Tufts is a magical and special place situated on the top of a hill in the outskirts of Boston. It’s a place where students come together to learn and to think and to pursue their passions. It’s a place of resilience, sensitivity, encouragement, and happiness. It’s a place I’ve come to call my home.
The best part about Tufts is that the family and community extends beyond the physical campus out here in Medford, MA. The Tufts “bubble” is bigger and farther reaching - whether it be the friends who still mean the world to you when they graduate, or the alumni you connect with in search of a job or summer internship. The Tufts community also includes current students who aren’t physically with us on campus, but are Jumbos nonetheless. And they are always in our hearts.
One of the most inspiring people in this Tufts community is my good friend Charlee Corra - a cancer survivor. Charlee was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2012 and required her to take a semester off of school. Even though we spent a semester without Charlee physically on this campus - her strength and optimism and courage reminded our campus that we are all Jumbos and we support one another no matter how far apart we are or how different our life experiences may be.
What follows is an amazing and intense blog post written by our very own Jumbo, Charlee. This blog was be featured on The Huffington Post Impact section in November of 2012. Thankfully and luckily, Charlee is back here at Tufts this semester. She is a breath of fresh air, an inspiring individual, and an amazing friend. Welcome back, Charlee, we’ve missed you.
To read the real version, click here.
Thank you, cancer.
As Thanksgiving approaches I think of all the things I am grateful for in the past 6 months and the list could probably write an entire novel. Maybe it goes too far to say that I am thankful for cancer, but I can say that I am extremely thankful for the insight cancer has given me, the experiences it has allowed me to have, and the people it has introduced into my life.
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma on May 18, 2012, just a week after returning from my study abroad semester in Costa Rica.
The life I was used to living ground to a sudden halt. I was forced to change the speed of my normally fast-paced, constantly-moving lifestyle to the pace of a baby learning to walk. Before all of this happened I thought I was your normal college junior: attending Tufts University, majoring in Biology, and trying to understand (somewhat unsuccessfully) the key to time management. I'm used to constant motion, never-ending to-do lists, running from place to place, and allowing myself as little time to breathe as humanly possible.
Being diagnosed with cancer changed all of that for me.
School in the fall was out of the question because I wouldn't be done with my chemotherapy treatments in time. Large amounts of physical activity were also ruled out after a nasty biopsy that was really more like open-heart surgery.
For the first time in my life I had to learn how to do nothing... and be okay with it.
Brutal might be the proper word to describe how steep this particular learning curve was for me, but eventually I caught on and even occasionally enjoyed sitting and resting. I learned how to properly nap and how to watch television shows for hours on end -- both very new and foreign activities for me.
One night in particular, I was watching TV with my mom and we both realized that if I didn't have cancer I wouldn't be sitting there with her. She called it a silver lining moment, which I have come to define as any good thing that appears as a result of difficult and trying circumstances. From then on I began seeing silver lining moments all over the place. My silver linings held my hand and guided me down cancer's obstacle-ridden, unpaved road.
When I found out I wouldn't be able to return to school until January, the first thing I thought about was how excited I was to finally be home for Halloween. Silver lining. When I learned that chemo would make my hair fall out, I wanted to try having short hair-styles, always a dream of mine. Suddenly, I was spending more time with my family than I had since before high school started. Friends and family stepped up and supported me in ways I couldn't have imagined. I felt my perspective on life changing. I felt blessed. I saw how much I had and how much love surrounded me and I felt profound gratitude like I had never felt before.
The rate at which my hair was falling out became too overwhelming and I finally had my friend shave it off completely -- but not before she gave me an awesome Mohawk and took plenty of photos.
One of my most important silver lining moments came when people started telling me I had a perfectly shaped head and I became confident walking around bald. This led to a friend suggesting we make a trip to the Venice boardwalk to find the perfect henna artist who could paint an enormous dragon on my shiny, hairless head.
I became the girl with a dragon tattoo.
My henna dragon is my wig, my scarf, my hat and my healing. It reflects all the silver linings that this cancer has provided. It reminds me that I am strong and also that I am looked after and protected. Each time the dragon appears on the canvas that is my head I feel empowered, capable, like I can get through anything. For the opportunity to learn my capacity for strength and the depth of love around me, for each and every cancer silver lining... I am thankful.
About the Author:
My name is Charlee Corra and I am a 21-year old cancer survivor from Los Angeles, CA. I am a senior at Tufts University in Boston, MA double-majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies. I love travelling and doing anything outdoors from hiking to rock climbing to lying in a hammock, but I especially love scuba-diving and anything related to the ocean. Recently, through my experience with cancer, I have discovered a love for writing, the relaxing therapeutic effect of painting and have gotten involved with Starlight Children's Foundation, which supports children and their families through cancer and other illnesses.