Voice: What is Strength?

Up until March 2013, my eighth-grade year, I felt that I was physically strong. I jumped horses over 3-foot fences and snow-skied down double black diamonds. I loved running and swimming. However, I never thought of myself as mentally strong. To be honest, I never understood what being strong meant.

During March, I was no longer able to be physically strong. I was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer known as Ewing’s sarcoma.

The tumor was taking up a large part of my right leg. I had to stop all physical activity. I’ve had two biopsies (one leg and one lung), multiple rounds of scans (such as MRI, CT scan, PET scan), had more blood draws than I can count, 10 rounds of chemotherapy (four more to go) and have had most of my femur and hip replaced with titanium. I wore a back and leg brace for seven straight weeks, 24 hours a day, which kept me from sitting up at a 90-degree angle and being able to walk on my leg.

At the beginning of my diagnosis, I was told by my doctors and my parents that this process would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do. I was told that my mind would be my best ally and that it needed to be strong. It needed to help fight the cancer and shrink the tumor. But I was worried. Where would I find the strength? It’s not like when you want to become strong, you work out at the gym and build muscles. There’s no book or road map on how to be mentally strong.

As I started along my journey, I did things that I never thought I would be able to do. Things that, just six months ago, would have scared me to death. Things such as completing 10 rounds (six months) of chemotherapy, having a port placed inside my body and having surgery performed on me. As my journey continued, I felt like my mind was starting to become strong. I felt like I was using it to stay positive and shrink the tumor. But where was my strength coming from?

I realized that part of my strength was coming from my family. My family supports me, especially on my worst days. They lift me up and tell me how strong I am. They constantly remind me of how far I’ve come and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Another part of my strength was coming from my friends. My friends are great at making me forget that I’m a cancer patient. They come over and make me feel normal again. They give me something to look forward to: going to school again and living a teenage life. They also make me smile.

I also get a lot of strength from my horse, Scooter. I have visions and dreams where I am riding and competing on him again. During my worst moments, I can re-create these visions and I focus on the future where I am strong and riding him again. Just spending time with him at the barn makes me strong. I look into his big, brown eyes and I know he is channeling all his strength to me. I think he understands that I’m sick and that I need him now more than ever.

Ultimately, strength comes not when you want it to, but when you need it the most. We are all strong inside, but don’t realize it until it is our only option. Strength comes from a place deep inside you, a place that no one knows they have. Strength finds you when you are worried, when you are upset or when you just need that extra nudge. You will never know until you need it.

If there is one benefit from having cancer, it would be that I have found my strength. Some days I think that there is nothing that I can’t accomplish. I hope I don’t lose it, but if I do, I know I can always call it back into action. A favorite quote of mine is “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice.”

Kat Tiscornia is a Seattle ninth-grader who loves horse­back riding, skiing, and spending time with friends and family. She is fighting a rare form of cancer and raising money for research and treatment. Follow her story on Tumblr and make a donation to find a cure.

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