Ellora Amrit doesn't remember much about the cancer treatment that began when she was 3.
She's seen pictures of her younger self in a hospital with her parents and has some unpleasant recollections of painful spinal taps.
It's the exposure to doctors and nurses and chemistry that she obtained while she was treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia that has stayed with her.
As she got older, Ellora, 17, used her own medical records to study different kinds of chemotherapy, how they were discovered and how they work. That translated into a love of chemistry and biology and, now, a desire to become an oncologist. She has volunteered for several summers at St. Joseph Hospital.
"I do not think I would have found this inspiration without a curiosity in cancer that came from my own diagnosis," wrote Ellora in an award-winning essay.
Ellora, a junior at Lexington's Henry Clay High School, won in the Survivors category of The Write Stuff Teen Contest sponsored by Gilda's Club of Louisville. The purpose of the contest, said Gilda's Club marketing director Suzanne Goldring, is to "find meaning in one's cancer journey and use it for the good" of others.
Ellora's essay stood out, Goldring said, "because she used her original voice to exhibit the ability to take an immense negative in her life and turn it into a positive."
Ellora, a soft-spoken teen with an easy smile, said she hopes that's what people take away from her essay.
"I sort of feel like I have an obligation to help people since so many people helped me."
Here is an excerpt from her essay:
"Cancer has also taught me to find happiness in each day. We have a picture of my dad and me during our stay at the Ronald McDonald house. Despite the grim time we still look happy. Even if it was for a short time we somehow found the ability to smile. This picture reminds me to smile even during hard times because it makes them more bearable.
"This disease has also taught me compassion. I always think how amazing it is how people can come together during terrible times. Even though we don't necessarily know someone, we as humans have the ability to feel compassion for them. I am so grateful of the compassionate nurses and doctors that took care of me. I find it amazing how even though they didn't know me, and didn't know what I would grow up into they still worked so hard to help me. I hope that one day I can do the same for someone."
As an essay winner, Ellora will receive $500. She plans to "save the money for college of maybe a car :)," she wrote in an email.
Gilda's Club, 633 Baxter Ave., is a free cancer-support community for men, women, teens and children and is named for comedian Gilda Radner, who died from ovarian cancer in 1989. A national organization, Gilda's Club has more than 20 affiliates operating in North America.