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Application Essay: I Had Cancer

Application Essay: I Had Cancer

By Miss Marm

Jodi writes about a harrowing experience in her application essay. Check out her story.

A teacher once told me that if a person lives a perfect and uneventful life, he or she wouldn’t actually be living a life at all; the tribulations and obstacles in life are what make life worth living. Even at a young age, I knew that this was true. When I was eleven years old, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer too common in growing children my age. I left school to undergo daily treatments of chemotherapy. Every day for a year, chemicals were pumped through a medical port near my heart. As my body fought both the medicine and my tumor, my muscles grew sore. My hair fell off. Life became increasingly difficult. I felt like my body was fighting against me. My friends at school kept contact with me in the beginning, but soon, their lack of compassion strained our relationships; I stopped speaking to them shortly after I had my first major surgery.

I closed off connections with life outside of my world. My family members were afraid to do anything, but kept pushing me to reconnect with my friends and go out. I never did, and I would criticize their actions no matter what they did. I was stuck in a self-made bubble, watching the rest of the world change and evolve. Before I knew it, my course of chemotherapy was over, and I returned to a completely different life at school. It was hard to fit back into such a carefree and unaffected place, but I did. I regained control of my body, my hair grew back, and I grew close to my friends again. I realized that while I was isolated from the effects of time, everyone else was not. Eventually, I returned to a normal life, until the beginning of my sophomore year, when I was diagnosed with a recurrence of osteosarcoma. However, this time, I was not as isolated; my friends and family were far more supportive this time. It was not easy to have friends come to visit me who did not know what to say. As I look back on it now, I see that it was equally my fault because I didn’t know what to tell them. Chemotherapy seemed to pass by faster with their encouragement, and we developed a better and deeper bond. Cancer was a large part of my life, and it will always have a huge impact on my growth as a person. At first, I treated having cancer as what it was- a devastating disease, but as I grew older, I realized that it was a blessing in disguise. This experience has taught me a lot of life lessons, ones that you wouldn’t be able to learn from a book. Ranging from humility, inner strength, and the importance of family and friends, they all have had lasting impressions on me.

Sparker, you have true grit. It's obvious that you met your unthinkable challenge with grace and strength. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Here are a few suggestions to consider as you revise:

Use paragraphs. Paragraphs make your essay easier to read and (ideally) force you to organize your thoughts into units of words. Use them.

Start strong. I'll admit, I was skimming a bit until I got to this sentence: "When I was eleven years old, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer too common in growing children my age," at which point I gasped a little. Dispense with the throat-clearing introduction, and jump right into your story. Your reader will be instantly hooked.

Be more specific. As you say, you learned many life lessons from this experience—in fact, I'm sure a library full of books wouldn't give you enough space to capture all the lessons you learned. For the purposes of this essay, though, it's important to choose just one key lesson, and explain it fully. Feel free to mention "humility, inner strength, and the importance of family and friends," as you do here, but then narrow your focus. There are a few passing comments in this draft that jump out at me as potential themes for your essay:

  • Isolation—cutting yourself off from the outside world, and then finding your way back to it
  • Wordless friendship—the way neither you nor your friends knew what to say during their visits to your hospital room (and, potentially, the fact that their mere presence was comforting?)
  • Untimely maturity—your post-chemotherapy realization that your friends' high school world was shockingly "carefree and unaffected," and how you coped with feeling like a visitor to a strange planet
  • The sweet side of tragedy—how, exactly, you gradually came to see cancer as a blessing in disguise (do you appreciate your favorite foods and other small delights more? Let small stresses slide? Value your parents?)

Essentially, you have too much great material here. To make your essay as successful as possible, you must choose just one key theme and run with it. Good luck!

Sparklers, flex your peer-editing muscles and tell Jodi your suggestions for improvement.

Topics: cancer, college admissions, college application essays, peer editing

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