The Jenga Dichotomy

The way I view my life was completely transformed by an innocent game of summer camp Jenga. I am a self proclaimed Jenga connoisseur, having dabbled in all the wondrous and terrifying forms of Jenga over the course of my eighteen years. There is nothing quite like the deadened hush that befalls a living room as one struggles to pull that wobbly block from within its wooden perch, palms sweaty but fingers steady as the block comes free. I have never experienced more exhilaration and angst than during a game of giant driveway Jenga, as I creep forward to pluck a two by four from the tower of blocks and scamper quickly backwards lest the wooden Jericho flatten me.

At summer camp, we played icebreaker Jenga, which is nearly as painful as it sounds, but not as painful as the dreaded two truths and a lie. In this version of Jenga, each block is etched with a question of profound depth usually ranging from the imaginative “what superpower would you love to have?” to the slightly more practical “do you prefer cats or dogs?”. Some questions, however, did possess a quality of heartfelt merit, like the one I finally wriggles free to the relief of my fellow campers, after much nail biting and duress, “what is the best thing that has ever happened to you?” My answer much like the toppling demise that ends a Jenga game, was instantaneous: cancer.

Until this point I had always viewed my battle with childhood cancer in a negative light. I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in January of 2009 at the age of four. I hated every aspect of my disease from the constant chemo and white washed hospital walls to the comments my fellow kindergartners made about my “bad haircut.” I wrestled for years after my diagnosis with survivorship as part of my identity. Survivorship was not a trait I desired or felt I had earned within the cancer community. After all, I only battled leukemia, the childhood cancer with the highest cure rate. Was I a survivor, or merely proof a widely accepted statistic?

My Jenga question, the block I freed so successfully from its wooden fortress had inadvertently caused my word to topple down and left pieces splayed all around me. Why? Why was my answer so instantaneous and concrete? Why did my subconscious seem certain that cancer was the best thing that had ever happened to me?

I began to think, the block still clutched in my sweaty palm, fingers no longer steady but trembling, other campers staring, wondering if I would elaborate on my answer so we could just move on with the game already. I thought about my experiences and the way I defined my survivorship as a burden instead of a gift. I wondered how my life could be different if I began to see my cancer experience as an opportunity to glean from the bountiful harvest of empathy and compassion for others my own suffering had instilled within me.

I cannot recall playing Jenga since that fateful day at camp, nor have I needed to. I am now constructing my own Jenga tower, each block represents a positive lesson I have pulled from my survivorship. The blocks of hope, empathy, gratitude, and a desire to see good in every situation. Every now and then a negative block plants itself within the tower, but i am ready for it. With a steady hand and satisfied grin, I wriggle the block free from the pile, discard it, and continue to build, always learning and always playing the wonderful game which we call life.

~~I Am Carolyn Thompson

Meet CHRISTIAN SPIVEY – WWE COMMENTATOR!!

When I was growing up, I had a dream job. However, my dream job is very unconventional. I grew up wanting to be a ring announcer or commentator for the WWE. I constantly played out matches with action figures, calling the action for no audience, dreaming of one day being part of the real show. I knew I needed field experience in some way, so a degree in communications is a great step in that direction. I believe that this scholarship will be both beneficial to my career, but will also benefit others with entertainment to put a smile on their faces.

The year was 2007. This was the year I fell in love with professional wrestling. I played the video games, I watched the product constantly, but what I find to be the most important, I began collecting action figures. In the presence of no one besides my parents, I put all my heart in to this fictional wrestling world that I came up with in my head. To me, wrestling was real, and I treated it as such. I was just a kid playing with toys, but in my head, I was the owner of WWE, creating dream match after dream match. This mindset stayed the same, but evolved as I started to figure out how this world really operated. Instead of contest, it became long-term booking. Instead of feuds, it became story lines.

Things changed in 2015 when I began live streaming pro wrestling video games. Under an alias, I streamed in virtual form what I had been doing for all those years with toys. I did the ring announcing and commentary myself, but I was not big enough to make an impact in the gaming world. I was still chasing the dream. In 2018, my dream became a reality when I became the ring announcer for West Georgia Wrestling Entertainment. Of course, this was my first real jump into the behind-the-scenes work of Pro-Wrestling. As time progressed, I felt like I was on Cloud Nine, but I still thought I could do more.

We signed on with another company and began to do television tapings. Our promoter began the search for a commentary team, and I saw this as an opportunity to broaden my horizons. I threw my name in the hat and was offered the position the next day. A few months later, I began my commentary journey as the promotion’s (now renamed Victory Championship Wrestling Georgia) play-by-play commentator. After some time of pulling “double duty,” I have evolved in both of these fields, but I have much to learn. The communications program at Columbus State will provide me with skills I have yet to obtain, and allow me to be a more confident on-screen personality.

