Different Like You: Miya Has Cancer
I couldn't wait for my summer to begin last year! My Girl Scout troop had worked hard to raise money for a week-long trip to Europe, so I was all set to kick off my break by touring the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham Palace with my friends.
But in late April 2015, something just didn’t seem right with my body. My abdomen looked really bloated, and I could barely eat a few bites of food without feeling full and getting heartburn. I had pain just breathing, and felt like my stomach was going to burst.
I’ve always been really in touch with my body. I was born with a genetic condition called sickle cell disease, which can cause pain in my back, legs, and arms—but this pain was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. So my mom took me to see my doctor, who sent me for an ultrasound. A technician put a gel-like goo on my belly, ran a wand over it, and looked at an image of my abdomen on the screen. It revealed a tumor on my ovary, plus four liters of fluid around it!
That was a Friday, and by Monday, I was having surgery to remove the tumor to find out what it was. I was scared—in the back of my mind, I worried: What would happen if something went wrong? But I figured I just had to get it over with. Then I could go back to school a few weeks later and get on with my life.
A Scary Diagnosis
Four days after the surgery, I got unexpected news. The mass was actually what’s called a malignant, or cancerous, germ cell tumor—and instead of finishing my freshman year and traveling that summer, I’d have to get treatment. As the diagnosis sank in, I got scared: Was treatment going to work? Was I going to die?
Every three weeks, I had to go to the hospital for five days of chemotherapy and hydration. During treatment, I’d stay in bed, watching movies or using my phone—but by the time those five days were up, I was so tired and weak that I couldn’t really leave my house. You know how you feel when you have the flu? Tired and achy and like you don’t want to eat anything? That’s how I felt all summer long.
I tried to be brave during my treatment. I kept thinking about my dad, who died when I was 6, and how he would want me to keep my head up. But the one time I really broke down and cried was when my hair and eyebrows started falling out. I felt so insecure and self-conscious. It got even worse when I went back to school last September—I hated wearing a head scarf and having everyone stare at me.
And it still bothers me to look at the scar from my surgery. No one can see it, but for me it’s this constant reminder of what I went through and how my life has changed.
Maybe the most surprising part of treatment for me was that some of my old friends pulled away from me during it—I think it was too hard for them to be in a hospital and see me hooked up to tubes and machines.
Other people really came through, though. An acquaintance from my gym class named Kianna visited me all summer and made me feel normal again, like I wasn’t even sick. She’d joke around, but she’d also talk honestly, asking me how bad it hurt and if she could see my scar. I’ll never forget a text I got from her one night: “I’m really glad that you’re gonna be OK, because I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t here anymore.” We’re still really close—I feel like I can tell her anything.
I get regular scans now, which are tests that make sure the cancer hasn’t come back. If the scans continue to go well for 18 months post-treatment, I’ll be considered cancer-free. I wish I could fast-forward to that date! I just want people to treat me like I’m normal again, because I’m still the same me inside. I love doing silly dances and making jokes out of everything. I love fashion and shopping and hanging out with my friends.
Then again, I guess dealing with cancer has changed me in some ways. I feel more mature and more outgoing—like I don’t have anything to hide—and I’m more motivated than ever too. I’m determined to make up for last summer with stories from this year’s Girl Scout trip to Toronto, my best friend’s Sweet Sixteen, and a trip to Milan, Italy, that the Make-a-Wish Foundation is sending me on.
I want to do everything I had to miss out on . . . and more! Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never know what can happen tomorrow.
3 Things Miya Wants You to Know:
1. Find a confidant. It was hard for me to open up, but I’m glad I shared my feelings with my grandmother and a few close friends.
2. Trust your gut. You know your body best! Be honest with your doctors about things that worry you or just seem off. They’re there to help.
3. Don’t judge people. You never really know what’s going on behind the scenes in someone’s life.
Miya's Favorite Things
MUSIC: R&B artists like The Weeknd and Beyoncé make me happy!
SUBJECT: History! I like learning about famous historical figures I can relate to, like Rosa Parks.
BOOK: Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen—it’s such a cute love story.
PLACE TO VISIT: Italy, because it's one of the fashion capitals of the world.
DREAM JOB: I want to be a fashion designer. I love how dressing up makes me feel more confident, and I want to make others feel that way too.
TV SHOWS: I love Grey’s Anatomy because it has a lot of drama, and Dr. Who because it’s interesting and makes me think.
Want to Help?
In 2000, 4-year-old cancer patient Alex Scott announced that she wanted to hold a lemonade stand to raise money to help find a cure for all children with cancer. Since then, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation has raised more than $120 million funding more than 550 grants for childhood cancer research. To learn how you can host at an event at your school, go here. When you sign up, you'll receive a free fund-raising kit, personal coach and printable signs and posters to get you started. You'll be doing your part to help eradicate childhood cancers like the ones Alex and Miya faced.