My name is Elizabeth Burchenal, I am 22 years old. I am a daughter, a sister and a survivor. I recently beat Ocular Melanoma when I was twenty years old.
My whole life I have been an athlete and somewhat of an adventurer. I grew up with 3 brothers, who were either beating me up, or teaching me how to beat some else up…Fighting was not something I literally did, but metaphorically speaking, yes I had to fight for everything in my youth when surrounded by three boys. They made me tough as nails and I will never be able to fully thank them for that.
I also played soccer my whole life, and went to college to play soccer for the UNC Tarheels. Eventually after parting with soccer, I found it hard to find something to take pride in. I had always been complimented and somewhat praised for my ability to play soccer. It actually blinded me from the bigger picture of what the world had to offer me because once it was all taken away, I felt like I had nothing special that defined me or no talents that set me apart from the millions of people in the world. Today, I do not struggle finding something to be proud, and I feel so very very far from average.
My story starts my sophomore year of college. One day, I actually considered taking notes, which never happened…when I realized I couldn’t really read the words on the board. I was confused because I never had any trouble with my vision, I always had 20/20. I called my mom and told her when I came home for spring break that we should go grab some of those ridiculous reading glasses just in case I wanted to continue my newly acquired studious attributes…so one day over my spring break I called my mom up and we went to LensCrafters in the mall. I just wanted to grab the glasses and go, but my mother insisted on getting a check up to make sure I didn’t need any prescriptive lenses. Against my will, I agreed and had a mini check up in the back of this tiny LensCrafters in the shopping mall. One thing led to the next, and one doctor sent me to another doctor who sent me finally to a local doctor at the hospital here in Cincinnati, who knew within 2 minutes of looking at my eye that it was cancer.
When I was a little kid, I would have a hard time sleeping because I would play the “What if?” game. The two biggest what if’s were, what if someone in my family got cancer, and what if someone got in a plane crash. For some reason those two things always haunted me. I was young, so at that point I thought the world would end if one of those things were to happen, and that I would just give up…
Surprisingly, the moment I heard my doctor utter the words “cancer” I had this immense amount of energy come over me. Like I was immediately ready to beat the absolute crap out of this. Sure I was terrified, actually horrified, but not about losing to it, more so at knowing how much work I was about to have to do, and the fears that everyone around me was about to undergo. I sat outside of the hospital with my Mom and Dad and I remember sitting on the curb sort of speechless, and my Dad said to me “Elizabeth, you are the toughest little girl I’ve ever known, I wish I could take this for you, but if anyone can do this it is you.” I remember thinking that very second THANK YOU LORD that it was me and not someone else in my family. It helped that my doctors had 100% confidence in my radiation and surgery that I was going to receive. The hardest part was getting the 3 hour MRI and CT scans to make sure the cancer had not traveled. Both of those tests, as many people know, can take a while and it was hard not to worry about the worst. As soon as I knew it was isolated, then I was ready to seek and destroy.
I received my radiation at University Hospital in Cincinnati the week after I found my cancer. The doctors designed me my very own gold plated radiation piece that they stitched onto the back of my eye. I stayed in the hospital for one week for my radiation, and that is when having three brothers comes in handy. Because I was undergoing the radiation, it isn’t necessarily safe for any one person to always be in such close contact. That being said, I was never lonely, I always had someone there with me. My brothers brought me flowers every single day and professed their love for me every hour, which did not hurt. I had endless amounts of other family and friends, and the amount of people that showed up for me was truly overwhelming. The things people did for me and said to me is honestly what I believe helped me heal so fast. My doctors were absolutely amazing and to this day have become very good friends. Having love like that around you is contagious. A week later, I walked out of the hospital and went home. It was only a matter of time to see if the radiation worked. I had multiple appointments and check ups to make sure the process was progressing properly and that my melanoma was fading away. Fortunately, several months later my wonderful doctors told me that they noticed only a scar left in my eye. The only loss I suffer from is the loss of my vision from the strong radiation, but that is something I wake up grateful for.
Everyone I know and love continually tells me how sorry they are that I had to go through that experience, but what I always tell them is that I am so thankful every day that I did. You never realize what you have until your standing face to face with losing it. It has made me appreciate life so much more and given me a passion for life that I had always taken for granted. My life today is better then I could have ever imagined. I have dreams and aspirations that I look forward to accomplishing. I actually hope to one day work for a foundation like The Young and Brave. All I want to do is give back and help others in their darkest days.
Although my brothers taught me to be a fighter, I think I was born a lover… but fighting cancer and beating cancer only motivates me to love harder, deeper, and sweeter every single day.