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A moment that changed your life 

1st place $50

By Arianna ValdezParamount HS

Arianna Valdez (second from left) hangs out with her family.Photo by Arianna’s mom, Nora Valdez

I was 14 years old and thought I knew it all. I had good grades at school, but at home I fought a lot with my mom and stepdad. My parents divorced when I was young, and I developed anger toward my father for leaving my mom. I had become distant from my extended family as well. I couldn’t stand my hair; I complained about it every day. I am an only child, but I have a stepbrother whom I hated. I wanted nothing more than to hang out with my friends. I always wanted to be left alone, listening to music, surfing the web, you name it. I was always bitter and crabby. I took my life for granted.

May 2010, I’m diagnosed with cancer. Over two months, I was being tested and had two surgeries to determine if I was still in an early stage and could be spared the infamous chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Luckily, the cancer hadn’t spread into my bloodstream and cleaning out the tumors would be easy. Although it didn’t last as long as you would expect, those two months were hell. I cried myself to sleep every night, fearing the changes that accompanied chemo. I would have to be home-schooled. Chemo would cause me to be nauseous, weak, tired. I’d have to be on a strict diet—unhealthy food could get me sick. I would lose all my hair. I would have tubes connected to my heart coming out of my chest, and so much more. Thankfully, after the second surgery I was cancer free. Of course, I have to remain in remission and observation for five years to be sure the cancer doesn’t come back, but there’s only a small chance it will. 

At first, I didn’t understand why I had gotten cancer. I would think, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Does God hate me? How could he let anyone suffer what I’m suffering? Especially a kid!” 

Once I started accepting that this was real and I couldn’t do anything but fight it, I figured I would enjoy my life as long as I could before getting really sick. I started hanging out with my family more. I spent the weekends with my aunts and cousins, or with my dad and his side of the family. It was hard to do too much, though, because I spent more time at the hospital than I did at my house.

Once I was “cancer free,” I was still stuck with the mentality that it could come back at any moment, and I would regret not having enjoyed my life as much as I could have. I decided that from then on, I would live life to its fullest. I wouldn’t take anything for granted. I would try new things. I would love my brother and my parents, forgive my father, take lots of pictures, smile, laugh and act goofy. I’d be outgoing.

Two years later, I’m still cancer free. Three more to go until I’m considered safe. I have to say, God answered my questions. Why did I have cancer? Why me? Because my life was going to waste. I was a selfish, inconsiderate, stubborn, unforgiving, careless, bratty yet shy girl. But when the cancer hit, it completely changed me. When I saw my mom cry, it hurt me. When I heard my dad’s voice crack, his one and only child, his daughter, diagnosed with cancer, I regretted ever being mad at him. When my stepbrother and cousins were speechless, I reassured them. As I cried, my aunt held my hand and cried with me. She even went to appointments with my parents and me. 

I’m not the same girl I was before I had cancer. Today, I take too many pictures, smile too much, goof off too much. My brother and I have become close and my cousins have their “big sister” back. Cancer brought my family back together. Sometimes my hair is hard to manage, but I can’t say I hate it. Don’t wait for something like cancer to come around and change your life. Take it upon yourself to make things right and truly worth living for.

My dad’s death turned my world upside down

2nd place $30

By Christopher Colchado, Hollywood HS

The second I heard the news from my mom almost seven years ago, “Your dad died. He’s in a better place now,” it changed my life so much. Those were the most painful words I have ever heard. I had no father anymore. Never will I be able to hug him or tell him that I love him or talk about my problems with him because he’s gone. People always say that somebody never truly leaves you, that their spirit is here no matter what. Well, can you hug a spirit, can you cry on their shoulder? Will a spirit teach you things? It is impossible.

After my father died, my whole world collapsed. My brother became a delinquent and made my mom cry night after night and all we did was fight. I felt no support from anybody. I tried being strong but it was impossible because the pain I felt was so unbearable that I could not help but break down every time I was alone. To my family I appeared to be heartless with no emotion but nobody understood that I was hiding it, trying to protect my mom from feeling more pain. The hardest thing I have ever done was pretend that my father’s death did not make me sad, when in reality I was devastated beyond belief.

