Long story short, I survived


Stephanie Paauwe

I had a lot of love and support throughout my time in the hospital.

Brooklyn Paauwe

“But, as bad as it was, I learned something about myself. That I could go through something like that and still survive.” I was done with physical therapy and finally close to being back to normal again. Once cancer happened, it changed the way I lived for the rest of my life. From being diagnosed at the age of 3, I now at the age of 16 constantly wonder what my life would’ve been if it had never happened. How much more free my life would feel, how many more opportunities I may have had.

Curiously, I’m almost grateful it did happen, because if it didn’t I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I’m proud of the person I am, because no matter what I went through and how many rough patches I go through, I become even stronger and more proud of myself each and every day. As a teenager fighting with cancer, I tried to live my life as normal as possible, doing the things that most teenagers are into. Most of the time as I was going through this, I felt very alone. I may have had family and friends by my side, but I had no one that truly understood what I was going through, and how belittling this feeling was.

In October of 2019 I went to the DeVos Children’s hospital for a normal routine MRI scan. Instantly when I got home that day I knew something was off. I didn’t know for sure what was off, but this time felt different from the rest. From all of the MRI’s I had I knew there was always a chance of the cancer coming back, I just didn’t know it would be so soon. About a week after my scan, the nerves went away and I went on about my day, Halloween approached. I was super excited because Halloween is one of my favorite holidays; that day I didn’t know that it would all change. I felt really good that day. I was excited to hang out with my group of close friends and we’d get ready together to go out trick or treating, but as soon as my mom picked me up and she had said the doctor called, my heart sank. She had missed the call but was going to call back as soon as she could. She dropped me off at my sister’s house in the meantime and my sister and I were watching a movie when my mom came back over. She seemed different from the hour before when she had dropped me off. I knew something bad was about to happen when she told me we needed to go downstairs and talk about something.

Of course at first I was in denial, but in the back of my mind I knew the talk we were about to have. I put off going downstairs for about 5-10 minutes, my excuses consisted of “Oh I need to use the bathroom” or “Can we just finish this movie first?” Although eventually when it didn’t work, I got up and followed my mom into the downstairs living room. We sat down on the couch and she began with “So I called the hospital back and talked to your doctor and they saw something concerning on the results..” Instantly tears started to fill my eyes, I was in shock. Never did I think that I would be going through this again. Especially at this age.

The next step after finding out was finding a surgery date and what was all involved in the surgery. We talked to my oncologist and we had a plastic surgeon come in to have a consultation about what would all go down in the operating room. We scheduled a date for December 11. When it came to surgery day, i felt quite calm, I knew that this was only the beginning of a long recovery and journey. The surgeons needed to take a chunk of muscle out of my calf in order to get to the tumor. This caused me to be in a cast from under my knee all the way down to my foot, being in the cast for a few weeks caused my ankle to tighten from not being able to move it. And that led to not being able to properly walk on my leg at all. I went to physical therapy for this, and after about 2 months, I was finally able to walk again. Going to physical therapy took such a toll on my body on top of still emotionally recovering from the last two months of my life. It drained the energy out of me immensely. I have been stuck with more needles, had surgeries, and more scans than a lot of people but the recovery of it all, definitely had to be the hardest part of it all. Especially emotional recovery.

Going back to school was super hard. The amount of stares I got going back in a wheelchair, when I would go down the hallway and look up to see people quietly whispering to their friends about me as I passed them. It was almost harder that all my classmates knew what had happened, because I didn’t want them to think of me any differently, but that’s exactly what they did. I could tell, people were treating me differently, some people didn’t believe that I did have cancer, and some I hadn’t talked to in years were actually talking to me now.  It’s crazy how much people can change in just a few moments.

Recovery consisted of many things, keeping up with PT a few times a week, trying out counseling to help with my mental health, experiencing trauma, nightmares, intense flashbacks and even more intense emotions. I was filled with so much anger and grief. I would think to myself on a constant basis, “What did I do to deserve this again? Am I doing something so wrong in life that I get hit with this? What have I done that God has given me this horrible battle to fight?” I just wanted to know why. And to that I will never get the answer to.

During this time I was battling depression, and the emptiness I felt was heavier than it had ever been. There were many days when I would try to distract myself with jokes, but it didn’t always work. I was surviving day by day, living each day like it could be my last. I could sometimes forget how precious your life can be, and how lucky I am to still be here, living when people are losing their lives daily. Life should be more than just surviving.

People say to me all the time, “Oh, you’re so strong.” But what else can I be? When I come off so emotionally mature at such a young age, it’s almost like people don’t hear me, or they dismiss all the trauma you’ve been through because I hear the ‘you’re not mature you’re only a child’. And as a kid and even going into my teenage years there was never a day when I didn’t say to myself “why can’t I be like the other kids?” I never understood why all this happened to me, of all people.  So, as I am going into the 3rd year of clear scanning after surgery, my body is still dealing with the struggles of my health and low immunity, constantly sick and sometimes not being able to partake in normal high school life, along with living with the constant fear of the unknown because it is such a rare type of cancer. In 2024, It will hopefully be 4 years of clean scans which means I will finally be in remission. So, maybe this fight was worth it after all.