Freshman sees bright side in struggle
January 25, 2017
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Although many high school students worry about seemingly endless amounts of academic assignments, rocky relationships or earning money to purchase the trendiest tech gadget, Diamond Bar High School freshman Nathaniel Wu deals with a difficulty unimaginable to most students–a fight against leukemia.
Diagnosed with the cancer in 2014, Nathan initially didn’t consider the implications of the condition as he received news of his diagnosis one day after discovering a lump under his left jaw, which prompted him to follow up with his doctor, and went from leading a “normal life” at school to starting chemotherapy treatments after receiving the diagnosis.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know what was happening because it was so quick. It just slammed on me. For the next couple weeks, I was in a daze because it was too abrupt. My parents didn’t know what was happening either; we were all too shocked to truly know what was going on,” Nathan said.
Ever since the diagnosis, Nathan has received constant support from his family members, church family, fellow students and teachers. Despite the showering of sympathy and care from his loved ones, the freshman initially couldn’t relate to any of them, as they didn’t experience the same treatments, exams and check-ups he had endured.
However, at the time, one of Nathan’s eighth grade art teachers was also fighting cancer. The two soon bonded over the shared experiences of undergoing treatments and coping with the emotional effects of the disease. In addition, the teacher taught Nathan how to shape ceramics, pottery and clay pieces during class, which he later used to relieve stress.
“I used art as a way to express my emotions and as a way to look for a positive outlook even if things aren’t going my way,” Nathan said.
Comparing his well-being to a roller coaster, Nathan said that his condition is improving. In his first year of diagnosis, Nathan frequented Children’s Hospital Los Angeles weekly, sometimes being forced to stay overnight in the midst of attending school. Due to his hospitalization, Nathan couldn’t attend school anymore and returned to school a year later.
However, once he returned to Canyon Hills Junior High in the Chino Valley Unified School District in March 2015, Nathan couldn’t relate to his group of friends anymore and felt lonely, which prompted him to transfer into Walnut Valley Unified School District.
“Don’t expect everyone to understand what you’re going through, and don’t expect them to think it’s fine. I wanted a new start, new friends and new opportunities,” Nathan said.
Currently, Nathan takes medication daily and visits the hospital once a month. His treatment is divided into cycles, in which he receives various treatments depending on his condition, including immune system boosters and chemotherapy. Due to the rigor of his medicine, Nathan is hindered from his daily routine, facing difficulties walking large distances and flights of stairs.
Nathan considers the Make-a-Wish Foundation’s gesture a touching milestone in his journey, which impacted his future actions. Last year, the organization granted Nathan’s wishes by presenting him with a crystal heart stone and sending him to the airport in a limousine for a paid-for Alaskan cruise for him and his family to enjoy. After being touched by the gesture, Nathan returned the favor by helping the Riverside Make-a-Wish fundraise last year.
“I wanted to help other kids, because the [organization] did it for me. I was really grateful, and it’s a good program that genuinely helps kids,” Nathan said.
In addition, Nathan considers himself lucky to have such supportive, caring parents.
“I’m grateful that I’m getting a second chance to live. I’m grateful for my parents: my mom for always being there for me and my dad for taking time off even though he’s really busy with work,” Nathan said.
Outside of school, Nathan plays the piano and participates in scouting to relieve stress and anxiety, as he is limited to certain hobbies. First developing passion for piano nine years ago, Nathan practices the instrument daily, as it helps him de-stress and concentrate. In addition, Nathan joined the Boy Scouts six years ago and hopes to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.
“The hardest part is having to cope with the emotional aspects, the anxiety, the stress, but piano and the Boy Scouts gave me time to unwind and destress. Boy Scouts is just a way for me to stay normal, one of the last things I have.”
In addition to helping him relax, the hobbies helped Nathan revert back to his original happiness prior to his diagnosis.
“He used to be a very joyful, happy kid and that part of him is showing up little by little over the last few months. I am so glad that he still expects much from himself (studying for classes, playing piano and being involved in boys scout), and I believe that he will beat this beast,” Elaine Wu, mother of Nathan, said via email.
Despite his current positive attitude, Nathan initially harbored negative thoughts. But his mindset changed after learning multiple life lessons throughout his battle with leukemia.
“If you’re not strong, you will fall down. You have to keep a positive mind or else you’re going to sink back into negativity,” Nathan said. “[The quote] ‘take life as it is, even if you don’t like it, because you have to go through it,’ helps me [get] through the hardest days.”