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My Turn: A teen with cancer chooses to grab opportunities

The high school junior's life was turned upside down. But she was determined to not fall into depression.

March 07, 2011|By Shelby Makris, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Shelby Makris was nominated by Kaiser Permanente child life specialist Stacy R. Smith to ride on a float this year.
Shelby Makris was nominated by Kaiser Permanente child life specialist… (Kaiser Permanente )

My life drastically changed two weeks into my junior year of high school, when I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare blood cancer.

I watched my plans for college disappear as my life turned upside down. Because of my weakened immune system, I could no longer attend school and my life became a balancing act between doctor's appointments and studying at home. I had a choice to make: Delve into depression or grasp the opportunities I still had to make the most of them. I decided to go for it.

I spent the fall semester at home, alienated from everyone other than my doctors and family. I never realized how much I really enjoyed school until I wasn't able to attend. The classes are so much harder when you have to teach yourself everything. My goal was to complete the same assignments as my classmates so that I would not be behind when I was able to return. There were days that were not easy, but I completed my curriculum and pulled off a 3.5 grade-point average studying at home.

I received great news toward the end of the year — I was voted homecoming princess for the junior class. Although my immune system was still weak, I was able to attend the homecoming football game and partake in the princess coronation. For that one unforgettable day, I was able to experience life as a "normal kid."

Before my diagnosis, I was president of the Make-A-Wish Foundation club at my school and took pride in raising money for children in need. Now it all took on new meaning because I could truly relate to their fears. Helping them achieve their wishes became a priority. I pushed my club to go further and organized a list of creative fundraisers, such as selling hot chocolate at Christmastime, holding garages sales and jewelry parties and much more. We raised $8,000 over four months, enough money to grant two wishes. It took a lot of hard work, but when I saw photographs of the smiling children, I knew it was all worthwhile.

Every day I am getting a little bit healthier. I have proved to myself that I am a much stronger person than I thought I was. I have learned that life will present obstacles along the path to the finish line. I can choose to let those obstacles stand in my way, or I can choose to overcome them, then look back at how far I have come and all I have been able to accomplish. Nothing can stop me now! I want to go to college, and I know I will succeed as a student and beyond.

Now I know what I want to do with my life — I want to become a child life specialist. In this career, I can help comfort children who, unfortunately, will have to go through what I did. Every day I can try to help make a cancer patient's day a little bit brighter, and by doing this I know I will be making a difference.

I will accomplish my dreams, and if I hit a roadblock or two, I know I will not let it stop me. It may take me a little longer, but one way or another, I will get to that finish line.

Shelby Makris, 18, is now a senior at Brea Olinda High School in Brea. She continues to control her cancer with daily medication and seeks a suitable donor for a bone marrow transplant. Makris plans to study psychology and pharmacy in college this fall. She can be reached at

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail We read every essay but can't respond to every writer.

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