Senior Farewell: A big challenge presented big life lessons
For most kids, high school is a time to meet new friends and enjoy the freedom of growing up without many of the responsibilities of adult life. But this isn’t always the case, as my personal high school experience taught me.
In July 2018, my girlfriend was diagnosed with a vestibular schwannoma, a type of benign brain tumor that had been growing in her head for upwards of five years. She was immediately admitted into the hospital and would soon undergo one of two massive brain surgeries necessary to remove the tumor.
She would end up spending the entirety of her freshman summer and sophomore school year at home recovering, with much of it spent in a hospital bed.
Instead of spending time with friends and enjoying some of her best years, she was stuck in a hospital, unable to move because of the pain she was in as a result of two daunting brain surgeries.
Instead of running away, I made the choice to stick by her side and support her at every turn. So I also spent much of my first two high school years at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, doing my best to comfort her during the hardest time of her life.
I would never go back and change this decision even if I could. This is because I learned more valuable life lessons than I could have ever imagined during her journey to recovery.
The most important thing I had to remember while supporting her during her treatment was that things could always be worse, and that there is always a silver lining.
Each year, there are hundreds of thousands of families across the globe that have to hear the terrifying news that their child has been diagnosed with cancer. I continue to be thankful every day that her tumor was non-cancerous.
Pair this with the fact that the hospital staff and neurosurgeon who headed her surgery, Dr. Paul Gardner, were some of the most incredible and supportive group of people anyone could ask for, and it becomes easier to deal with the question of “why did this have to happen?”
Instead of complaining about my girlfriend developing a brain tumor, I spent my days counting my blessings, and recognizing all of the positives that not everyone in her situation may have. Her family gave her a great support system alongside the hospital staff, and I always knew that there was someone taking care of her and making sure she was as comfortable as she could possibly be.
This mindset isn’t something that left me as she recovered, as I now take time every day to appreciate the things that went right in my day, and realize that the good things in my life far outweigh the insignificant bad things that may have happened.
I spent many days reminding myself that there are so many people in this world who would love to have my problems, as they are facing much more drastic and life-changing problems of their own. This is a lesson that I believe everyone could benefit from embracing, as too often it is easy to focus on and complain about the incredibly small and insignificant problems we face, while ignoring the incredible blessings we take for granted every day.
Take the time to tell your family and friends how much you appreciate them for all they do for you instead of complaining about them, because you never know when the last time you see them may be.
Another way I found to overcome a lot of stress is to take a step back and take into account what your problems are, and how you can solve them. Next time you find yourself stressing about something small in your life, take the time to step back and recognize just how small it is in the grand scheme of your life.
Some problems, however, truly are significant, and are rightful causes of stress. I’ve found that the best way to deal with an overwhelming situation like this is to simply live life one step at a time.
While my girlfriend was recovering from both of her brain surgeries, I made it to school every day and maintained the grades that I had maintained throughout my academic career, and I never told anyone about her situation.
I wasn’t able to show up to school every day and show everyone else a positive attitude by wallowing in my sorrows. I had to simply take on each day’s challenges as they came to me, and not allow myself to be overwhelmed by my emotions.
As I listened to my peers complain about a small homework assignment at the same time that a girl who went to their high school was stuck in a hospital in unimaginable pain, it was sometimes difficult to hold back the feelings of anger I may have felt.
Yet I simply had to brush these feelings off my shoulders and focus on my own life, because I owed it to my girlfriend to remain calm and be able to comfort her and not lose my cool when she needed it most.
As I went through my life silent about what was constantly on my mind, and trying to hide what was bothering me, I realized that there are plenty of people we see every day who are doing the exact same thing, and who are trying to overcome their own challenges.
This is why I believe that being respectful and kind to everyone around you may be one of the most important things that you can do in your everyday life.
You never know what the people around you are going through, and so it’s important to always be mindful of others and make their day better in any way you can. Whether it be holding the door, putting your weights back in the correct place to save a gym employee the hassle, or simply giving someone a smile, try to make time in your life to improve the lives of those around you.
I have personally learned a lot during my time at Baldwin High School, but the most important things I learned came from outside the classroom, and can be summarized into three main ideas.
Don’t let the small amounts of negativity in your life outshine the countless positives. Live your life one step at a time. Always be kind to those around you, because you never know what they may be going through.
These three ideas are what allowed me to stick by my girlfriend during her entire recovery, and are a part of the mindset that I carry with me every day of my life.