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2022 – Ethan Jensen – HWRA – Weber HS

Mar 9, 2022

Name: Ethan Jensen
High School: Weber High School
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Hannah Warburton Resilience Award Application

My name is Ethan Jensen, and on January 16th 2021 I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My life was completely turned upon its head that day, as the once monotonous and simplistic droning of high school life became the painful and sickening internal twangs of chemotherapy within my gut. Before this I was a very capable student. I had a 3.9 GPA, was taking numerous AP classes, such as AP chemistry and AP psychology, had been taking honors math, and was preparing to take the ACT. All of those opportunities winked out of existence with this new diagnosis.
I was quickly removed from all of my more advanced classes, and had to dramatically change my daily routine. Rather than attend school on a regular basis, my life became a race to kill the cancer within my blood and bones before it got out of control. On top of this, COVID restrictions were still at full strength, meaning that I was able to see very few visitors. I was very thankful that I was able to interact with people over the phone at least, for without their love and support I find it unlikely that I would have been able to make it through.
There were many effects that the long and intense chemotherapies had upon me. The most common and most prevalent was the overall sense of doom that it brought upon my body. Different chemicals had different “colors” as I always referred to them when describing the sensations to my friends. Cytarabine had the sensation of warm, raw, meat, saturating your body. Methotrexate was greenish yellow, and filled me with the flavor of copper and urine. Doxorubicin was sharp and red with tendrils reaching into the pit of my gut.
There were also more bizarre side effects. When your body first experiences chemotherapy, it has no idea what it actually is; you just feel the side effects. But over the months your body figures out what these chemicals are and starts associating them with the things one might find in a hospital. The smell of antiseptics and alcohol became almost unbearable, and I would have to take medication to keep myself from having panic attacks at the hospital. I eventually learned not to throw up, and then my body responded by finding other ways to remove the chemicals, even having it ooze out with my sweat and salivary glands.
However I made it through, and I learned a lot in the process! I learned that while I couldn’t exercise, I had a tremendous love for cooking and for playing my guitar. I also learned a new sense of appreciation for the great things that I had, such as a stable family and loving parents. I learned to appreciate my friends a lot more for their support, and when one of them had a falling out with me as often happens in High School, I learned that I wasn’t angry, but instead incredibly sad that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with this person anymore. What cancer really taught me was that life was a gift, and that nothing should be taken for granted. I could have just as easily died as a result of the treatment. I could have been born in a broken home or with abusive parents. It taught me to appreciate the little things, like turmeric and cumin, and being able to tell my mother that I love her.
To other students I would say that you need to understand that there is always so much to live for. In the depths of suffering one can find the most precious lessons. My life will never be the same as a result of cancer, but in a way it has opened my understanding of life, and made everything a little bit sweeter than it was before. I would also tell other students that gratitude is the most important virtue they can have in their life. You can always have more, sure, but you can always have far less. Understanding that is crucial to being happy, and while life has been much more painful since diagnosis, it has also been so much happier.

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