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Teen Essays from the 2020 LISTEN™/Dear Cancer Writing Contest

Ali DeCamillis May 5, 2020

We are celebrating all the brave teens who shared their cancer stories! Read this year’s essays from the 2020 LISTEN™/Dear Cancer Teen Essay Writing Contest.

Izzy Simione – Age 15, Grade 10

“Dear Cancer,
Though you may break my heart. I’ll never let you break my spirit.
You’ve held a steady hold on my life since the day I was born, forcing my hand in a game I didn’t ask to play…”

Anonymous – Age 18, Grade 12

“Dear Cancer, 

            Although you’ve shattered countless hearts and turned people’s worlds upside down, including mine, surprisingly I would like to thank you.  However, before I explain my gratitude, I would like to describe my agonizing experience with you. “

Liberty Bissell – Age 16, Grade 11

            “My grandmother was my best friend when I was a young girl. She would babysit me every day while my parents were at work. She would teach me how to read or help me memorize all the presidents of the United States in order of which they were in office. She was one of my biggest role models growing up. But then, when I was just 6 years old, cancer took her away from me. Years later, cancer took my grandfather from our family as well. By taking some of the people I love most away, cancer taught me what death meant.”

Ella VanEngen – Age 16, Grade 11 (High School Second Place Winner)

“Dear Cancer: You stole my childhood. It’s definitely not what you want to hear from a cancer survivor, but to anyone who suffered from childhood cancer, it’s very true. It’s never something a kid should have to worry about, yet it consumes your life when you’re in the thick of it, and it will continue to follow you through life no matter how much you wish it wouldn’t.”

Amara Strande – Age 17, Grade 12 (High School First Place Winner)

“Cancer once was a foreign word I barely understood. Years before I was diagnosed with cancer, my Uncle Scott died from lung cancer, and my beloved piano teacher Mrs. Becker died from a type of cancer I can’t remember. I never imagined that I would fall into the same world they were once in. chemotherapy, radiation, surgery. Never in a million years.”

Paige Hermann – Age 16, Grade 11 (Grand Prize Winner)

“Dear Cancer,

You have changed my life in many ways. I could spend all my time wishing that all the damage you’ve done wasn’t there, wishing that you hadn’t taken so much away from me, and wishing that things were different. I could do all of that, but that won’t undo the damage that you have done.”

Julia Ruelle – Age 18, Grade 12

“Dear cancer, I am Julia. Until December 2017, I had never been in a hospital. I considered myself a model of good health – I ran daily and ate a balanced diet. When I abruptly became sick with debilitating headaches and nausea that changed. After weeks of fruitless visits to the doctor’s office, urgent care center, and emergency room, an MRI finally revealed the source: a brain tumor. It’s not so nice to meet you.”

Anonymous – Age 15, Grade 9

“Every year when my parents traveled to China and we visited my grandparents, I would always want to see my grandpa’s treasures. Each treasure, made from precious metals such as silver and jade, were shaped into different figures such as a Buddha and a fish. I felt like a royal touching something so prized and inestimable. I would spend hours looking through the unlocked drawer that contained so many different treasures. I would always ask “how much is this one worth?” My grandpa would explain to me that it is the experience that matters, not the price of the item.”

Anonymous – Age 16, Grade 12

“Then Auntie Jingyan, you walked up from behind without notice and asked, “why don’t you try it?” My first reaction was, “I don’t like it,” but then you asked, “have you tried it before?” I gave a subtle “no….” You then proceeded to open the bag and get a piece of the fruit, “How can you not like something you have never tried?” I had a moment of courage and took a small morsel of the stinky fruit…That was the last encounter I remember having with you. A month later, you stopped all treatments for breast cancer.” 

Laura Gillespie – Age 13, Grade 7 (Middle School Second Place Winner)

“Dear: Cancer; Do you ever see the faces of your victims? Do you ever care enough to stop and see those who you were slowly draining the life from? Have you ever felt the tears falling or your voice failing or the darkness creeping up and threatening to swallow you when you try to talk to your friends and family? Have you ever wondered if you are going to come out okay? No. You don’t. You just sit there, in the dark, growing and spreading and getting stronger, cherishing the sight of the world collapsing in front of you. But there is still one thing that you can never steal, kill, or even touch. Because hope will never be your victim.”

Autumn Loven – Age 14, Grade 8 (Middle School First Place Winner)

“Dear cancer, you’ve been all to familiar this past year. Up until last november 6, I had known you to do one thing and one thing only, kill my grandpa. He died before I was born so I never thought it to be too sad that he had cancer, because I would never have to remember the pain of losing him. I had a view of cancer to be bad and I would always feel bad for people who knew and were people who were diagnosed with it; but never thought it would happen to me. Talking about cancer was never really that hard either because I thought I knew I had nothing to fear, that my family would never experience such a horrible thing. So when I first heard that my brother was diagnosed with Leukemia; I was shocked.”