My journey isn’t over: talking about teen cancer

by Lindsey Laverty, Souderton congregation

Teen Cancer Awareness Night
Teen Cancer Awareness Night included a coffee house of assorted desserts and artwork created by students. (left to right) Christopher Dock students Vanessa Miller, Abigail Anderson, and Melissa Glass.

In February, I was privileged to have my vision for a Teen Cancer Awareness Night come true.  The event was held on February 23 at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, where I am a junior, in honor of my 19 year old sister Emilee, who passed away on November 1 of dedifferentiated chordoma.

At first, my only hope for the night was that it would inspire people to talk about teen cancer, a topic people generally avoid. As I researched teen cancer further, however, I was shocked to find that teens and young adults with cancer have been ignored. Research shows that when it comes to cancer, the medical field is not quite sure what to do with this age group.

My purpose for the night blossomed into the idea that not only did people need to begin to talk about teen cancer, they needed to learn more about it. Originally, my plan was to have someone from the medical field come talk, but I realized that hearing the facts would not be as helpful as hearing the stories and experiences of teens themselves.

Thus began the process of assembling a student panel, which would act as a voice for all teens with cancer. As I got into contact with students it became clear to me that God had already hand picked them. Each of them had a different perspective, a unique story, and an inspiring message. In the end, the student panel was made up of Chad Burger, a 2012 graduate of Souderton High School who is still undergoing treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma, Kayla McClanahan, a freshman at Upper Bucks Christian School who lost her sister to brain cancer, Leah Moore, a 2010 graduate of Christopher Dock who was diagnosed with nodular melanoma and is currently cancer free, and myself.

Teen Cancer Awareness Night
(left to right) Lindsey Laverty, Kayla McClanahan, Leah Moore, Chad Burger, and interviewer Jessica Finlayson.

After the event, I had many come up to me and tell me the student panel is what impressed them most. The topics ranged from planned interview questions to audience questions. In fact, the audience was so involved that their questions took more than an hour.  Each student contributed stories, advice, and reflections that I will never forget.

Kayla confronted the belief that because it’s been a year since her sister passed away, she should get over it. “Just because my sister died doesn’t mean that it’s over,” she said.  “My journey isn’t over, it’s still every day.”

Chad encouraged people to be honest with teens that have cancer, saying, “Don’t shy away from things, talking-wise and question-wise.”

Leah expressed how many times when she tried to talk to her friends about how she was doing or what she was feeling, they often seemed uninterested and consumed in their own lives. “They seemed to just want to talk about their lives,” she shared.  “To me that was like, excuse me?” All of us agreed that feeling a sense of normalcy was what we all strived for most.

Teen Cancer Awareness Night was attended by more than 250 people and raised $5000 for cancer research. It went beyond my wildest dreams and I can confidently say it is because of God: He brought together the student panel, the creation and donation of the student artwork, and all the desserts for the coffee house. God blessed the night and, through my work on organizing it, showed me what happens when my passion meets the world’s need.

Find out more about teen cancer at teenslivingwithcancer.org.

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