Writing from the heart

Junior Alexander Kowal places third in Cancer Support Community essay contest


Junior Alexander Kowal receives his $500 prize from Dr. Robert Nolan, contest co-sponsor. Photo courtesy of the Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach.

The Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach (CSCRB) gives teens the opportunity to write about how cancer has affected their lives with the nonprofit’s “Your story! “Your voice” essay contest; five entries were selected by celebrity judge Carson Daly of “The Voice.” Junior Alexander Kowal placed third and won $500 for his piece which delved into the physiological effects cancer has on the body. 

“I wanted to participate because I felt like the competition was a good way for me to express my feelings about cancer, and how it has changed my life and the lives of others,” Kowal said. 

Kowal’s essay was centered around Ryse Williams, a “close” friend of Kowal who passed away in June 2017. 

“Ryse was an inspiration for me because he exemplified everything I strive to be,” Kowal said. “He was a brilliant basketball player and student. He was also a great friend — he took me under his wing and helped me develop my game when I was younger.” 

Writing about Williams and his death proved to be “strenuous,” according to Kowal. 

“It was challenging because of how difficult it was to write about somebody you know is gone,” Kowal said. “It’s like trying to literally transfer your pain onto paper.” 

Despite the difficulty of writing the essay, Kowal found the experience therapeutic in the end. 

“The writing experience helped me cope because it helped me express how I felt to the fullest extent,” Kowal said. “It had the same therapeutic effect as talking to a counselor.” 

C S C R B has held two annual essay contests, including the 2018 event, according to Jill Gray, who is CSCRB’s kid programmer, a support navigator, and a support group facilitator. 

“It was a really great way for teens to have an outlet to express their experience with cancer,” Gray said. “It can be really hard to talk to your parents or your friends about these topics. Sometimes it’s just easier to write it out.” 

CSCRB describes their mission as “to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.” They also provide free psychosocial services for cancer patients and friends and family of cancer patients. 

“We are always welcoming members who have been affected by cancer,” Gray said. “I know it’s really hard for teens and kids to say ‘Yeah, I need to join a support group,’ but when you come through these doors we become like a family.” 

CSCRB offers treatment, which includes group or individual therapy. Group activities, like going to Torrance Sky Zone or yoga classes, are for connecting with others and just enjoying each other’s company. 

“Your friends may not get it because they may not have had a family member or a parent go through a cancer journey, but the people here will totally understand,” Gray said. “You don’t go through the experience alone.” 

Kowal did not really care about the prize — instead, he saw it as a way to let go of some of his built up feelings. 

“I wasn’t really nervous when I submitted it. It was really more about my story being recognized and a way for me to express my feelings,” Kowal said. “Winning was just an added bonus.” 


The Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach (CSCRB) provides group and individual therapy. It offers over 200 programs free of charge each month. 

For additional information, visit CSCRB’s website, at www.cancersupportredondobeach.org