Imagine being the new kid in school. Now imagine being the new weird kid who was in and out of the hospital and always wearing a hat or bandanna to cover a scar. Imagine being diagnosed with malignant melanoma and going through three surgeries at the age of nine. This is Emily Hunt’s story.
“I remember being at Boston Children’s Hospital because there was an odd freckle on my head and I also remember the doctors saying there’s nothing to worry about.
”As time went by, Emily found herself at her sister’s dermatologist appointment. Her parents mentioned the odd freckle to the dermatologist who suggested that if it was her child, she would have the freckle removed.Her parents took the suggestion seriously and we fast forward to Emily being diagnosed with malignant melanoma, visiting an outpatient clinic in Massachusetts, and having the freckle removed. She recalls being awake for the surgery - which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best idea. Although Emily couldn't feel anything, she said, “I could hear everything and my vision went blue.” During the process, Emily sang to her mom to cope during the surgery.
Afterwards, Emily went through a rough recovery. “I remember my head always feeling heavy, like a cinder block. I remember chugging Gatorade because at times I couldn’t move or even stand on my own.” While the physical process was rough for Emily, the emotional and mental aspects of recovering also created their fair share of burdens. Emily was only nine years old, in the third grade, had just moved, and was recovering from having cancer. “So, not only was I the new kid in school - I was the new weird kid that always wore hats or bandannas.” Emily began wearing baseball hats to school as a rebellious way to hide her scar. “I remember one instance where a teacher yelled at me for wearing a hat inside and I explained that I had to wear it because I was sick… I ended up switching to a bandanna. I found cool black bandanna with lime green skulls so no one knew what was happening.
Emily returned to the operating room for a second and third surgery and the recoveries were easier than the first. “I had to return for a second surgery because they didn't get it all [cancer] and the second surgery had an easier recovery…I had a third surgery to have the area sown up because it wasn’t healing."
Some of Emily’s memories include her parents spoiling her a lot more than necessary but also keeping at the front of her mind that it could be worse. Her father would say to Emily that she was the strongest person he knew. The emotions of having your child go through cancer so young can truly take a toll on a family and Emily felt the pressure of needing to stay positive and be strong for everyone else. “I feel like I had to mature quickly as a kid and had to be strong for everyone else.” Emily says it best that in situations like hers, “You learn how to be brave.
”Emily’s journey is interesting because she never went through chemotherapy. She remembers her childhood diagnosis as cancer was there and now it’s gone. For a longtime, Emily didn’t mention being a cancer survivor. It wasn’t until she became a Freshman at the Rochester Institute of Technology that she began to recognize herself as a survivor.
“The realization is coming now - that I’m cancer free. I put it under a rug and didn’t see myself as a survivor until my Freshman year at R.I.T. and I found Colleges Against Cancer. I met another survivor, Anna Stern, and I decided that I should give back because I was one of the lucky ones.”
Emily says that great things have happened because of her diagnosis. “My dermatologist now gives lectures about the importance of checking as it could lead to saving someone's life.”
Emily is truly an inspiration! She has even kept her rebellious spirit alive by recently getting a sun tattoo to represent that she is a skin cancer survivor!
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Put yourself in Emily’s shoes. You are nine years old. You are not fully understanding what is happening to your body. You’ve heard the word cancer being mentioned to your parents but you don’t have a full explanation of what is really happening. Thank you Emily for sharing your story with me! Through your journey and words, so many others can learn how to be as brave as you were and still are today!