MHH had an opportunity to catch up with 2015 recipient Daniela Calderon Lemus in Vegas in March. Here we are at Whole Foods in front of the Kombucha display.
"Life is full of wonderfully beautiful things – from the people you meet and the places you visit, to the warmth of the sun on a healthy body. One should truly appreciate the intricacies of life and the curiosities one encounters on a regular basis all through our able-body."
If there is one thing in the world you could change, what would it be and how would you do it?
Where do you see yourself 5 years after graduation?
I see myself fulfilling the role of a graduate student five years after graduation, hopefully participating in an internship that would allow me to further build upon my writing and overall creative process. If not a graduate student, I see myself writing as a contributor to magazines or online web articles, working hard to establish the foundation to a desired life-style magazine or a novel of choice.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
The chicken had nothing, but those on the other side of the road had everything.
What type of cancer were you diagnosed with and when?
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in early 2013 at the age of 16.
How did the diagnosis of cancer rock your world?
My cancer diagnosis was completely unforeseen and, quite honestly, devastating. My faith, no doubt, faltered at moments, but through the support of my family, I was able to continue on a path of hope and trust in the future. At the time of my diagnosis I had just turned 16 and was finishing my sophomore year of high school. Having to miss school – the only thing I ever considered myself to be good at and the most important aspect of my life – was completely distressing.
Describe the process of getting back into life after treatment
The process of getting back into life after treatment was emotionally draining. As a teenage girl, appearance and the judgments of others were extremely important aspects of my life. It seemed as though my self-esteem had been completely destroyed throughout treatment, what with hair loss and weight gain, so returning to school after having been gone for months was quite exhausting and uncomfortable. Sometimes I had the sensation that my own classmates were uncomfortable around my presence, and so I felt oddly ostracized – secluded from the friendships that I once had. Due to my poor physicality, I was unable to rejoin the sports I had participated in throughout high school, and returning to my studies was quite difficult. However, I did come to fully appreciate the friends that continued to show never-ending kindness and consideration for my state. With hard work, I was able to obtain straight As for both semesters of my junior year, and succeeded in assimilating back into life.
How has overcoming cancer made you stronger?
Overcoming cancer has granted me a renewed sense of hope and trust in all that is present in life. I have grown to accept both the positive and negative aspects of various situations, and continue to grow in appreciation for the smaller things that I once ignored. I am even more thankful for all the wonderful opportunities present and for all the people that continue to paint my life with love and happiness.
Many people aren’t familiar with the financial, physical, and emotional toll when treatment is over. Describe your process of recovery after treatment spiritually, emotionally, and financially.
I faced various obstacles regarding my spirituality throughout my treatment. Initially, I couldn’t help but question my own beliefs, frustrated by my situation and craving answers or a sense of comfort and reassurance. However, I was shown incredible kindness, love, friendship, and generosity throughout my treatment from most everyone I met – from the nurses and volunteers at hospitals, to the medical staff that helped reduce the cost of my medications. As a result, my faith continued to increase and my belief in a higher being was deeply fortified.
The entire period consisting of my treatment was emotionally draining and extremely tiring. Already an emotional person, I struggled with maintaining a strong appearance, not only for myself, but for those around me. I hoped that by remaining strong and emotionally stable, my family would continue on a steady path embodying courage and positivity.
Treatment, while vital for eventual recovery, is incredibly costly and can be financially destructive. My parents were forced to take countless days off work they could care for me, resulting in smaller paychecks despite growing medical expenses in addition to utility bills and the like. However, childhood cancer organizations and those such as My Hometown Heroes have greatly aided in alleviating financial pain and stress. Through the scholarship I received from My Hometown Heroes, I was able to purchase university textbooks that I would have had incredible trouble purchasing if not for their generous financial aid.
What does it mean to have a support community during cancer treatment?
A support community during cancer treatment is completely and utterly essential for a successful recovery. I was granted a sense of relatability by being able to meet other childhood cancer survivors and patients. I was able to distract myself from my own situation and learned to focus my attention on healthier aspects of my life, such as family and friends.
What does it mean to receive scholarship money to help you achieve your academic goals?
Receiving scholarship money for university was absolutely amazing. School has always been the most important component of my life. Following the completion of my treatment and my return to school, I was able to obtain straight As for all semesters of my junior and senior year of high school. I was accepted to my dream universities, UCLA and NYU, but it was the overwhelming financial cost of the schools that eventually prevented me from ever attending. Being granted scholarship money has greatly lessened the stress of having to purchase textbooks and pay tuition.
How has the MHH scholarship helped you?
The MHH scholarship has helped me immensely. Previously, my family only had a single computer – a laptop that all four of us shared. My younger sister and I often fought over possession of the laptop, with both of us being in urgent need to complete homework and essays. With the MHH scholarship, I was able to purchase a laptop that I now use for school, and with the leftover money, I purchased all necessary textbooks for my first semester of college. I do not know where I would be now or if my situation would have been resolved had I not received this cherished scholarship.
Top 3 things you are grateful for since remission.
The top 3 things I am grateful for since remission are being able to graduate high school with an Advanced Honors diploma and #9 in my class of over 500 students, being able to spend time with my family following the end of my treatment, and meeting extremely kind people through the various cancer organizations I joined.
Top 3 life goals (places you’d like to visit, things you want to do, etc.)
1. As an English major, my ultimate goal is to write a novel in the genre of realistic fiction
Biggest take-away(s) from your cancer experience
Life is full of wonderfully beautiful things – from the people you meet and the places you visit, to the warmth of the sun on a healthy body. One should truly appreciate the intricacies of life and the curiosities one encounters on a regular basis all through our able-body.
Words to live by
“Very little is needed to make a happy life.” – Marcus Aurelius
Any other comments about survivorship and resilience?
Hope is the most important thing that one must maintain during treatment. Hope for recovery, for time with family, for a healthy body, and for a happy life.