Not only will this scholarship help me in the short-term, but I plan to carry this knowledge with me, even if my WWE hopes do not pan out. This degree can carry me into many different fields, such as news, sports, and performance art. In the long-term, I plan, no matter where I end up, to put a smile on the face of as many people as possible. Pro Wrestling has been a smile-producing product for over 50 years, and I want to be a part of that. However, other fields such as sports casting can produce similar results, and I will use this program to make lots of people happy, even in the darkest of times.

#CHRISTIANSPIVEY

Everything Happens For A Reason

It all started when I was eight years old, and my mother was diagnosed with B-cell leukemia. I was too young to understand how truly sick she was. I was scared to visit her at the hospital because I thought it was contagious. But I think the truth behind that, is that I did not like seeing my mommy so ill. With no hair and pale as a cloudy sky, she did not look like my mom that I have grown to know. I only wish I had visited her more often and had the change to say goodbye. I don’t even remember my last goodbye, because I didn’t think it was going to be my last.

Four years after my mom passed away, I was a healthy 12-year-old girl. I played on my school’s basketball team as well as traveling softball team. I just purchased tickets to an amusement park for my eighth-grade graduation (grad night), and my softball team made it to the World Series in Utah. All was well, till I found an odd lump the size of a grape in my groin area. I was near my private area, so I didn’t want to tell anyone. I thought it might be from puberty and it would go away. A few months go by and it grew to the size of a golf ball. I finally decided to tell my dads girlfriend who was a nurse. Upon examination, I can tell in her face right away it wasn’t good.

Within days I had seen multiple doctors, taken multiple tests with big machines, and had a lot of blood drawn. finally, my day and his girlfriend sat me down and had told me that i had cancer. The first thing I thought was I was going to die, just like my mom. My life was going so great. Why me?

Soon after, I started chemotherapy. I never got a chance to go grad night, or to my team’s world series. I was now stuck in a hospital attached to an IV pole, fighting for my life. I was a great fighter because I went into remission in almost 6-months. Although I was in remission, my oncologist continued with treatment, to ensure it was gone.

After winning my battle and living life as a survivor, I now know why me. Throughout my battle I had learned and appreciated so much. Mostly the care, comfort, and support from the nurses who took care of me. They are my inspiration for wanting to help others the way they helped me. My battle made me the altruistic person I am today. Without the struggles I had to face in my life, I don’t think that I would be where I am now. I am proud to be the first person in my family to go to college, and to be the only cancer survivor in my family.

