A Year of Being One of Ronan's Spicy Monkeys

You may know me as the girl who talks too much on Twitter. You may know me as the girl who loves her life but never sleeps. Or, if you're that girl or that guy in my Spanish class, you may be tempted to yell "Taylor Swift!" whenever you see me. That's okay, too.

You see, last September was insanely magical, and it all started when I took to HuffPost Teen to talk about how a Taylor Swift song, "Ronan," first sparked my journey into childhood cancer. Two hours later, Taylor herself tweeted a link to the blog post and called me a "true inspiration." Me. I don't remember spazzing out so much in my life.

And while I don't think I'm particularly inspirational or that my dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist is worth all the attention it received, this September I want to talk about everything I've done in the last year. I owe it to Taylor and everyone else who took the time to read my blog post and shared it for others to read. (Note: I'm not trying to brag about any accomplishments; I'm trying to outline what I've done to reach my goals and done in honor of Ronan.)

In the last year, I've challenged myself to be brave and spread smiles. As the Ronan's mom would put it, I tried to be "spicy," just like Ronan was. To me, this meant trying new things, becoming more confident and doing things Ronan would be proud to see. Here's how I did it.

As a student leader in Friends of Rachel club, I spread smiles and kindness throughout the school. I also became a student leader in a global awareness club, where we helped the school raise over 70,000 pounds of food for a local food bank and raised over $600 for a charity helping people in places like Africa and India gain access to clean, safe drinking water. In National Honor Society, which is one of three honor societies I'm involved in at school, we raised money to restore preschool classrooms that budget cuts had removed. This year, I'm mentoring a group of freshmen as they explore their first year of high school.

In an effort to push myself even more to continue giving back to my community, I joined the teen advisory board at my public library, where I attend monthly meetings and help the library in various ways, whether with wrapping books for an event or putting together packets for the Children's Summer Reading Program.

In October, I started volunteering at a hospital. My experiences in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit enriched my devotion to pediatrics. It was amazing to see how all of these newborns are fighting so hard and how compassionate the nurses were with the babies. I got a better appreciation for life than I ever had before, and I learned again that each breath I take is a blessing. In the summer, I transferred into the Inpatient Oncology Unit, where I continue to grow and learn.

This fall, I'm in a career observation program at the hospital called Learning Link, which allows me to shadow health care workers around for a semester of my senior year. I've been watching the unique interaction between nurses and patients in the Inpatient Oncology Unit, and the experience has been absolutely spectacular. I've watched nurses administer chemotherapy, draw blood, prevent blood clotting in patients and more. I've even been able to look through a real MRI scans for a patient. Soon, I'll be rotating into the Cardio Recovery Unit, where I'll learn how nurses care for those patients, as well.

Despite how cool it's been to spend time in the hospital, this summer was the highlight of my year.

I landed a place in the 2014 Summer Child Health Research Internship Program from the University of Colorado and Children's Hospital Colorado, which was INSANE. It was open to raising high school seniors and undergraduate, graduate, and first-year medical school students. The program only accepted 20 students from over 420 applicants, and I soon found myself between students from Dartmouth, Columbia, UC Berkeley and the like.

Even though I drove an hour to work every morning and anywhere from one to four hours on the way back (thank you, traffic, for giving me a chance to listen through Taylor Swift's Red album a million times in two months), the internship was completely worth it. Not only was I paid, but I got to attend weekly seminars given by PhDs and MDs who were passionate about their work. In the laboratory I ended up in, I was treated as an adult and did my own research project with pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia cell lines.

My research involved a drug the lab had developed, which has the potential to change how we fight cancers including leukemia, breast cancer, colon cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and more. I gained a new appreciation for the mountain of work and research that goes into every single drug and treatment we take for granted, and at the end of the program, I gave a presentation and turned in a summary of my work. Now, I have a beautiful certificate proudly displayed on my piano.

The last 12 months have been full of volunteering, doing cancer research, becoming a stronger leader in my school and community and giving back to people. It was about expanding my horizons and reaching out while helping other people and spreading the happiness and joy Ronan represents. It was me striving to be fearless and spicy and everything in-between.

It was my year of Ronan, and I cannot wait to see what the next year will bring as I continue by dedication towards reaching my goals and becoming a better person. These are just the first few steps I will take towards becoming a pediatric oncologist.

And just like last year, I'll always have Ronan to thank for everything.

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