Before my father passed away, I was a straight-A student. For a while I gave up on school. Last year it finally hit me that my mom is still around and I should work on making her proud instead of disappointing everybody. She has done nothing but take care of my brother and me so I did my best and almost got straight As once again. Now I understand how much you have to appreciate your parents and loved ones because once they die nobody will bring them back no matter how much it hurts or how much you miss them. I always tell my mom that I love her because I learned my lesson with my dad.

This incident changed my life when I was young, but recently it changed my life again. I have learned how to live life. I learned how beautiful things are and how to enjoy them while they are there. Even though I have been through much struggle with my family, I still love life and being alive as much as I miss somebody who is dead. I know that maybe I will see them once I die. Until then I am going to live my life to its fullest and never look back.

A bike helped me lose weight

3rd Place $20

By Victor Loza, Marshall Fundamental HS (Pasadena)

A life-changing moment in my life was Dec. 24, 2010. On this day, I purchased my bike. I was always a lazy kid who never participated in any type of physical activity. I was extremely overweight—almost 300 pounds. I was upset with myself, always thinking, “How did I let this happen?” 

Being able to grab the bike and take it for a ride was difficult. I didn’t know where to ride. I didn’t have anyone to ride with or to motivate me. 

I would ride my bike for 20 minutes and I’d be exhausted. That’s how out of shape I was. Little by little I got more in my comfort zone. Video games were becoming something I would do when I wasn’t able to leave the house. My family noticed weight loss. I never noticed. Then one day I put on shorts that used to fit snug and now were baggy. After noticing that I started to feel very happy.

School was out for summer and I had just turned 16 years old. I had met some friends who also rode bikes. Our goal for the summer was to just ride. We would go on long rides and only stop to rehydrate, eat or sleep. In the middle of the summer I had a doctor’s appointment. I weighed in and the doctor told me I had lost 20 pounds! I was proud of myself. I was exploring the world, losing weight and gaining self-confidence by riding a bike.

By the end of summer I had lost about 50 pounds. If it wasn’t for that bike I would have probably been writing about getting a high score in a video game. Cycling has changed my life. I have lost tons of weight I never thought I was going to be able to lose. I now know my city a lot better and I’m not always indoors hiding from this great world. My confidence has increased and I will carry this life-changing experience with me throughout my life.


My baby sister brought my family together

Honorable mention

By Katherin AlbizuresHollywood HS

A moment that ultimately gave my life a huge turning point was the birth of my baby sister Kaylee. She changed the way I saw things and she made me become a better person. Even though she has only been in my life for a year, she’s the best thing that has happened to my family.

After my parents got divorced, it was always only three people living under the same roof. My mom, younger sister and I were living together and it was a lot of fun because we hung out at the mall, went to the movies, ate a new restaurants, etc. I was used to my small family and I liked how it only contained three people.

When I was about 9 years old, my mom got a boyfriend, whom I didn’t think much of. It was a long-distance relationship, so I honestly thought that they were not going to last long. However, when I was 13, my mom told us that he was going to come and live with us, but I ignored her because I thought she was joking. One week later, without a single warning, he was at my doorstep smiling down at us as if his presence was supposed to make me happy.

I really disliked everything he did and said. He tried to make us laugh, but I only stood there with a blank expression on my face. He cooked for us, but I denied eating his food. Basically, I was an intolerant brat who did not want to give him a chance. After a while, I thought he was going to leave due to the treatment my sister and I were giving him. My mom started to have problems with him because he always complained about us and all she told him was to try harder to win us over. I thought that I had finally gotten rid of him until Christmas morning, my mom told me that she was pregnant and that we were going to have a baby sister. I was happy with the idea of having a little baby around, but it was upsetting to know that my stepdad would have to stick around now. My mom started to get weaker by her seventh month of pregnancy, so we all had to work together to help my mom out. My stepdad and I shared the kitchen to make dinner and after awhile, there was no tension. We had small conversations and gave each other tips for some recipes. I decided to give him a chance because it was the least I could do after all the negative treatment I had given him. He turned out to be a pretty cool guy after all.

