Time is a funny thing. Looking forward six years seems crazy – I’ll be almost 27 which seems like foreign territory to me right now. But looking back six years I remember clearly. One day I came home from school to find my mom waiting for me, and then hugging me as I read an email that my friend Amanda Post had passed away. I was only close with Amanda for about two years, but in that time, I think she changed my life more than any other single person besides my parents.
Amanda opened up a whole new world for me when she introduced me to camp. All throughout my treatment, I refused to go even though the nurses encouraged me every year. Amanda insisted I go with her and I had a blast. I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing! It was hard to go back without her, but I know that’s what she would have wanted and now I’m involved as staff in three cancer-related camps.
I’ve had so much fun, both as a camper and as staff, and every year I thank Amanda for leading me to such great people and I will keep going back to give the other kids the same great experience we had. Amanda (and everyone else at camp) helped me see that I was not alone in my fight and that beating cancer was something to be proud of, not something to hide. We would email each other comparing medications and side effects, something I couldn’t do with any of my other friends. She was great at pointing out random perks of treatment, like not having to shave and getting to eat anything, that I had ignored. She made the best of everything, decorating her hospital room, getting a pink Christmas tree when she couldn’t have a real one, and anything else she could think of. She made friends with the other patients and nurses, while I used to hide from everyone. Treatment is yucky, but she made it as fun as possible.
Six years ago, I was shocked. It seemed unreal and impossible. I had been reading her mom’s updates and I knew she had some complications after her transplant but I wasn’t familiar enough with GvHD at the time to really understand how serious it was. I knew she was a fighter and I never doubted that she would get through it all. This email came out of nowhere and I was devastated. I spent the rest of the afternoon reminiscing – crying, laughing and everything in between – with some of my close friends who were also friends with Amanda.
I remember sitting in US History the next day, a small cluster of orange shirts (the leukemia color) on one side of the room. We had gone to middle school with Amanda but many of our classmates had not so they didn’t know what had happened. Our history class was listening to songs related to whatever time period we were covering. They were fine until one was about people dying, and that was just too much to take. A few of us walked out and spent the rest of the period crying in the bathroom.
Most of us, myself included, had lost relatives before, but we had never lost a friend, someone our own age. We had never thought about all of the things someone wouldn’t get the chance to do – learn to drive, go to prom, graduate, go to college, start a family. It was an eye-opening experience to realize how fragile life is, not just when you’re old but even at age 15. That’s a lesson I know I will never forget.
There really aren’t words to describe how thankful I am that I was friends with Amanda for those two years. My positive attitude has gotten me so much further in life than my old attitude would have. Embracing my experiences rather than being ashamed of everything has opened up some great opportunities and I’ve met some of my best friends at camp. I’m so lucky that Amanda dragged me into this whole new world and I know I’m not the only one whose life was changed for the better by Amanda in her 15 years. “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Karen Shollenberger grew up in Maryland and is currently a junior at Drexel University studying science communication. In her free time, Karen can be found eating chips and salsa, hanging out with friends and family, or volunteering. She’s always up for good food and random adventures and is more than halfway to her goal of visiting all 50 states. Karen is a four-time leukemia survivor and enjoys sharing her experiences through her blog, The Worst Best Thing: theworstbestthing.weebly.com/blog.
Originally published May 17, 2015 on The Worst Best Thing and reposted with permission.