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I feel like an open book, but I still have memories from my battle with Cancer that I have left unspoken. Even those memories are mysterious to me sometimes, and it seems I can never exactly pin down their full truth. I feel like Cancer isn’t rare, but it feels like a taboo topic of conversation. In our culture, we are not taught how to discuss or respond to things like Cancer. That’s why it’s important to share and to talk about real stories that are painful, yet full of growth.
The bright white, harsh, blinding lights glared down on us one afternoon. It felt as though everything there was sterile, even the lighting. We were in a small, ordinary exam room. Except today, seven years later, if we walked past it, I could still point it out to you. There was an exam table in the center of the room, head against wall. To the left was the sink and counter, to the right was my mom sitting in a small chair. I could hear the occasional person walking down the hallway, past the room. From my uncomfortable position on my stomach on the exam table, I could hear the doctor and nurse quietly, but quickly discussing. The surgeon was nice; he was young and had short brown hair. It was cold in the room. Maybe it would be pleasant for a while escaping the summer heat, but it was winter, and I was shivering.
I was lying on that hard white paper in one of those ugly, way-too-large, rough hospital gowns. I used my arms to prop myself up and stared at the large pink Ipad in front of my face through large, wet tears. I heard my tears plopping on the crinkly paper, sounding like little drums. I clutched my Ipad and my mom’s hand as the stench of rubbing alcohol hit my nose. As a blurred Barbie movie played before my eyes like I was looking through a kaleidoscope, there was a terrible, splitting pain in my left leg. Tears were coming so fast, they were all I could smell and taste. Salty tears, streaking down my face and messing with my eyes. The doctor asked my mom and dad to step outside with him for a minute. I didn’t find out until later that he was deciding if he should stop the procedure because I was in so much pain. He came back into the room and continued.
Another splitting pain and I was bawling again, screaming. The fear made my adrenaline skyrocket and made me feel sick to my stomach. The sadness made me want to curl up in a ball, but I had to hold still. My shoulders became tired so I laid face down, maybe turning my face to the right and looking into my mom’s sad gaze. But that was the last of the pain. My doctor had injected a numbing solution, and the large needle was what really hurt. After I couldn’t feel anything in my leg, my doctor took a biopsy of the tumor in my leg. Meaning, while I was awake, he opened up my leg and took some of the tumor out to test.
He finished up and stitched my leg. He rubbed on some more orange colored iodine to protect from infection. After wrapping up my leg, I got off the table. Sticky, dried tears on my face and sniffling. I felt another hit of pain as I tried to walk. It was too much, so I sat down. It was still cold, and it was making me tired. They got me a wheelchair and took me out to the car. I was in quite a daze, and don’t remember much else from that day. Those two, bad hours have affected the rest of my life, and for the next month, I couldn’t walk.
After many monthly routine overnights of having intense chemotherapy, my body started to get tired of the harsh treatment. When we first got to the inpatient hospital in the morning, the sun was brightly shining, it was warm, and I would feel fine. They hooked me up to the medicine and gave me some benadryl. Around lunch I would still feel great, I’d sit outside, talk to my family, and eat some lunch.
After a few hours I would start to find the rough sheets back in my small room uncomfortable and all smells nauseating. After my watching some TV from my repertoire of Glee, Barbie, and Disney shows, I would eventually have to go to sleep. I would wake up nauseous and throw up, not stopping, even though I hadn’t had anything to eat recently. If I didn’t drink enough, they would hook up liquids and pump me until I had enough fluids; it made my face feel bloated and puffy. Then a nurse would appear, waking me up every half an hour to go to the bathroom. I would wake up in the morning relieved, but exhausted, feeling barely better. The doctors would only let me leave if they felt I had recovered from the overnight stay, so I always put on my best smile, and said I was fine, so I could go home. However, after my overnight stay in August, when the hospital released me, I couldn’t go home. I didn’t have time. I had to go straight to school to get my ID photo taken for 6th grade.
A fresh start, a new school, and a new photo, yet I was sweaty and smelled like all sorts of chemicals. My wig was unbrushed, and my clothes were wrinkly. I was tired, pale, and had dark bags under my eyes. I hadn’t had breakfast, and yet I had to change in the car, and go to school. I had to smile, and pretend everything was wonderful. I tried to look normal, even though it felt like I had pulled an all nighter. I’m sure after my photo I went home and crashed. Sometimes all you can do is put on a brave face, and move on.
Months later, I walked into the under-the-sea themed waiting room with my mom. I was there to get my weekly chemo. In the waiting room, we sat down in a slippery green or orange chair. Or maybe we sat against the wall in that booth like seat. Another patient in the waiting room was a little baby. Cute, gurgling, smiling; I’ve always loved little kids. The next day, we got a call. That adorable baby in the all too colorful waiting room from the day before just came down with chicken pox. My immune system, like many others’ during chemotherapy, was weak and highly compromised. I had very few white blood cells, and couldn’t afford to get sick.
Back at the hospital, we waited. Little kids running around, or watching TV, having no idea what they were in for. All the seats felt hard, and I was afraid. We were consulted with and told they had to give me a vaccine because my immune system was weak. She told us that the antiviral shot could have bad side effects. I know I was crying, begging not to get more vaccines. A nurse brought us back to an operating room, where I got three shots in my legs. One of the three nurses silently counted to three, and they all gave me the shot at the same time. The pain was horrible. Afterwards, we waited in another waiting area in case of side effects. As we sat, we watched all the other bawling, screaming kids come back to wait with us.
About five months after the chickenpox issue, it was December. We were let into a dark room, the only light coming from glow-in-the-dark paint on the walls. Rushing in, we quickly filled up the space and threw on heavy jackets. A swipe of our plastic name tag, and we were off, dashing into the maze. Whipping out the laser gun from it’s holster, chaos ascended upon the area. The pounding of heavy feet, big and small, echoed throughout. Friends, family, and our favorite teachers, aimed and shot at each other. It was adults against kids. The smell of perspiration and sweaty socks claimed the area, but no one cared. The heat from people running around warmed up the halls quickly. Laughter and yells bounced off the walls. Adrenaline ran high, and we would hit dead ends as we ran aimlessly. I would see a mirror and be startled at the shock of movement before me. I think the adults won that round. It was finally the end of our joint party. I know we had a great time that night, celebrating my sister’s ninth birthday, and my end to having Cancer.
Some people have told me that outlook doesn’t matter when you have something like Cancer. I disagree. I don’t know how I would have gotten through my treatment without my family and friends of course, but I also couldn’t have made it without hope and something to look forward to. We planned that laser tag party for a long time, so I always had something to be happy about; I’d always have something that I knew would have a positive outcome.
There are some clouds that have silver linings, and some that don’t. I will never know what I would be like if I hadn’t gone through the experiences I did, except that I would be taller. However, I do know that those experiences have made me who I am today. Embarrassment, frustration, sadness, these are the feelings you remember, but also the ones you can learn from. I learned persistence and perseverance. I learned to be brave, and gained a higher pain tolerance. Kind, empathetic, sensitive, and non judgemental. Fearless and understanding. I know what is important in life because my strength has been tested.