by Marie Soldo
MIDDLETOWN – Three years ago in a Philadelphia hospital room filled with family and supportive get well cards, Emily Calabro was determined to win her fight against cancer.
And as she succeeded, she learned about strength, resilience and the importance of giving back to others.
Recently ShopRite, in collaboration with Unilever, granted Dove Right On Girls scholarships to four exceptional young women, and one of them was Emily, an inspirational and ambitious 14-year-old from Middletown. The scholarships are awarded to young women who devote their talent and time to their communities.
When Emily was diagnosed with suprasellar germinoma, a rare form of brain cancer, in February 2014, she was supported by her family, friends, and dance studio, all of whom she credits for giving her the strength to overcome her battle with cancer, which included two experimental brain surgeries.
“My entire family visited and called, always making sure I had happy days,” she said. Members of Emily’s family would often drive to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to offer their support, explore the city with her, and make her smile on the “bad days.”
While Emily was in the hospital, she said she was aware of how fortunate she was, and also acknowledged the fact that not everyone is blessed with a loving and supportive family.
“Sometimes we don’t realize how truly lucky we are and how much we actually have,” she said. “You don’t really enjoy what you have until you do things for others.”
The Middletown High School North honor student now mentors young children as a religious education assistant. She is also an algebra tutor, children’s dance instructor, and avid member of Team IMPACT, an organization that helps children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses, and then ensures that those children have the best quality of life. Upon being “drafted,” children are placed on local college athletic teams where they learn how to be strong and resilient, all while gaining a huge support system in the process.
Emily finds tutoring rewarding, especially when a child no longer struggles with math and she sees not only their grades improve, but their confidence too. In her spare time, she cheers with her high school’s varsity team, enjoys trips to the beach, and searches for new places to eat.
Throughout her journey to become cancer-free, Emily’s mother, who nominated her for the scholarship, was and has always been Emily’s biggest supporter, moving to Philadelphia and staying with her daughter while she was hospitalized and undergoing treatment.
“She made sure we did something fun every day,” said Emily. The two often made the 10-block walk to the Liberty Bell and explored the stores in the area.
According to her mother, Cathy, her daughter had very few bad days because Emily always stayed positive.
“My mother finds the answers to my questions, fulfills my needs, and cheers me on,” said Emily. She credits her mother for bringing out her best qualities and helping her improve on her weaknesses.
In addition to family, friends played a key role in Emily’s recovery, including those from Dance Factory USA, the dance studio she attends.
“My dance family supported me and gave me the confidence to continue fighting,” Emily said. “They posted optimistic quotes and sent thoughtful gifts almost daily. Our studio owner, Aimee Layfield, had ‘Team Emily’ shirts made for the team to wear at competitions.”
Emily said it was overwhelming and wonderful to see her teammates and dance instructors wearing those shirts.
Thorne Middle School, where Emily was a student at the time, was just as supportive as her family and dance studio, putting together a fundraiser carnival where T-shirts and bracelets were sold to support Emily and her family. She was thankful for everything the middle school had done, but what she especially appreciated was receiving all the get well cards, filled with inspirational messages. “There were so many, they covered all of the walls in my hospital room,” she said.
At the end of her treatment, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania gave Emily an award for her courage and determination in completing radiation therapy. She also had a chance to ring a bell at the university, which represented that completion.
When Emily graduates from high school, she wants to become a Ronald McDonald camp counselor. “I would love to give back to children who have had similar medical experiences,” she said.
And she hopes to attend either the University of South Carolina or the University of Pennsylvania. Architectural design is a possible major, but she also thinks about becoming an oncologist.
With lots of ambition and the support of her family and community, the cancer-survivor, is proud to add the titles of tutor and mentor to her resume.
“You must be positive and know it will get better,” she said. “You must be able to stay strong and remember how loved and cared about you are.”
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