Editorial: Student says cancer battle was a test of faith


Photo: Stephanie Woodruff/The Simpsonian)

by Gabe Henderson, Special to The Simpsonian

There are so many feelings going through you during your first semester of college.

It is difficult to know what to expect.

What you absolutely do not expect is the toughest thing in your life to storm in and smack you in the face right at the start of the biggest transition thus far in your life.

About three weeks into my first semester at the University of Northern Iowa, I noticed a spot on my abdomen.

I had no symptoms at all, but I was definitely concerned because I had never noticed it before. I ended up going to get it checked out.

The original appointment resulted in the scheduling of a biopsy to see what they could gather.

Concluding the biopsy, they told me there was a benign mass that I needed to get removed through surgery.

I was so relieved that it was benign.

I came in for a check-up about a week following the surgery.

I was in a great mood before the fact, expecting to be informed that everything was fine and is looking great.

The doctor shared the final pathology on the mass concluding the surgery.

Right then I was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer normally found in younger children.

That day and the many to follow, feeling emotional was an understatement.

I left scared, confused, in disbelief and in denial, but none of it mattered.

The next step was to figure out the plan of action in terms of treatment.

This particular type of cancer had the potential to spread into the bone marrow.

Therefore, I underwent a biopsy in my lower back, which was much more painful than what they had informed me it would be.

I had strong enough bones to bend two giant needles, so I felt pretty cool about that afterwards.

Thankfully, the results from that procedure came back clear. Radiation and chemotherapy began Thanksgiving week in 2015.

Twenty-two radiation treatments over a five-week span and 12 chemotherapy treatments occurred every two weeks and lasted roughly six hours each time.

As awful as the experience was and how sick I felt for nearly six months straight, I like to focus on the positives in the situation.

Since I finished treatment in April 2016, I have been asked many times what the positives and negatives were from my journey.

To be honest, the only negative I could gather is the way it made me feel.

Yes, being sick was not fun, but the number of positive effects greatly overpowers that one negative I could come up with.

A battle such as this brings out strength in you that you really don’t know you possess until there is no other choice but to find it.

Something like this significantly tests your faith.

Fortunately for me, my faith became much stronger.

You really gain a perspective on what is truly important versus the little things that don’t really matter, but seemed so important at one point in time.

You discover the people that are truly meant to be in your life, just as you unfortunately find out who is meant to drift away.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and went on a trip with a group of fellow survivors.

We went white water kayaking on the New River in West Virginia.

One purpose of the trip was to encourage us to live life to the fullest because you never know what will get thrown at you.

The motto for this organization is “Outliving It,” which I will live by forever.

During this short one-week trip, the people who were once strangers were now family.

Now, I think of all of my friends as family.

Being a part of this organization is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Now I know it was always meant to be a part of my life.

I could not imagine my life any other way.

Everything in my life has happened for a reason and I am thankful for every little thing.

I am now much stronger in my faith and much stronger as an individual, and that is all I could ever ask for.