When I was diagnosed with cancer as a 7 year old, I learned for the first time that I had no control. I was ripped apart. Emotionally, and physically. The anxiety of every day made it hard to breathe. It made me scared to wake up. Scared to go to sleep. Scared to be alive, but even more scared to die. I would like to say that the happy disposition of who I am today is because of cancer, but I’m sorry to say, that it is not. That’s pretend. At least when it comes to cancer.
Yesterday I learned something that finally allowed my heart to fall to pieces. Cancer sucked. And it’s good for me to know that cancer sucked. Yeah, in theory I’ve heard that before come from my mouth, but I haven’t yet acknowledged how much it sucked. So here it is.
The day I was diagnosed with cancer, I became a person that I never wanted to be. I know the feeling of the blood rushing from my arms so well. Every time a doctor walks in. Every time there was a new pain. Losing my breath…knowing that any of those words could be the end of my life. I was 7 years old. I was running around outside, playing, without a care anywhere. And then bam, in one second, it was like someone punched the air right out of me. And to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten it back.
One day after that I had my first surgery. If you ask me what the word, “alone” means to me, I will tell you that it is being wheeled away from my parents and having an anesthesia mask forced upon me while I cried. The tears burning and holding my dad’s hand. For the first time, he couldn’t save his little girl. This monster was so much more than something under my bed. This threatened my life. This took me over, completely.
My hair started to fall out a few days after that. I was crippled into stillness. Crying under the covers while doctors and “friends” who I had hardly ever met came in to visit me. I couldn’t eat. I knew I would never run again. I had already given up. And then we had to shave my head. We had to get rid of the beauty that I was. My smile already started to fade – who could I be? I couldn’t be that beautiful, care-free girl, ever again. Seriously, how to go on?
And there I sat. I would have died that week of diagnosis if I had the choice. I thought the bad was still to come, but I had no idea how bad. For day after day, I was plagued with wondering if that day would be my last day. I watched my sister fall to the wayside. I’ve spent an entire life subconsciously trying to apologize to her. I could see that my life caused my parents immense pain. That they needed me so badly. And I wanted to do anything I could to give them all of me. And always have since then.
And while I didn’t know it, that continued. It continued as I put a smile on my face for everyone else. They needed to see the hope, and I had to at least function. People often have said that I am strong. But I am not strong. I say this with tears in my eyes. Cancer has threatened everything about me for years. It’s changed my DNA, my friends, my emotional understanding of the world. Cancer tried to kill me. And while I survived, I did not do so without scars.
I spent a lot of years pretending. Not because I wanted to, but because to survive such intense pain, a person almost has to sometimes. I was a child – how could anyone have told me how to deal with being literally on the brink of death? How could I stand up and pretend it was all good? But I did. Because it was like…I had to. Because I couldn’t stand to look at how hard it was to realize that I could die. At any time. It’s like I have clung to every single moment as though my next breath is the end. It’s like I’ve lived in the middle of a war for the last 16 years.
Today my heart is probably as real and raw as anyone has ever seen. I grew up with some very deep emotional cuts on my heart that came from watching my best friends puff up and die on steroids after years of cancer. Yes, it taught me the value of life. But it also taught me the ravenous pain of this world. It taught me that this is a vicious place, and it taught me to fight back. Yeah, that looked like a smile for a lot of my life, but honestly, it’s been a defense. It’s been me fighting to keep anything and anyone that could ever leave me, out. I didn’t know how to handle that pain again. Most days, I wished that I could have died with them.
I don’t hate life. But I want you to know that being a child in trauma (we all have our own) has given me this deep feeling that it is my job to change the world. That because I have seen the end of life, that it is my job to take this “second chance” and literally save every single one of you. To be the inspiration, the hope.
This past few weeks have brought to light a ton of the pain that I haven’t dealt with from those terrible years. My leg has reminded me every day that those pains were there, and I know that life can always end up really hard. So I try to control. I try to make choices that will keep me safe. But trying so hard has done me no good.
So I want to apologize to each person in my life. Not that anything was my fault…I understand that. But for pretending that I was some super human. That I could do anything, would do anything, and could help anyone. That’s false. I am human too. Very, very human. A human that has reacted from pain, that has defended because of pain, who has kept people out and held onto agony, because I am human.
And I am human. And finally, I realize that looking at how human I am, will be okay. That finally, I can look at this, and let it go. That finally, I don’t have to fight the pain. It’ll come. It’ll go. Cancer didn’t leave me unscathed. There are plenty of issues. But today, I have learned that even if it hurts, it doesn’t always kill you.
So I’m starting over. Cancer sucked. I’m done with it still making me suck.
I love you all.
…because love wins.