Cancer Survivor Used Her Make-a-Wish to Tell Story of Sexual Abuse

This teenager assures the world that if she can survive cancer and sexual assault, so can anyone else.
Jul 18, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Instead of a trip to Disney World or meeting her favorite celebrity, 18-year-old Lena Strickling had a more ambitious idea for her Make-a-Wish grant.

Along with having Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the Alaskan teen was a victim of sexual abuse. She decided to use her once-in-a-lifetime wish to make a video in hopes of spreading awareness and encouraging others to come forward about sexual abuse.

“I have had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I’ve been sexually abused, and I’ve been through domestic violence, and it’s OK,” Strickling said in a video produced by Collectively and the Make-a-Wish foundation. “Life goes on, and I’m OK.”

Strickling is a survivor. Not only has she been cancer-free since April, after 15 rounds of chemo, but she endured years of sexual abuse by her father. The abuse started in childhood, long before she even understood what was happening. After she penned a letter to her mother at the age of 10, her mother reported the crime, and her father was sent to prison.

Her two best friends, Peach and Mariah, participated in the video and spoke openly about their experiences with sexual abuse and violence. They also revealed some of the victim blaming associated with revealing their past. Instead of sympathy, all three were asked insensitive questions about why they didn’t speak up sooner, stop what was happening, or fight back—as if they were at fault.

So, Why Should You Care? Fear of being blamed for the abuse or not believed make coming forward difficult. An estimated 68 percent of sexual assault crimes are not reported to the police, according to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.

Being free from her father was just one piece Strickling needed to move on with her life. Talking about the abuse and sharing her story has been instrumental in her coming to terms with the trauma.

“If you were sexually abused, it’s OK to talk about it,” Strickling and her friends say in an address to their Internet audience. “Just say it. And be proud of yourself and stand up for yourself…. Don’t let anybody knock you down.”