Writing Catalog

David Jennings

Grade: 12

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Jim Garrett


Personal Essay & Memoir


My identity is defined by a story I tell myself even though my mother wishes I would not. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with nephroblastoma. While I believe I need to embrace being a cancer survivor, my mother hoped my story would become a distant memory. During the years following my illness, I thought about cancer only when visiting the hospital for follow-up appointments. However, in high school, it became apparent to me that having cancer has had a profound effect on me. Cancer taught me how to be determined and resilient at a young age. For that, I will always keep the memory alive and define myself as a cancer survivor.

In May 2008, my father noticed a lump on my abdomen. Upon evaluation at the hospital, I was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor. My left kidney was removed the next day. I underwent six rounds of chemotherapy over six months. Although I still attended preschool and camp, my life abruptly changed. I lived through and beat cancer with the support of my amazing doctors and parents.

In the years following my treatment, I continued to confront obstacles using the skills I acquired from fighting cancer. Facing adversity has always come easily to me. I've always been a person who encounters challenges rather than allowing them to intimidate me. Being a young kid, I was too preoccupied with life to think about how my illness affected me long-term. I never made the connection that my tremendous strength is rooted in surviving cancer. As I matured into a teenager, I became more introspective. This was when I realized that my toughness is directly related to my struggle with cancer.

I can't recall the exact moment I made the connection between my courage in fighting cancer and my ability to confront challenges as I've grown up. The same intense drive I felt at three years old to defeat cancer is the same feeling I hold today when confronting conflicts to reach my goals. There is no better enjoyment to me than the victory of overcoming an obstacle. I remember my friends clapping for me after I finished chemotherapy. That sense of triumph is a thrill I've craved ever since. My desire for success is nearly an addiction for me.

More recently, this craving to achieve success gave me the tenacity to prove to myself I could make varsity basketball, something that has always been important to me. My grandfather, a former college basketball player, is the primary reason I love the game. As a child, he took me to the local school to shoot baskets together. Playing basketball is a way I remain connected to him. Following my JV basketball season sophomore year, my coach indicated that my chances of making varsity were slim. Initially, this was devastating to me, and I lost my confidence. Soon after, I realized with extensive practice, I could improve enough to make the team. I spent countless hours in the gym prior to my junior year, determined to prove to myself I could beat the odds. My hard work paid off, and I was a large contributor to last year's varsity team. My coach called me "the hardest working player he ever coached," tearing up in front of my team as he recalled the relentless effort I'd shown. While it was rewarding to prove to him I was deserving to make the team, it was more satisfying to prove it to myself.

In hindsight, cancer has served me well in life. Cancer taught me to confront challenges head-on and bounce back successfully. The resilience I gained from my experience has persisted as a significant trait ever since. My mother now understands how my ability to thrive when presented with obstacles is directly related to being a cancer survivor. I absolutely have the skills necessary to fight any battles I encounter going forward.