This month is International Childhood Cancer Survivors Month.
As Childhood Cancer International states: by recognizing them, bringing them together, honouring their struggle, capturing their journeys and giving them spaces to be seen and heard, we show our survivors how much we value and care for them.
Here is the story of one survivor: Samuel, age 15, who wanted to share his story and have people understand what cancer survival is really about.
I’m not so different from other people…
Yes I am slower and I have more trouble than others, this is true.
But I’m not so different from them really. I don’t come from another planet!
I’ll be 15 years old soon. I was 3.5 years old when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I don’t remember having cancer, or the treatment or hospitalizations, but the hospital has always been part of my life and I still have to go for checkups every two years.
At home I never felt that I was different, but once I started school I began to feel that I was not like the others.
In fact, my earliest memories linked to cancer are actually related to the school.
I remember my teacher getting angry because I couldn’t use scissors properly or zip my jacket.
Some classmates avoided me because they had been told that I was sick. They were afraid of me actually.
Others began to make fun of me and tease me until I would cry.
A bigger girl started defending and it reassured me to see that there were people who were there to help me.
But I learned that it doesn’t always work to react or to defend yourself. I accepted the fact that others teased me because if I reacted they would come charging in order to humiliate me.
This was very difficult for me because I was always left out. The teachers had neither the time nor the patience to explain the lessons to me slower or make sure I had understood. To them, the class had to move forward in the program and it was not their problem to find a solution to help me. It was my problem, and my parents.
From what my parents told me, the tumour I had was inside the cerebellum, which affected my balance. It’s better now. The treatments, surgery and radiotherapy, have had significant effects on my memory, especially short-term memory, as well as concentration.
I know it’s because of this that I am slower.
Everything changed when my parents found a way to enroll me in a private school. It’s not easy for my parents because it’s expensive, but since I’m there I feel less different and above all I feel supported by the teachers.
I’m in a class of about 12 students, with teachers who take the time to explain even several times if necessary and give us techniques to help us learn things and remember them, and they help me with this memory of mine which lets go sometimes.
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me, and sometimes without knowing why, I suddenly just can’t concentrate any more.
But I’m proud because I am in the same program as the one given to public school. And I can do it!
I just need a little more time and a lot more effort than others.
The “others”, they were never cancer patients, they never had a brain tumour.
But I know one thing for sure: I will receive the same diploma as them.
Although most of my classmates prefer having friends who don’t have problems like I do, I do have a few more friends now. The friends I do have are important to me, because they understand that I’m not so different and I feel safe talking to them about my problems.
I used to avoid talking about the fact that I had cancer, and I disliked people knowing that I had some problems. But now I do want to talk about it and share my experience with others.
I know that I have to work hard, and that when I need to I’ll have to adapt and find other techniques to learn, other ways to get there, but I know what I want to do when I grow up: I want to be a landscape architect!
I think that public schools should find a solution, a better way to help children who have problems, to help them work better, learn better.
My little sister is at the public school, and sometimes even she has problems, although not like me. It annoys me because I know that even if teachers want to help, they don’t always have the time. She has tons of friends and I tell myself that if my parents were to put her in my school she would lose all her friends.
Then there’s my brother, who has such an easy time with everything. But one day I was able to teach him a technique I learned in my school and it helped him a lot.
Sometimes I wish I was like him. Lean things quickly and easily without even trying, have better grades, have more friends, be less slow.
Sometimes he loses patience with me and he does things for me because it’s faster.
I am cured although I have a lot of problems because of the cancer and the treatments.
I am cured and I realize that it could have been much worse.
I am cured and maybe I’m a little slower than the others, but I’m not so different than them.
I am cured and even though I know it will be very hard for me, one day I will be a landscape architect.
I’ve been doing rock and wall climbing as a sport for several years and I love it. I take swimming lessons although soon I’ll be stopping that because I’ll be part of the PASTEC program, which is sports therapy for kids who have had cancer.
I’m looking forward to starting something new, to do sports with other kids like me who have had cancer or are still in treatment. They will understand me, and they will like me.
I know that I must work hard, I will have to adapt and find other techniques, ways to get there, but I know someday, I will be a landscape architect!