"Our thoughts are more powerful than cancer could ever be, and we have a right to claim that power in every situation." - Somer
If there is one thing in the world you could change, what would it be and how would you do it?
I would incorporate mindfulness practices and community service into the educational curriculum throughout the United States. I am grateful for my educational experiences, but I have also noticed how education has separated me from communities rather than connected me to them, specifically communities impacted by low-income and poverty. Mindfulness and meditation practices remind us of our shared humanity and the interconnectivity of citizens. Education teaches us the social barriers and sources of inequality that separate communities from enacting this interconnectivity. By combining mindfulness, education, and service, students have the opportunity to help alleviate the consequences of inequity while also learning how to prevent such disparity from existing in the first place.
Where do you see yourself 5 years after graduation?
Completing my PhD program in Sociology, with an emphasis in Nonprofit Media and Fundraising, and working with nonprofit leaders to help ensure their outreach material both respect and reflect the experiences of their beneficiaries.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
To help the other chickens
What makes you happy?
Volunteer projects, spending time with mom, learning new yoga poses, Friday afternoons
What type of cancer were you diagnosed with and when?
Hereditary Gastric Carcinoma in April 2011 (17 years old)
How did the diagnosis of cancer rock your world?
Since my father had been diagnosed with the same cancer a year before, this cancer ushered in emotional and physical challenges. I think it rocked my world when my father was diagnosed and cracked my world wide open I was diagnosed. At the same time, however, fighting this illness alongside my father taught me that there is so much more to this world than the trials we encounter.
Describe the process of getting back into life after treatment.
I did not re-enter the “real world”—life after cancer—gracefully at all. I was in this dance of in-between with sadness and confusion. Having lost my father one month after my recovery, I simply did not understand. Looking back, I realized that the point was not to understand, but to trust. Trust my strength to handle my emotions, trust my body to heal, trust that my mom and brothers were strong enough to handle the loss as well, and to trust my doctors, family, and friends to support me. My job wasn’t to fix or change the situation it was to trust that the situation served a higher purpose than cancer and loss.
How has overcoming cancer made you stronger?
I know this sounds incredible cheesy and straight from a Hallmark card, but I think it made me stronger by holding a space, a rather challenging space, for me to show up to the challenge and demonstrate power that I never knew I had.
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.
Spiritually. The process brought me closer to the Divine intelligence, whom I identify as God, that runs through all things—including me. I had to look at the simplicity of things a lot, like nature, and use it to remind me of my own power. I remember thinking thoughts like “If the world can reinvent itself every morning, so can my body.”
Emotionally. I had to learn to co-exist with my emotions rather than judge them. In the beginning stages of my treatment, my emotions would dominate my thoughts. Over time, through meditation, I learned that I wasn’t supposed to judge the emotions, rather I just needed to honor their presence, take what I needed to learn from them, and let go of the emotions that didn’t serve me.
Financially. For me, the finances were the scariest parts. My dad worked three jobs before cancer, and my mom worked full time as well. When my father passed away my mom was left to provide the emotional support of 2 parents and financial support of 4 jobs. This freaked.me.out. We had to make some adjustments, like moving into a smaller house and rearranging finances, but since I was applying to college at the time, I learned about scholarships and student jobs. Scholarships are the only way I was able to attend college, and with each application I learned more and more about my experience as a student and cancer survivor. Scholarship applications became moments of reflection and tremendously shaped my college experience.
What does it mean to have a support community during cancer treatment?
Because cancer treatments are new and scary our bodies, minds, hearts—everything shuts down. For me, I was not open to hope, new ideas, or help. I was resistant because it felt so much like strength, like something sturdy to stand on while I was going through the thick of it. My support community of family and friends helped me take down these walls of resistance and open up to receive help. Most importantly, my support team didn’t judge me for being so negative sometimes. They showed me such compassion and gave me time to open up to the possibility that things really could get better.
What does it mean to receive scholarship money to help you achieve your academic goals?
Receiving scholarship money to help me achieve my academic goals means the world! It is not just the financial support; it’s the energy that goes into providing these scholarships. It’s hard to explain, but as a recipient you feel more than just the scholarship money, you feel the love, dedication, and generosity that went into the scholarship as well.
How has the MHH scholarship helped you?
This scholarship has helped me by infusing my journey to Cambridge with so much hope! I have been so stressed over the financial details of studying abroad that I forgot to acknowledge what a gift it is to even be able to embark on this journey. It’s the financial help and support of this scholarship that motivates me and encourages me to keep going.
Top 3 things you are grateful for since remission.
1) The gift of having a sense of home and safety
2) Greater awareness of my body’s ability to heal itself
3) That something so scary also revealed to me the strongest parts of myself
Top 3 life goals (places you’d like to visit, things you want to do, etc.)
1) Become a certified yoga instructor for those who have experienced trauma
2) Sneak onto a movie set and pass as an Extra
3) Incorporate community-based learning and meditation practices in schools
Advice for other young adult cancer survivors.
Rob Buckman’s statement, “Cancer is a word, not a sentence" is a powerful reminder that we are so much more than the pain we experience. Our thoughts are more powerful than cancer could ever be, and we have a right to claim that power in every situation. Trials come with pain, but they also come with a choice—our cancer experiences can remind us to not let the pain distract us from the power of our choice. Cancer will always be present in our lives, and it definitely has changed us in inexpressible ways, but I think the beauty is that we get to choose how it changes us in every moment.
Biggest take-away(s) from your cancer experience.
It’s not all about me. My pain has made me more aware of the pain of others, and supporting others in their times of need is the highest purpose of my cancer experience.
Words to live by.
Nelson Mandela — “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”
Rumi — “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
Sukhraj S. Dhillon ― “Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen”
Unknown― “Don’t let a bad day make you feel like you have a bad life.”
More info on Somer's Hero Powers here.
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