10th place (tie) — High school essay contest: Samantha Schwarz

I choose determination and self-reliance

Samantha Schwarz

FFRF awarded Samantha $300 for her essay.

By Samantha Schwarz

After dealing with much adversity, it’s easy for me to recognize that life  is not fair. Acknowledging a higher power or being doesn’t always ensure good fortune or the prevention of bad fortune. When I was diagnosed with cancer, it felt like my world collapsed. It forced me to grow up fast. I was hit with the cold reality of isolation and separation from family and friends. The constant battle of anxiously waiting for test results and fearing additional treatments necessary to live has always kept me on edge.

Prayer was commonly brought up as I lived as an in-hospital patient. Family members and friends would reach out, telling me they pray for me. Much emphasis was placed on rituals like attending church, reciting prayers and preaching about holy powers and unquestionable love of an nonexistent being.

Religion for me is too restrictive. As a free-spirited and independent-thinking survivor, I’m against any establishments that forcibly regulate my moral and ethical values; that tell me some of my actions and thoughts are more valid than others; that preach about only being able to obtain paradise and being accepted if certain practices or worship routines are performed.

I will forever be grateful for my family and friends’ endless love and support, but no amount of spiritual messages or calling upon a god, spirit or angel prevented the cancer from coming back again — and again and again.

I am a survivor. I have never stopped fighting when chemotherapy took my last strands of hair, when surgery and radiation brought back what was hoped to be the last whirlwind of pain, or even when isolation brought the fear of deteriorating friendships.

I lived the first 15 years of my life waiting for something “amazing” to happen, but nothing ever did. My religious faith was exhausted, so I chose to step outside my learned religious beliefs. I have no reason to believe that my now-improving health is a result of anything except my skilled doctors, my own drive and willpower and having faith in myself.

Samantha, 17, from Rocklin, Calif., will be attending the University of California-Los Angeles. She would like to become a doctor, specializing in oncology or radiology. “Cancer may have infringed on my being every year in high school, but I never allowed it to infringe on who I am as a leader, survivor and dreamer,” Samantha writes. In high school, she was  junior class president, founder of the Asian Pop Culture Club and danced with the Multicultural Youth Group.