I no longer ask myself, why me? I now know that everything happens for a reason. I was put down that path to learn those struggles, in order to help others to the best of my ability. I am now going to school for my RN BSN, and I am expected to graduate Spring of 2022. This was the “easiest 500 words or more essay to write in the world”, because I enjoy telling my life story. I hope my story encourages other to be strong, and strive for passion in what they believe in.

~~~~PRISCILLA DURAN

AUDREY SMITH IS A SURVIVOR!!

The medical field has always been a fascination of mine. When I was a little kid, my favorite game to play with my friends was doctor. I would come up with crazy scenarios, getting stung by a black sea urchin, or being bitten by a rattlesnake, and fake the treatment for the situation.

As I got older, I deviated from the medical field, but everything that I wanted to do, until I came back to the medical field, I wanted to help people. I wanted to be an immigration lawyer, and help immigrants. I wanted to become a marine biologist, and help the falling populations of sea life. I wanted to do something with the environment, and bring awareness to the state our planet is in. I then realized my love of biology, and came back to the medical field, finally deciding on my future career of nursing.

My aunt is a nurse, and when I was little, she would always bring me cool stuff from the hospital, and tell me stories about all the places that she had worked as a traveling nurse. When I came back around to the idea of becoming a nurse this past year, I realized how versatile the career is. One of my greatest fears is that I will get bored of the job that I choose, with nursing, that is virtually impossible. I love the science behind it, learning how the body works, and how things can go wrong. I love being able to help people, take care of them, and help to ensure that their quality of life is as good as it can be. I want to be the nurse in the hospital who is liked by her patients, the one that is strict when needed, but kind and fun when she can be.

One of my teachers this year, for my Medical Career and Tech Ed class, was a nurse for years before she decided to go into teaching. We do practical skills, and have even gotten to put in an IV on dummies, as well as learning how to do blood pressure, and measure vitals. Through this class, I have learned so much about what nursing truly is, and how many aspects of it there are.

I am exhilarated to be starting this next chapter of my life going to University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) to get my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. College is a time for new things, for new friends, but most importantly, to learn. I love being with like-minded people, and, since UNR has a full-fledged medical program, I will get to study with aspiring doctors and surgeons, as well as my future nursing peers. Even though I have deviated from going into the medical field, and hopped around in what I want to do in medicine, I am confident that this passion that I have for helping people, and for learning about the human body will stick with me for the rest of my life.

David Szklaruk Traipe is a SURVIVOR!!

Academic Goals

During high school, I had a biology teacher who opened my eyes to the sciences. Soon I started something I seldom did before: studying, not for a test, but out of a sheer passion for science. I began to spout information to my friends at lunch about the discovery I had made the night before. I’m sure spending time with amazing A&M science department professors, talking about the lives of ungulates or in the field with geese will inspire me further.

Despite how hard it is, single parenthood is the norm for a lot of families. My sister and I were born and raised by a single mother, who’s foreign to the United States, so I understand how it feels for single parents. Even though she can get overwhelmed with the amount of work she need to do to keep us afloat, she never let the pressure get to her. She always made sure my sister and I were educated, well-fed, and most importantly, happy. She was always making sure that Sarah and I were always, healthy, involved in athletic activities, and well acquainted with our community. No one has ever been prouder of my sister and me than her. Any time we beat a personal record in a swim competition or get a good score on an important test, she never looks more thrilled. Growing up, I didn’t realize how much my mom had to do to support our family, but when I was diagnosed with Leukemia, I started to understand.

There’s no doubt in my mind that my mother should have been devastated by this, and I’m sure she was in secret. But when she was in front of me in the hospital bed, she was always bearing a brilliant smile. Having my mother with me the whole time wasn’t much at the time, but it was comforting to know she was always there. My victory over cancer led me to believe all her struggles would eventually be over. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My outpatient treatment was tough on her too. Keeping afloat meant working harder than ever. In addition to these struggles, my mom also had to help cover my sister’s tuition. Despite these pressures, she never gave up. It didn’t matter how expensive or difficult the challenge was she kept a smile on her face. Even though there’s somewhat of a language barrier in this country, she continues to work hard and clear the bills with merit alone. When I find myself facing a challenge I can’t overcome, I just think of her and pick myself up to keep going.

My mom has been single since I was one, and despite how much it should be, I understand that single parenthood isn’t uncommon. However, since I’ve been diagnosed with Leukemia in 2016, my mom has been struggling month to month to keep up with hospital bills while also keeping my sister, Sarah Szklaruk Traipe, in A&M. It’s hard knowing that my mom is struggling because of something I couldn’t control, but I keep working to make her proud, and it’s my dream too.

~~~David Szklaruk Traipe

It’s Cancer…by Jade Finley

“It’s Cancer.”

Just 36 hours prior to hearing those words, I learned that my little brother would be missing school to see the doctor for a sore throat. I then pretended to have a sore throat, too. I was nine years old when my thyroid cancer was discovered, and it was only because I had faked an illness to miss a day of the fourth grade.

The word “cancer” had no meaning to me at age nine, but I soon learned that it would change my life forever. An MRI showed that the cancer had already moved to my lungs, so my treatment, in addition to a six-hour surgery to remove my thyroid gland, included radioactive iodine to destroy any remaining thyroid cells. Anytime I am asked to share something unique about myself, I have an uncommon response: I have been radioactive.

My surgery left me with a twelve-inch scar from the middle of my throat to the back of my ear. When I returned to school, I was met with many insensitive questions and comments from classmates who did not understand or know any better: “You look like Frankenstein.” “Did someone cut your head off and sew it back on?” “Your neck makes me lose my appetite.” “Are you going to die?” I had to learn to love the messengers but throw the messages away, and it was not always easy. Today when people ask about my scar, I just tell them I am a cancer survivor. This response has opened the door to some wonderful conversations about God’s presence in my life and the way He is healing me.

The Bible tells us in Romans 8:28 that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. I do not believe that my health challenges are coincidental; I believe they are blessings in disguise that God has used to make my faith stronger. So much good has come from my cancer diagnosis: support from family and friends, renewed gratitude for life and health and friendships, compassion for others who are battling illnesses, peace that is felth when others are praying for me, and the discovery that I am a lot tougher than I thought I was.

Since being diagnosed in 2011, I have participated in cancer walks and fundraisers, spoken publicly about my journey and God’s healing powers, and been named a True Hero Ambassador to offer support to pediatric patients. Even my Girl Scout Gold Award project was inspired by my cancer and called “J.A.D.E: Just A Dose of Encouragement”. I sewed brightly colored pillowcases and filled them with activities and personal care items to help hospitalized teenagers pass the time and feel supported and loved.

