PEPPERELL -- Turning adversity into opportunity, a local teenager has published a book about her experiences dealing with a life-threatening disease in hopes of inspiring others to persevere.
Christiana Roszik was diagnosed with leukemia at age 4 and battled the debilitating disease until after she turned 8, losing her hair a number of times in the process, until she was at last declared cancer free. Later, encouraged by her family, she wrote a book about it called "Through My Eyes: Leukemia at Age Four."
"Before writing this book, I never really talked about having leukemia," said Roszik, now 18. "When I was sick, my mom still let me do things. I did gymnastics and anything else a normal kid would do. It was only those times when I had no hair that I did things differently. But having this book to write let me talk about it all more openly. Before doing that, I would never just go up to somebody and say that I was a cancer survivor."
With the book's publication this year, Roszik donated one of the first copies off the press to the Why Me nonprofit organization's Sherry's House in Worcester, which provides a normal home atmosphere for children undergoing treatment for different forms of cancer.
For those unable to afford both lodging and hospital costs, Sherry's House provides free lodging for child cancer patients, their families and caregivers . Families with children receiving treatment at any Massachusetts hospital come from all over the United States, as well as Puerto Rico and Canada to stay at Sherry's House.
In addition, Sherry's House is home to child and family activities and events, houses volunteer programs, a cancer resource and research center, a children's learning center and the headquarters for the Why Me organization.
"I decided to donate my book to Sherry's House because a lot of families go in and out of there as well as a lot of kids who are going through cancer treatment," said Roszik.
Roszik's book project and its donation to Sherry's House both became part of her Gold Award project for the Girl Scouts. To win the Gold Award, the Girl Scouts' version of the more well known Eagle Scout award given by the Boy Scouts, a project must satisfy a number of criteria.
Although Roszik received notice on April 1 that she had earned the Gold Award, she will only receive the coveted Gold Award patch on June 9, when she travels to Worcester's Mechanics Hall along with other recipients from all over Massachusetts.
In the meantime, Roszik presented her book to local Girl Scouts during Thinking Day held in Pepperell at Our Lady of Grace Church.
"That's a day where all the troops from Pepperell come to learn about the world and such concerns as pollution, water availability, babies and food shelters," said Roszik. "We find out how to donate to certain places, too, so it's kind of a community-based learning day for Scouts.
"It was a long day," admitted Roszik. "I talked about my book to about 125 girls and my experiences being a Scout for 13 years. It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had."
As for her new book, the authoress has some big dreams.
"People can also buy my book for themselves," Roszik said. "What I would really like to do is have the book available in every hospital. I wanted to do that myself, but I knew I couldn't do it by myself, so I made it available online at lulu.com. To buy the book, you go there and type in the title."
Roszik hoped that over time, people who order the book could donate their copy to a hospital of their choice so that other young people could read it and hopefully draw comfort from it.
"When you get diagnosed with cancer and have to go to treatment for two or three years, you kind of just don't know what to do," said Roszik. "Once you have that first meeting about treatment, you're in and out of hospitals and doing doctor visits and everything. But now, a kid can read my book and learn how I coped with it. How my mom let me do things and how she made me all organic food. It kind of tells all about how my own story went. It's not meant to be a guideline, but something that's a little bit more informative than just what you get going to the hospital every two and half weeks. Also, I want it to give other kids with cancer hope. I want them to know that it is beatable."
A form of cancer, leukemia begins in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream, throwing off the body's circulatory functions.
Each year, there are an estimated 48,000 new cases of leukemia reported in the United States, with over 23,000 of those dying from the disease.
Treatment could include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy or vaccine therapy.
"Depending on how the book does, I probably will write about my experiences through college," said Roszik, who plans to major in health science at Quinnipiac University upon graduating from North Middlesex Regional High School. "Maybe it will be a sequel kind of a book. Sort of where I am now, after four years of college. Or maybe I might even write a book while I'm in college telling about how I'm doing."
In the meantime, however, summer looms and Roszik hopes to spend some of it volunteering at the Imus ranch in Arizona, where she spent two happy visits in years past and returned as a volunteer after being declared a cancer survivor.
"I first went with my brother when I was a freshman in high school," recounted Roszik. "The purpose of the ranch is not to make kids forget they have cancer, but to make them believe that it doesn't have to keep them from living a normal life and doing things other kids do. So they teach you to ride a horse, tie up a calf, and rope a steer head, and at the end they have a rodeo contest. This summer will be my second year helping out there. It's a lot of fun and I always want to go back."
In the end, after all of her long experience in dealing both with a life-threatening disease and with life in general, Roszik boiled it all down to a simple maxim.
"I think you should treat everybody the same," she advised. "Everyone's equal and you should judge them not on what they have, but who they are."