Livy Burdo '21 - Real Talk on "A Light in the Shadows"

Hey! I’m Livy Burdo. I am a member of the class of 2021, student at Hopkins school, athlete, opera singer, daughter and most of all sister. All of these traits compose my identity and have affected my community. To me community is the way in which I interact with the world in my everyday life. One of the most significant factors of this is in fact my sisterhood. I am the sister of a pediatric cancer survivor, Alexander Burdo class of 2015, who was diagnosed with osteo-sarcoma (a rare bone cancer) when I was just six years old.

I want everyone to take a moment to think back to a memory that completely altered your reality and the way you now go through and perceive the world. For me it was the morning of August 28th, 2009. I will never forget stumbling down the stairs, ecstatic to spend one of my last summer days to the fullest, and then noticing my mother sitting at the dining room table, crying with the house phone glued to her cheek. It was in this moment I found out that my older brother, best friend and hero had been diagnosed with cancer. Of course, at this age the most I knew about the disease was from the children’s hospital commercials I saw in between Disney Channel shows. I had no idea how much it would affect my whole family’s lives.

I would like to address that when a 12 year-old boy, with two loving parents and two younger sisters, is diagnosed with cancer, he is most likely not fighting alone. In a way, through support, long hours spent at the hospital, and the trauma we all still carry around, my family helped Alex to fight this disease. Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital became a second home, and the days of one of Alex’s 15 surgeries where me and my older sister sat in school so worried became routine. Sympathetic people who called themselves “family friends” (I’d never even seen them before) often left food and other gifts at our doorstep. My brother was broadcast on the news multiple times and won awards that had to do with both his disease and love of birds and nature. When we thought Alex had lost strength in his arm and would never be able to hold binoculars again, our community came together to build a bird garden in our backyard. I spent most of 6th and 7th grade accepting apologies from my peers who I had no clue even knew my first name. Alexander came to Hopkins and met a loving community who helped him maintain an academic goal while also noting he was out at least once a month for at least a week receiving chemotherapy. While Alexander is now in remission, there’s no doubting all these memories and the trauma we’ve faced from his disease. I still always get annoyed when anyone jokes about cancer or any disease for that matter. I still wish people didn’t act like they knew more about cancer (especially pediatric) than I do. I still pray for all the kids I encountered in my hospital visits who were fighting for their life everyday. I still get chills when I hear my brother’s name on the prayer list every Sunday at church. I still feel infuriated that pediatric cancer is so underfunded by the government. I even still feel helpless.

As a community, Hopkins does an incredible job at showing kindness and love within classrooms and friend groups. Yet, we all tend to act as if we know everything about each other just by spending one period a day with a peer. As a school, we could start our own conversations addressing and raising awareness of issues rarely talked about like pediatric cancer. We, all as individuals, can be more accepting of others and not assume as much about their lives but instead strive to learn as much as we can and treat everyone we encounter with the kindness we would give to a best friend.

I often refer to my family’s experience as a “light in the shadows”. While it came with trauma and suffering, us five have grown so much as individuals and are all so strong. Going through something like this so young gives you a sense of maturity that I now am so lucky I have. Through the dark and sunny days I am so proud of how far Alex and my families come. We’ve found the light in the shadows.
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Hopkins is a private middle school and high school for grades 7-12. Located on a campus overlooking New Haven, CT, the School takes pride in its intellectually curious students as well as its dedicated faculty and staff.