Cancer may have left me with a scar from neck to ear, but I carry it as a badge of honor. It is a symbol of survival and strength. It also serves as my personal reminder of a loving God Who has been by my side through it all and the faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ which will sustain me forever.

My prayer is that God will soon lead us to a cure for all forms of cancer, and I have chosen to pursue a nursing degree so I can help contribute to that cure. I also want to pay forward the kindnesses that other have shown to me…maybe even to another nine-year-old girl who is faking a sore throat.

~~Jade Finley

I Couldn’t Stand Up…by Tyler Jones

I couldn’t stand up. There was a bizarre feeling going through my legs at the time, no pain, just an overwhelming sense of weakness whenever I tried to stand. I realized right then that something was very, very, wrong. That something turned out to be Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That was the day I found out that I had cancer.

Looking back, that was undoubtedly one of the most crucial moments of my life. I was only four years old at the time, so I wasn’t old enough yet to fully grasp my chances of survival and how grim the situation was. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the whole experience really forced me to grow up a little quicker, and it’s still affecting me to this day. I was exposed to a lot of things that most four-year-old kids aren’t. Although I didn’t understand a lot of the things going on around me at the time, they still imprinted on me and changed the way I acted and thought in ways that even now I cant’ fully comprehend.

There were simple things like how I spent a lot of my time in the game room doing puzzles and word searches, which eventually led to my love for problem-solving. Even without actively understanding everything, I subconsciously picked up on a lot of things just from spending so much time interacting with adults instead of kids my age.

One of the most significant lessons I learned was because of the boy in the room next to me. He was a little older than me, but I found out that we had not only the same type of cancer, but also the same Spider-man bed sheets. Of course, this meant that I immediately like him. Despite only getting to interact with him once or twice, I pretty much considered him as the only friend I had there, and I think he thought the same about me. One day he’s there, and everything seemed fine, and then I wake up the next morning, and he’s gone, and they’re clearing out his room, and I just couldn’t understand why.

Looking back, that was probably the first time someone I knew had died, and even though I didn’t explicitly know he was dead, I knew that I’d never see him again, and that made me feel sad. I think that was where I first learned about mortality, I didn’t know how to put it in words, but I started to understand that sometimes people leave and they just don’t come back. It also taught me to always try and make the most of the time I had with the people around me because I was afraid that if they left, they might not come back too.

It took a year of chemotherapy for me to be cleared and taken off the treatment. The people I met and the things I experienced during that year truly shaped me in to the person I am today.

I’m known for many things; Tyler the gamer, the smart guy, they guy who’s not always so smart, the guy who likes making jokes, the kind of weird guy, the loud guy, the guy who can drink 2-liter bottles of fruit punch at an alarming rate, but at my core, I am Tyler the cancer survivor.

~~TYLER JONES

My Cancer Story – by Abigail Schreiber

I was three when I was diagnosed with Leukemia for the first time. I don’t remember much of that treatment because I was so young yet my parents said it was very difficult time. Luckily, after 3 years I was cured and we thought it would never come back. However, eight years later, when I was 13, after moving to Tokyo, Japan the cancer returned. We moved to Tokyo because we had missionary friends there and felt like God was calling us there.

Not wanting to undergo Japanese treatments, where patient comfort isn’t the norm, we flew back to the U.S. and started treatment here. I remember some parts and not others. What I remember most clearly is being poked by needles a lot because the chemo they were giving me made me nauseous so they had to give me IV fluids. I also remember doing a lot of crafts, Lego, and watching nature documentaries on Netflix. That’s where my love of nature, and ultimately my career choice for marine/fisheries biology came from. After tow months of chemo, the doctors realized that to save me I would need a bone marrow transplant to get rid of the cancer. My sister was a perfect match and got to be my donor. It took a long time to fully recover but every April we celebrate my new “birthday” and are so thankful that my transplant was successful and that I am still here today.

This challenge affected me because I was not able to do much of anything during that time. Doing schoolwork was impossible during those times so it set me back a little bit. But I pushed harder than most people my age in those years of chemo, transplant and recovery. It was a long process as I also got what is called Graft vs. Host Disease of the muscles (GVHD), about a year after my transplant. Once again I had to overcome sickness as now the transplanted bone marrow was attacking my body, deteriorating my muscles and bone. I couldn’t walk for months and was in a wheelchair. To resolve it, they gave me high-dose steroids for another year, which damaged my knee so they did surgery on my right knee. After I healed from the surgery, I could walk again, but not well. I went through 6 months of physical therapy and I grew stronger and can now walk again.

