DENTON, Texas — If you could write a letter to yourself, to a younger version of yourself, what would you say? What advice or warning, inspiration or hope would you share?
For our first round of letters like this, I knew the perfect person to ask.
His name is Nicky. At the time we first met he was a 9-year-old who had beaten acute lymphocytic leukemia. He and his family had even taken his victory and turned it into a mission to help others. He held fundraisers so that every child admitted to Texas Children's Hospital in the Houston Medical Center would be given a free DVD player and access to a library of movies to help them battle the hours of treatment and boredom during their hospital stays.
And Nicky also had a penchant for publicizing his cancer victories by wearing a coveted pair of pink tennis shoes.
"I'll say to them, 'If I fought cancer and lived, I'm tough enough to wear pink shoes,'" he told me.
So, if we needed advice on how to beat leukemia, who better to talk to than the kid in pink tennis shoes now?
"I needed a haircut," Nick Sauter laughed during our most recent conversation on the campus of UNT in Denton where he is now a 19-year-old college freshman. "It's a good argument if you think about it," he laughed about his pink tennis shoes quote all those years ago.
"I'd hope that people can realize...hope," he said of his now 10-year cancer-free journey.
And to share that message of hope I asked him to write a letter to himself, and to the next child about to face the same fight he did.
"Dear Me," he wrote, "this is going to be difficult. I'm not going to lie. But when you make it out — and you will, your life is going to be amazing."
"I still remember it like it was just yesterday," another cancer fighter named Davion Hollywood told me. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 16. Aggressive chemotherapy also kept him hospitalized for weeks, burned away all of his hair and left him with more than enough moments of worry and despair. But now he's a healthy college freshman, too. And he offered to pen a page of advice as well.
"Hey little guy," his letter begins. "You're probably about to face more adversity than you've ever endured in your entire life, but hey, that's OK."
"Nicky. Never change," Nick Sauter wrote. "Always keep that smile and just keep going. Everything is doing to turn out alright, I promise."
"Don't rush the process," Davion continued. "Instead just prepare for the celebration at the finish line."
"Plus, people really like you when you be yourself," Nick wrote. "We're a really funny person."
"You may have days where you feel like you can't take it anymore, but you're strong," wrote Davion. "Just go day by day and night by night."
"Yes there will be ups and downs throughout your life," Nick continued, "but all the people you meet, things you do, and places you go will outweigh the bad."
"Cancer may have started the fight, but you will finish it," Davion wrote at the end of his letter. "Your testimony awaits."
"Not many people get second chances at life," Nick said at the end of his letter. "So take it, run with it, and never look back. But always remember where you came from. Sincerely, your future self."
"I would want them to hear to keep fighting you know," Davion said about the letter he wrote. "Not only for the kids but for the parents of the kids also to know that it's not always the end of the world. There can be hope found within these hard times. And to keep pushing."
"You said what do you want them to see? I just want them to go...look at me," Nick Sauter said, "because there are success stories."
If you look at it by the numbers, the five year survival rate for leukemia, as reported by the National Cancer Institute is almost 63 percent. But Davion and Nick ask you not to look at the numbers. Look at, and listen to, them instead.
Davion plans to become a hematology and oncology nurse to help people just like him. Nick plans to study criminal justice for a career in law enforcement. They are survivors with a message. And, as far as Nick is concerned, maybe a survivor rocking a pair of pink tennis shoes along the way.
"You reminded me of that — I might actually go out and buy a pair," he laughed.
Read Nick Sauter's entire letter:
You don’t know it yet, because you are too young, but when you get older, everyone is going to tell you not to blink. If you blink, then you miss certain moments in your life and you miss out on things. I say the opposite when it comes to these next two and a half years: Blink. This is going to be one of the most difficult times in your life, but you’re not even going to remember it. Blink and it will all be over and that is where the real fun begins: living out your second chance. From what I can tell you, it is going to be something you want to tape your eyes open for. You are going to meet so many amazing people, see astounding things, go to awe inspiring places, and make everlasting memories. Before I can tell you about some of you experiences and give you some advice, let me start from the beginning.
Mom. Dad. Everything is going to be okay. I know that those 6 simple words changed our lives forever, but believe me and trust me when I say that this challenge and change was for the better. Looking back, 14 years ago, I honestly can not see who I would’ve been, because cancer has become a huge part of me. You guys are going to make it through this and most importantly: I’m going to make it through this and we are going to do amazing things. Kate, thank you for being understanding. Your life is going to be put on pause, and I know as an 8 year old, that may not make sense, but in the future you will understand. I couldn’t have done this without you and you’re the best sister a younger brother could ask for. You grow up into an amazing woman, and just know that this will make us even closer and nothing can separate us; no matter how hard you try or still wish for a sister instead of a brother. To my younger self, Nicky. This is going to be difficult, I’m not going to lie. But when you make it out, and you will, your life is going to be amazing. Yes, there will be ups and downs throughout your life, but all the people you meet, things you do, the places you go will outweigh the bad. You won’t even remember the bad parts. You will remember the good parts though, I promise you that.
The best advice that I can give you without spoiling anything is to have fun, be yourself, and never hold back. You are going to have so many different and extraordinary opportunities that many other kids are not going to get, so have fun with each and everyone of those moments. Remember that those moments only happen once, and that no matter how hard you want them to happen again, they’re gone in an instance. It’s not as sad as you think, you will always carry those memories with you no matter what. Be yourself. Sounds easy enough now since you’re young, but when you get older there’s an “image” that you want to fit into. Don’t. It is better to be yourself and share your story that is unique than to fit into this image of what people want you to be. Plus, people really like you when you be yourself; we’re a really fun person. Finally, never hold back. Having this second chance at life means that our eyes were opened. You will realize, in time, that life is so fragile, and that it can be gone in a moment. Don’t hold back when it comes to everything in your life. Whether it be bungee jumping at the rodeo, dancing the night away at camp, or hiking up a mountain states away...spoilers.
I could go on for days on the different advice to give you, but you probably won’t remember since you’re 4, but just know that you’re going to do amazing things. Mom and Dad, you play such an important part in my life and I can’t thank you enough. Knowing that you guys make it through together for me is an amazing thing and I thank you for not only being rocks for me, but for each other. It is going to be difficult, but seeing my grow up and go off to college and being successful and rocking it will all be worth it, I promise. Kate, you are my biggest supporter, protector, and best friend. Never forget that and always know that I will always look up to you, so be good. Nicky, never change, always keep that smile, and just keep going. Everything is going to turn out alright, I promise. Not many people get second chances at life, so take it, run with it, and never look back, but always remember where you came from.
Your Future Self
Read Davion Hollywood's entire letter:
Letter to Myself
Hey little guy, pick your head up. In life, sometimes things happen that you have absolutely no control over and in your instance, this is one.
You’re probably about to face more adversity then you’ve ever endured in your entire life…. But hey, that’s okay. You have the support of your family and friends along with many other supporters you may not even know. Mentally, I know you’re probably thinking why me and that you don’t deserve any of what’s going to happen, but always remember; EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.
You may even encounter a view bumps along the road, but never alone. The changes you may go through, whether physically or mentally, embrace them. They will help you build character and help you understand there isn’t anything wrong with being “different” or unique.
Remember, always think positive! You may have days where you feel like you can’t take it anymore, but you’re strong. Just go day by day and night by night and try not to exhaust your mind.
Focus on you and try and leave any other worries in the past, as they can be a huge distraction for the task ahead.
Don’t rush the process, instead just prepare for the celebration at the finish line. So many await you with joy and love. Cancer may have started the fight, but you will finish it.
Your testimony awaits.
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