In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, 26-year-old Heather Wick talks about having cancer at the age of 18 and how the experience influenced who she is today.

Heather Wick with her son Daniel

Heather Wick with her son, Daniel

Until beginning to write this post, I had never really thought about how generic introductions are. Name, age, job title, where you live, whose wife or mom you are…how much do you share to tell a person who you are? My introduction is fairly typical, Heather Wick, 26 years old, nanny, lives in Monroe, Alan’s wife and Danny’s mom…oh and CANCER SURVIVOR.

At this point in exchanging pleasantries I often get, “Oh my gosh… you had cancer?! You’re so young!” and then I begin to walk my curious new friend through my journey. Why don’t I just leave out the cancer survivor bit and make things quick and simple you ask? Well because I am proud to be a cancer survivor. That title is as much a part of me as my name is. So, new friends, I invite you to walk through a shortened and condensed version of my journey here, on the blog for the hospital that saved my life.

The beginning

High school graduation was on the horizon. I had a great new boyfriend, and life was crazy, exciting and full of endless possibilities. I began to feel unusually tired, lose weight and just wasn’t my normal, spunky self. But when you burn the candle at both ends that’s to be expected and normal, right? Not for me, unfortunately.

A week before graduation, I began feeling so out of sorts and developed a pretty high fever so I figured it was time to do something about it. I took a little mid-week trip to the emergency room with what the doctors assumed to be a ruptured appendix and was quickly shipped off to the operating room. Three hours quickly turned into six. I woke up in the recovery room in an anesthetic daze thinking that I’d lost an appendix, but instead learned that I was the owner of a decent sized tumor!

Just five days before graduating I was diagnosed with stage 3-b non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Luckily, I was able to attend my ceremony and was even wheeled across the stage by my twin sister to receive our diplomas (one of the unexpected perks of being a twin!). On that stage, at the tender age of 18, I was faced with the reality that when my life was supposed to just be starting, it very well could be close to ending so I’d better get ready to fight!

And fight I did. I fought hard – through really great days and downright miserable days and all the days in between. With the love and support of my friends, family and the elite doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital, days turned into weeks, weeks to months and then we had finally reached a year and treatment was over.  July 11, 2007, was the day I learned that I was officially in remission!

A newfound appreciation

Hallelujah, life can go back to normal right? Not really, no. Going through cancer had forever changed my perception of “normal” and of everything really. Is this the part of the story where I launch into a rant about how cancer ruined my life and how I wish it had never happened? No, not one tiny bit. In fact I wouldn’t take going through cancer back for anything! Yes, it was difficult going through treatment and realizing that while my life had been put on pause the rest of the world kept moving forward. But when I merged back into the fast lane, I had this newfound appreciation for everything and every second I had.

Things that would have ruined my day prior to cancer now make me think, “If that’s the worst thing that happens today, it’s been a good day!” My experience as a cancer patient/survivor has shaped me in ways I could never have imagined and I feel beyond blessed for this second chance at life!

My second chance at life

Heather with her husband, Alan, and her son, Daniel

Heather with her husband, Alan, and her son, Daniel

So what have I been doing the last seven years with my second chance? Aside from being privileged to give back to Seattle Children’s hospital in volunteer opportunities, I have also worked for the Northshore School District for six years. I have always loved children and getting to be a teacher’s assistant where I work with kids with special needs has been an experience that I will cherish forever.

I met and married the man of my dreams, Alan, and we bought our first home together in Monroe, Wash., and acquired a crazy dog named Jaxon. My biggest accomplishment and blessing, however, is my amazing son, Daniel. I didn’t do fertility preservation prior to starting my chemotherapy, so he is my most treasured miracle. Being a mother has made my life more complete and my heart more full than I ever imagined it could be!

Becoming a mother also made me aware of the devastation my parents must have felt at my diagnosis. I thank God every day for a happy, healthy son and hug him a little tighter every day. I am fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with my son and watch him grow and learn (lord knows it goes entirely too fast!). I pray that when Daniel grows up he is proud that I am a cancer survivor and knows that I wished upon a star for him every night.

So, this is where I am today: blessed beyond belief, healthy and strong. Navigating this beautifully wild road of marriage and motherhood as gracefully as I can, and sharing my story to inspire and bring hope to those in need. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. All I know is that I am sincerely grateful for today.

To learn more about Heather’s story, tune in to KOMO 4 TV on Sunday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. to see her in the television special, “Conquering Childhood Cancer.”

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