Selma Sulejman, Cancer Survivor

I am a bilateral retinoblastoma survivor who was diagnosed when I was 3 months old. Post toxic treatments, I was deemed totally blind in both eyes. Currently, I am 27 years old and in my third year of Harvard Law School, pursuing my studies in aiding current pediatric cancer families, as well as fighters.

I have supported CureSearch and its mission to accelerate the search for cures since 2014.

To give you a glimpse of what I am involved in for the month of September, on Monday, September 12, I hosted a “Light it Up Gold Gala” at school, in honor of a young pediatric fighter that left us too soon. I worked with her and her family for an entire year. Her name was Cecelia, and she was from Rwanda, Africa. She had stage IV neuroblastoma.

I conducted various grant and research writing submissions for her to help her and her family to come to America and possibly receive the most innovative treatments. After six months of intense chemo, her condition worsened, and three weeks later, she died.

September 12 was solidly dedicated to Cecilia and Emily, another little girl who I also grew really close to. Emily was only five years old when I met her and she was recently diagnosed with DIPG. In short, she had the most beautiful and brightest smile, just like Cecilia. Sadly, post her diagnosis, she fought out this monster an entire year, just two months shy of her sixth birthday.

I spent countless hours with Emily in the hospital room, playing Candyland, reading, and coloring, but most of all, just listening to her little words of strength and worry. Although I devoted the night to both of these girls, all of the funds will be going toward our current fighters in hopes of a better tomorrow.

Likewise, on Tuesday, September 13, we had a gold bake-off, and during the entire month I will strive to advocate, raise awareness, support research, and raise funding for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Another exciting event we have is on September 20. It is a #GoGold poetry night in which all entrance fees will go to the fight against pediatric cancer and all poets will be styling their gold awareness ribbons.

Aside from just September, in my daily life I work in global health and law aspect to aid families in underdeveloped countries who have children that are battling pediatric cancer or any other terminal illness. In addition, I also devote a lot of my time and work to post pediatric cancer, as I know how childhood cancer can leave its mark on a survivor permanently.

Q. What advice would you give to a parent/family member of someone with cancer?

A. First and foremost, the battle is indescribable. It’s hard for parents and family members because they are not running the marathon or fighting the same battle that their family member is.

In some situations, there is a sad outcome even if you survive the disease. Cancer can leave you with a disability like me (blind in both eyes), and you can suffer from post toxic treatment side effects. For parents, the most important thing is to give their child hope and that they can still accomplish their dreams. That a cancer diagnosis can’t take everything away from them, and to always have hope.

Q. What advice would you give to a child battling cancer?

A. They should never give up hope and never feel that they are alone. So many are willing are to help and listen, if needed.

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