Two decades ago, someone finally heard my complaints that my wrist hurt and didn’t attribute it to holding my pencil too tightly, growing pains, or the normal tendencies of a particularly klutzy 10-year-old.
Two decades ago, an on-call doctor at the local minute clinic was alarmed enough by my x-ray to suggest to my parents that we should see an orthopedist immediately.
Two decades ago, my school nurse was disturbed enough by my orthopedist’s recommendation to inject the bump on my wrist with steroids and urged my parents to seek a second opinion from a hand surgeon in New York City.
Two decades ago, when the bump turned out to be osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, that hand surgeon happened to know a surgeon at a hospital uptown who was experimenting with limb salvage as an alternative to amputation.
Two decades ago, the hospital uptown happened to have a dynamo pediatric oncologist who took my family under wing and started me on chemotherapy immediately.
Two decades ago, my parents had jobs that gave them health insurance and the flexibility to be with their hospitalized daughter as needed.
Two decades ago, my elementary school teachers, classmates, and parents rallied around a family desperately in need of support.
When most people see my right arm now, they don’t notice a thing. But every single day, I look down and thank my lucky stars that I happened to be born to two dedicated, employed, and insured parents in the United States, near New York City, where a school nurse could recommend a skilled surgeon, and skilled surgeons could try an experiment replacing my radius with my fibula at a hospital where a team of nurses—led by that dynamo oncologist—could make sure that I received the treatments and transfusions I needed, and within a community that was prepared to buoy my family—instead of stigmatizing them. Because if any one of these did not work out exactly right, I wouldn’t be here twenty years later.
I have one more reason to be grateful. Every day, I go to work at JSI, a company that allows me to explore with my colleagues how to make sure our success stories become the standard everywhere; that anyone diagnosed with cancer, regardless of where they live, can access treatment and networks of support. Where you live shouldn’t determine if you live.