Sixteen years ago our foundation awarded the first Andre Sobel Award, named for my son who died of a malignant brain tumor at 19.
The award honors teens who have survived catastrophic illness and bravely revisit the darkest hours of illness to share their stories.
This year we invited young people ages 12-21 to enter the award contest by writing,
"The Letter I Wish I Had Received from a Friend or Relative When I was Ill.
80 teens from across the country responded. In highly personal, wise, humorous and sometimes searing letters, teens reflect on how illness-- and accompanying isolation from peers and cherished friendships - has changed their relationships and their lives. This year's first prize winner Bayleigh Phillips expresses the painful reality of not being seen for her true self in her piece, "Letter from Boyfriends."
First prize comes with an award of $5000 that the recipient may use in any way she wishes to fulfill a cherished dream. We hope that in sharing these letters others will learn what young people most need when they are ill.
Letter from Boyfriends
by Bayleigh Phillips
I am writing you this letter in hopes of somehow mending your broken heart. I know you will have your family for you throughout this journey, but I also know that from age 9 to 17, you will have a lot of relationship needs. Someone besides your family to reassure you and tell you it is all going to be okay. Someone to listen to all your fears and anxieties, someone to love you in spite of everything that is going to happen to you, someone to just hold you in silence, just because they knew you needed it.
So I want to try to explain on behalf of myself and all the other guys you will fall in love with that couldn't find a way to love you back. The shallowest of us will be intimidated by your bald head, your wig, or your weight gain from the steroids you will be on. You know self image is very important to teenagers, so it is hard to accept you looking that way. You won't be ugly, you just won't look like the other girls in our grade. If we could only look on the inside we could connect with your beautiful soul.
Sometimes it is because we are afraid. Why would we want to get close to you, knowing that your situation was so unpredictable? Seeing you go through the cancer, surgeries, chemo, and radiation. We won't feel strong enough to love you for fear of losing you, so we won't even try. Shame on us.
So many of us will know you before you are diagnosed and we will miss your personality. We will miss that happy go lucky, spontaneous, funny, active girl. Now suddenly you are going to seem frail, sick, tired and slow. I apologize that we will not take the time to slow down and make you feel loved or wanted, I know it would have meant the world to you.
Unfortunately unlike the movie "The Fault in our Stars", in the real world it is very unlikely for someone to fall in love with a young girl that will be on treatment for 8 years. You will be a ticking time bomb, but if we could put any thought into it... aren't we all? We could get hit by a car tomorrow. We could have learned so much from you about living in the moment, and making each day count.
To sum it up for you, we are so sorry. All of the above excuses kept us from looking past the cancer, chemo and side effects and kept us from getting to know the real you. Those things kept us from knowing what a really special, unique and talented young lady you are. I wish we had been better friends to you, and reached out when you needed us most. If we had asked you to one dance, or one date, or one event, it might have made you feel more accepted by the male population at our school. But please don't be discouraged, because God has somebody picked out just for you. The timing has just not been right for you to notice our true love just yet.
The Boyfriends you won't have for the next eight years