Connecting people to people
Mark Ciccarelli was diagnosed with Hodgkin disease when he was 9 years old and just about to enter the fourth grade. He did his best to pretend it wasn't that bad, forcing a smile and imagining a time when he'd be cancer free.
Mark missed a lot of school that year, because of the chemotherapy and then the radiation. But he took part in as many activities as he could. There were times when he'd go outside and play kickball hooked up to a catheter in his chest—partly to feel like a normal kid again and partly to reassure his family and friends that he was alright.
Now Mark is 26 years old and cancer free, and he works as a financial advisor. He recalls that when he was going through cancer treatment as a kid, although he couldn't know all the specifics of his cancer, he did know that he had to endure and find strength in every way possible.
Today he credits his support system in helping him do that.
than being able
to help others.
"I looked at cancer as a team sport; on my own I would never win, but if I opened up to the positivity of others around me, I knew I would have a fighting chance," he says. "While every day brought on new challenges, both mentally and physically, I always felt love and support from my family, friends, and classmates. Those were the key factors that helped me get through my cancer diagnosis."
Mark also realized how helpful it was to connect with someone who was having a similar experience. "It gives you a lot more strength to talk to someone who understands what you're going through firsthand," he says. "As a 9 year old with hair falling out and constant nausea from medication, I had a really hard time understanding why I was sick. It caused me to be quite shy. I finally felt better when a family friend who had cancer sat me down and spoke to me about our shared experiences. Then I didn't feel like I was the only one."
Mark now helps other cancer survivors make these kinds of helpful connections through Conquer Together, an interactive Web site that he created. The site allows cancer survivors, family members, and caregivers from around the world to share their experiences, reasons for hope, and other messages of encouragement. The site has hundreds of members and gets thousands of hits a day.
"I understand that I'm very fortunate to be here doing what I'm doing," Mark says. "There's nothing better than being able to help others."
The story on this page was first featured in the book Cancer Adventures, by Marlys Johnson (Copyright © 2008 by Marlys Johnson). Both the story and the photograph are owned by the author and the survivor and are used with permission.