The biggest thing I could have ever done here was interview Yangzi. When I interviewed Yangzi, I learned more about the stressful challenges these kids with life-threatening medical conditions face, and how difficult it is to feel a sense of normality and belonging. Hearing Yangzi’s experience made me feel a lot more determined in my own life, because the impression I got from him was “your job is to give every dream you have, your best shot.” Yangzi’s story taught me that just because you have experienced loss and setbacks doesn’t mean you have to be defined by them. When I spoke to Yangzi, he was already working towards a few near-future goals and planning for a bigger, ideal future. But it was great to hear how Make-A-Wish helped him get where he is today, and to know that Make-A-Wish offered hope through a rough journey.
Yangzi has been through the shock and pain of finding out he has bone cancer, the fear and heartbreak of finding out leg amputation is his best option for survival, the struggle and frustration to fit in in school, and the attempt to play sports and run with a prosthetic built for walking. But, the most recurring thing he said as he shared his experience was, “I tried.” Yangzi's courage stands out to more than anything else. He told me that when he started playing football in high school, he got really bad cuts and bruising on his leg from running with the walking prosthetic. Because he wanted to do his hardest, he made sure he hid his physical pain from his teammates and coaches.
At such a difficult time in his life, Yangzi heard about Make-A-Wish. If it were truly possible, he thought, his biggest wish would be to have a running blade. At one time in his life, Yangzi was a carefree kid running around and playing ball with his neighborhood friends in China. He never imagined his life would take a huge shift at the age of 14 when he and his family would move to Philadelphia to seek treatment for his cancer. “It was a down time,” Yangzi said. “I was pretty sad for half a year or so.” He told me about the day he was fitted for his first prosthetic leg. “It felt strange at first because I wasn’t actually walking,” he said. “It was more like floating on air.” That statement resonated with me. Though Yangzi couldn’t feel the ground again with his own two feet, he was happy to be standing again. But, still, what he wanted the most was to run again. I felt like Yangzi was the perfect example of “when life knocks you down, it’s an opportunity to rise.”
Yangzi taught me a lot of great things, but most importantly, he taught me that pain and challenges, can actually be an opportunity for growth. “It feels like there can’t be any more risk than having an amputation,” Yangzi said. “If I would have never had it, I would have never had this better understanding of life.”
Now that Yangzi has his running blade, he is making the most out of his senior year of high school by training for the upcoming track season.
For now, though, there is only a running blade and a desire to run.
"There is so much anxiety for me to be active and running,” Yangzi said.
Photos by JPG Photography.