I applied to several schools, one of which was my dream school, John Carroll University. I have always had a seed of doubt in my mind that I’d ever be accepted but thankfully I was. Being a member of the John Carroll Community will finally give me the opportunity to have the positive school and life experiences that I had ripped away from me for all those years.

While I don’t know exactly what the future may hold, I am confident that I have the resolve and determination to accomplish my goals. My cancer journey has impacted my life in every way imaginable. I will be 3 years off treatment March 17th, 2020. As I move forward in life, I will never forget the principle of struggle.”

Garrett you are wise beyond your years and have taken the struggle and made it count. Best of Luck!

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