As soon as Kaylee was born, we became a united family. We went on trips together and we all got along. It’s crazy to think that one human being could have this huge impact on everyone else, so that they change for the better. My stepdad and I always joke around with each other now and sometimes I even introduce him as my dad. Any time I need a favor, he’s always there to help in any way he can. My mom is finally happy to see that I gave someone a chance to enter our lives. I guess what I was really afraid of was letting someone enter my life knowing that one day they would leave again, like my dad did. However, I know that my step dad is different and that he will stay. I’m glad that our family now contains five people instead of three. It seems complete and I hope it will always stay that way.


Caring for my nephew forced me to grow up

Honorable mention

By Oscar ReyesParamount HS

My nephew was born on Nov. 15, 2011, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. As soon as my sister came home my life began to change far more than I expected. During the next few months I could not imagine a more tiring time of my life, but more rewarding than anything.

In this short time I began to take on new responsibilities around my house. I’m not the one to usually do chores. But as soon as the baby came into the house, I was responsible for taking care of him while my sister was busy doing chores. I had to learn how to feed him, which was pretty easy. Then, awhile later I had to learn how to change him, which was kind of difficult because I really didn’t know what I was doing half the time, due to me not knowing which side goes on which side. Though I later learned how to master changing a baby, it was pretty difficult then. As soon as I came home from school, I had to take care of the kid, which didn’t last long because he would fall asleep pretty quickly. The first month of this new person in my life wasn’t too bad because I still remained the same as before, just with a few more responsibilities.

Fast track six months, my life has really changed dramatically. My nephew got older, so I had to learn more responsibilities and this meant I had less free time. As soon as I came home from school, my sister went to work, so I had to take care of the kid as usual. It was different though. Now he didn’t fall asleep as fast, which meant I couldn’t do what I usually did. I also didn’t have much time to do my homework. This was a tough time because I spent my free time doing nothing but staring at the TV. I wasn’t getting enough sleep so I couldn’t keep my eyes open during class. My grades dropped in my second semester and my parents were kind of mad about that. If that wasn’t bad enough, during the middle of the night when I’m asleep, the baby usually wakes up so I have to feed him for at least 20 minutes because my sister is either tired from work or she is doing her college homework. Then I go to sleep and wake up tired and my cycle repeats. I felt like I wanted to give up.

I thought to myself, “I need to change my habits if I want to succeed in life and be a good role model for him.” I began to use my free time during class to do my homework early instead of dozing off into space. As soon as I came home from school, I’d take care of my nephew and as he fell to sleep, I’d rapidly do my homework. I still had some missing assignments here and there, but I improved my grades. Now I had more free time and more time to sleep. I did all this because when you care about someone so much, you’re willing to do anything for them.

Although I had a tough time with my nephew, it was worth it because I learned not to be a lazy kid anymore and grow up. Having my nephew was great because he brought joy to my whole family and nothing is greater than that. He also gave me a great life lesson. In life you may feel like you just want to give up, but you need to realize the prize is much greater than you can imagine.

Next essay contest: A moral dilemma

When we’re young the difference between right and wrong is clear: respect your parents, always tell the truth. But as we get older it becomes harder to do the right thing, and we may even begin to question whether something is really that bad. Tell us about a time when you faced a moral dilemma. Maybe a classmate asked if they could cheat off your test, or you were out with friends who started shoplifting or someone offered you drugs at a party. Describe the situation and explain why it was hard to know what to do, like maybe you felt the pressure to fit in. What decision did you ultimately make and how did it affect you? 

Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it:

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and phone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners.Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our November-December 2012 issue and posted on

Mail your essay to:
L.A. Youth
5967 W. 3rd St. Suite 301
Los Angeles CA 90036
or to

DEADLINE: Friday, Oct. 19, 2012