Through all of this, I am strong in spirit and can and will push through adversity. I am excited to move into college and use these experiences to help motivate my education and also help others along the way. One way I would like to do this is to share my love of the ocean with others. I have always had a special connection to the ocean that has brought me great joy. That is why I want to study marine biology and converse the oceans and marine species for future generations to enjoy.

~~~Abigail Schreiber

I’m James Moore – A Survivor!!

Our world is an incredibly busy system. There are many different world issues I could discuss that have been talked about for generations, like poverty, healthcare, violence, etc. However, I want to pose a topic that is often and easily overlooked.

The topic is how people get so caught up in their everyday lives. They don’t take a step back to appreciate the little things like enjoying their family, friends, and hobbies that truly make them happy. There is so much stress and anxiety. In society today, things move quickly and everything is expected to happen at lightning speed, especially living in 2020 when we have everything at our fingertips. Society’s main focus tends to be on education and making money.

Education most certainly isn’t bad, but I would say that college is the first time most people begin to associate themselves solely by what they do. For example, when you meet someone at school we ask their name and their major. When you meet people at a social gathering, it is often asked: “What do you do?. I would argue that this is a big issue. Viewing ourselves by what we “do” reinforces a false reality of who we are and puts our true self on the back burner for a persona we show to the public.

I work at a grocery store and see many different people from different walks of life on a daily basis. They all have their unique individual lives; they tend to each and every day. Some people look like they’re coming in from work, going to work, or just picked up their kids. Others are students getting ready to go to class. Every one of these individuals has their own concerns, but we forget that we are only human and won’t be in this world forever. Sometimes it is better to take a step back and realize how precious relationships are and recognize the things that are truly important in life. Take time to evaluate what matters.

I am guilty of this myself because I’m busy as a full-time working student. It’s not always easy but neither are things we do every day. We force ourselves to complete mundane tasks daily to check a box when we could all afford to put work, school, chores, and errands aside to sped time with the people we love the most. How different would the world be if we all took some time out of our day to focus and nurture what matters most? As well as take time for ourselves. Take the time to be still.

There’s a higher power that has brought our world to a stop. Here recently with the Corona Virus Disease Pandemic, we are forced to cocoon ourselves in our homes and huddle with our loved ones. We may just have been give the gift of time to reflect, gain clarity, and find new ways of going about what we do and even how we think. We can’t predict what the days will bring going forward. But what is it that we can do today to make our tomorrow a better place for us, our family, and the world? Have you take advantage of this time?

~~JAMES DANIEL MOORE

I’m Audrey – I Beat Cancer – I’m A Survivor!!

The medical field has always been a fascination of mine. When I was a little kid, my favorite game to play with my friends was doctor. I would come up with crazy scenarios, getting stung by a black sea urchin, or being bitten by a rattlesnake, and fake the treatment for the situation.

As I got older, I deviated from the medical field, but everything that I wanted to do, until I came back to the medical field, I wanted to help people. I wanted to be an immigration lawyer, and help immigrants. I wanted to become a marine biologist, and help the falling populations of sea life. I wanted to do something with the environment, and bring awareness to the state our planet is in. I then realized my love of biology, and came back to the medical field, finally deciding on my future career of nursing.

My aunt is a nurse, and when I was little, she would always bring me cool stuff from the hospital, and tell me stories about all the places that she had worked as a traveling nurse. When I came back around to the idea of becoming a nurse this past year. I realized how versatile the career is. One of my greatest fears is that I will get bored of the job that I choose, with nursing, that is virtually impossible. I love the science behind it, learning how the body works, and how things can go wrong. I love being able to help people, take care of them, and help to ensure that their quality of life is as good as it can be. I want to be the nurse in the hospital who is liked by her patients, the one that is strict when needed, but kind and fun when she can be.

One of my teachers this year, for my Medical Career and Tech Ed class, was a nurse for years before she decided to go into teaching. We do practical skills, and have even gotten to put in an IV on dummies, as well as learning how to do blood pressure, and measure vitals. Through this class, I have learned so much about what nursing truly is, and how many aspects of it there are.

I am exhilarated to be starting this next chapter of my life, going to University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) to get my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. College is a time for new things, for new friends, but most importantly, to learn. I love being with like-minded people, and, since UNR has a full-fledged medical program. I will get to study with aspiring doctors and surgeons, as well as my future nursing peers. Even though I have deviated from going into the medical field and hopped around in what I want to do in medicine, I am confident that this passion that I have for helping people, and for learning about the human body will stick with me for the rest of my life.

~~AUDREY SMITH

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