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Hello, I’m Alisha and I was born with a complete unilateral cleft lip and palate.

Everyone’s experience with cleft lip and palate is different. My case is unusual and complicated – my upper jaw was out 34mm, which is a very severe misalignment. I have had close to 30 surgeries over the past 22 years, all at The Hospital for Sick Children. When I was younger, my palate collapsed multiple times because it wasn’t holding. Each surgery has been complicated by the fact that I have so much scar tissue from previous surgeries.

After my second jaw surgery, I was wired shut for about four weeks. I kept thinking, “this is it – no more surgeries!” However, the day I got my surgical stent off was an emotional day I’ll never forget as the surgery had failed.

Throughout school, I was extremely shy and kept to myself. I used to hang out with my teachers. Teachers made me feel safe and never judged me the way kids did. The one thing that helped me a lot in school was sports. Either I was watching the hockey game on Saturday night with my dad, playing hockey or watching my brother’s baseball games. You meet so many amazing people over the years.

I’m lucky to have a great support system, which includes my amazing parents and younger brother, my cousin and extended family, and my close friends. I call my friends my “wedding party friends” because I know they will continue to be a big part of my life.

I’m 22 now and the people who know me would say I’ve changed from the shy kid I used to be to a kind-hearted and outgoing person. It was great to volunteer for virtual Camp Trailblazers this past summer for the first time. I am a graduate of the Community and Justice Services Program at Sir Stanford Fleming College and my ultimate goal is to become a police officer.

People tend to take things for granted. In high school, other kids would talk about wanting to look like some famous person, or be like someone they knew, or have a certain car. I didn’t care about any of those things. I wanted to be able to smile with my all my teeth aligned. That was the one thing I wished for every year on my birthday.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed a change in myself with becoming more open and self-accepting. I am learning to truly be grateful for the little things, to be happy for who I am and what I have.

I am continuing to step outside my comfort zone. I am optimistic for a beautiful future ahead.