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After Battling Cancer, This Brave Girl Used Her Make-A-Wish Experience To Speak Out Against Sexual Abuse

"I have had Hodgkin's lymphoma, I've been sexually abused, and I've been through domestic violence, and it's OK. Because life goes on and I'm OK."

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Lena is a remarkable 18-year-old girl. After battling cancer, Lena used her Wish, granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, to share her own story to be an advocate for other survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com / Via youtube.com

Lena's video was produced at Collectively. Lindsay Schrupp, an editor and social producer for Collectively, is a former Make-A-Wish staffer, and shared Lena's story with BuzzFeed.

Meet Lena. At 18, she has already endured more hardships than anyone deserves in an entire lifetime.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena says, "I have had Hodgkin's lymphoma, I've been sexually abused, and I've been through domestic violence, and it's OK."

Somehow, through it all, Lena has a positive outlook on life.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena told BuzzFeed, "I want people to know that being abused shouldn't break your confidence, spirit, or your smile."

When contacted by Make-A-Wish, Lena told the organization that she wanted to do a photo shoot, article, and video encouraging other young people to come forward about sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena told BuzzFeed, "I hope people who have been abused, and people who haven't, realize that it's not as uncommon as it appears."

Lena candidly recounted how her own father sexually abused her every day.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena recalls, "Honestly, as far back as I can remember, my dad was sexually abusive. He could even find a way to abuse us in front of people without anybody noticing. He would put a cover over us and do things... It was every day."

Lena's younger sister Samara has just recently begun to open up about her own abuse.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

It was only after Lena herself spoke up that she discovered her siblings also had similar experiences. She says, "I had no idea they'd been through anything like it, and it scared me, having that realization. Especially my little sister, because I tried to protect her with all my might, and I failed. It was bad."

Lena's two best friends, Mariah and Peach, are also survivors of both sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena realized "the best way to spread awareness is to make people realize that if three friends can come together and be through the same thing at different times of their lives, that it happens more often than not. You don't know what people have been through."

After Mariah opened up about her own abuse, Lena comforted her friend.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Jessie Elenbaas, Lena's Wish Coordinator, told BuzzFeed, "Meeting Lena touched me in a deep way. She is a bright light and her soul SHINES. While her two friends were having a hard time warming up to all the special treatment, Lena would hug them often and whisper something into their ear to make them smile. She had a 'way' about her that brought out the best in others."

It was Lena's friend Peach, advocating for girls in her school, that inspired Lena's wish.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena told BuzzFeed, "I hope in some way I make a difference in even one person's life. I just want people to feel OK."

Lena and her friends were picked up from their swank hotel in a limo, thanks to Make-A-Wish.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena told BuzzFeed, "Make-A-Wish made the whole experience amazing. As if just being able to share my story wasn't enough, they pampered us. They were very thoughtful and made sure to ask a lot of questions so they could make it just right. I really appreciate all the work the organization did to make my wish a reality."

And then it was time for the photo shoot at the Michael Craft Photography Studio.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Wish Coordinator Jessie Elenbaas told BuzzFeed, "Lena's personality shines on and off camera. Her eyes draw you in. She is calm. She is caring. She giggled and loved every moment, but when it was time for her portrait photos, she was confident and graceful beyond her years."

Lena and her friends have received feedback from other abuse victims who have shared their stories.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

Lena told BuzzFeed, "So many people know what it feels like to be invisible, ugly, stupid in our own minds. And many know and openly share how hard it was to come forward but how amazingly rewarding it was afterwards."

She says that after speaking up, her life changed for the better.

Collectively / Via youtube.com

"Now I have two of the most amazing friends in the entire world, an awesome boyfriend, and my family, everybody knows and nobody cares anymore. It's not a stigma, it's OK. I can go live my life and do what I want, it doesn't matter."

Lena told BuzzFeed she is now officially cancer-free!

Collectively / Via youtube.com

She added, "I look forward to my future with little expectation but overflowing with hope."

Note: The author of this post has been a volunteer Wish Granter for Make-A-Wish for the past 10 years.

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