Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Fight Against Cancer - Ariana Argueta ’12

As part of the UCSF community, we are privileged to know people that have experienced hardships while having to relocate for treatment. All of our families come from at least 50 miles away similar to this family. The Argueta family allowed us to share this story with the Family House community.   

My Fight Against Cancer
Ariana Argueta ’12

September 11, 2009, was the day my world was turned upside-down. Typical teenage girls usually think about boys, grades, and sports—all normal things that I was focused on, too, prior to my own 9/11. That was the day I was diagnosed with brain cancer, and, from then until now, cancer has been on my mind most of the time.
When I first heard the word “cancer” two years ago, I knew the stereotypes associated with people who have it, but I didn’t really understand what was going to happen to me. I told myself that I might just have surgery, miss a few weeks of school, and then get back to life as usual. At the same time, I immediately started worrying about losing all my hair. Though I knew it would grow back, I also knew I would have to look like a different person for some time. The doctor said I would have a little scar. It wasn’t long before the reality of what I was facing became clear.
My surgery took seventeen hours to completely remove the tumor. I later found out my parents had been told I might not walk, talk, or eat on my own again afterward. My treatment was just getting started.
In the year after my surgery, I experienced monthly chemotherapy and radiation as an inpatient at UCSF Hospital. During the first six weeks of my treatment, my parents and I had to live in San Francisco. We had to leave my younger sister and Grandma behind. We had to leave our normal lives behind. Due to the radiation therapy, I did lose a significant amount of my hair. The little scar the doctor said I would have did not turn out to be quite so little. My self-esteem took a big hit. On top of that, I was underweight; I had a significant weight loss of 27 pounds, and there was no easy way of gaining it back when I had no appetite at all. I felt that I had lost my identity, and I realized this was still just the beginning of a long battle.
Once I came to terms with losing my hair and the other changes in my appearance, I began to worry about all the homework assignments and confirmation classes I would be missing. I wondered whether or not I would ever catch up. School has always been a top priority for me. Thus, falling behind in classes and not being able to graduate with my class was one of my biggest concerns. Although I knew I had the support of my teachers, missing so much class affected my confidence in my ability to do well in school. And the surgery and the cancer treatments did make learning harder for me than it was before—particularly memorization. But I came to school when I could and kept going.
I was asked recently which was worse— getting diagnosed with cancer or going through the treatment—and I have to say that the fear and the uncertainty around getting diagnosed might have been the worst of it. But I never asked, “Why me?” I didn’t dwell on that. Once the treatment started, I just took each day as it came.
Besides the sickness itself and the different treatments (which also made me sick), what was hard for me was the realization that my relationships were changing. Old friendships disappeared. People I had been close to moved on. I started to feel that people feared me. New friendships that I made in the hospital turned out to be very short-lived. A baby boy I knew died after six months. My family and I were always committed to the Catholic Church, but these experiences made my faith more and more important to me. And that brings me to a bright spot in my story.
In March 2010, I was interviewed by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They asked me what my greatest wish was. I am not sure how I would have answered that before I had cancer, but material things interested me a lot less than they used to, so I told them that, if I could go anywhere in the world and meet anyone, I would like to meet the Pope, who is so special to my religion. Somehow, the Make-A-Wish Foundation made it happen, and on October 20, 2010, my family and I went to Rome, and I had an audience with the Pope. When I was asked about my impressions of the event, I remembered that I really couldn’t understand much of what the Holy Father said to me. His German accent was very strong, there was classical music playing loudly in the background, and people in the crowd were shouting, “Papa! Papa!” But it didn’t matter that I couldn’t quite make out what he said. The Pope’s gaze was very powerful. There was something about his eyes. And when he took my hand, I noticed his very large gold ring set with a red stone. I had the feeling that this was the closest I could get on Earth to meeting God. It was truly magical. The Pope’s blessing left me feeling empowered and really has helped me cope with my difficulties.
This is a very small snapshot of my life in the last two years. During my fight against cancer, I have realized that my faith and family are the most important things to me. Through the difficulties, I have learned a lot about myself. My faith in God has grown immensely. I have learned to put worries like regaining my weight, growing my hair, and graduating with my class in His hands. I have also learned to truly value my family, because they have demonstrated unconditional love and support for me. Cancer may have changed me forever, but it does not define me. The way I choose to live does. I have learned not to worry about the small things in life and literally to live one day at a time, because we can’t control yesterday or tomorrow. Today is the only reality we can live in. We have to make it count.

Ariana Loren Argueta, our "Ari", was given to us by God on February 3, 1994. On September 11, 2009 Ariana was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer and returned home to our Holy Father on November 17, 2012. 

Click here to learn more about Family House families:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Volunteer Spotlight - Lauren Cope

Check out our Volunteer Spotlight - Lauren Cope. She managed our High School Volunteer Program in the summer of 2012. We also just honored her in December as our Volunteer of the Year!

Get involved with Family House! Learn more at http://www.familyhouseinc.org/volunteer.html