I remember how I first found out… I was eight years old, when I began having difficulty breathing. I disregarded it for my reluctance to taking my asthma medicine. But one day after I coughed up blood, my mother finally decided to take me to the doctor. The diagnosis: lung cancer. I wasn’t too worried then. After all, what all does an eight year old have to worry about other than eating alone at recess. But even then, a foreboding feeling passed over me, when I saw even my own mother, who since my birth, I always looked up to for wisdoms in feminism and self reliance, tremble. Since then, my life was no longer normal. Afternoons became booked with chemo appointments. When I had first started losing hair, I went to school and all the kids laughed at me. I cried too… I wouldn’t blame them though; we were only kids. So, everyday after lunch, I would hide behind the bleachers, reading my comics and my gameboy, till recess was over. One day, my mom came to pick me up during school, and after fifteen minutes of looking, when the lunch monitor finally found me, my mother was furious. She asked me where I had been, and when I didn’t respond, she rambled on and on. “Honey, I know that I could never understand, and while there are many instances I do share with you, after all having gone through age eight myself, I want you to know that there is nothing anyone can say or do to make you less special in my eyes. Hair or no hair, you are the most precious little girl in the whole world. You are unique. And, most of all, I think that God really blessed me, because you are my miracle.” I wiped my tears. The next day, I marched back to the playground, and tried my hand at the monkey bars. By the time, I I guess somewhere in there my friends grew to accept me too.
It was a little after my 16th birthday, when my mom and I were going for our regular chemo session. When the session was over and the doc had removed the straps from my body, he told me that this would be my last session. Overjoyed, I concentrated on my mental energies into finding a new hobby. O’ I would have so much time on my hand now. I could play basketball, go bowling, play…. “The chemotherapy is no longer responding. The tumors have spread to other areas of the lung. While we can do surgery to remove one lung, that will do nothing as the other lung has incurred equivalent metastasis.” My pulse raced. “Your daughter has at most a year to live.” I fainted.
That day, I went home and locked myself in my room. I didn’t eat or speak. I thought about God and how He was unfair. I remember when I was little I had asked my mom why everyone had a dad except me. She had told me that he was very special to God and He had wanted him all to himself. “Am I special to God too?” My mom tore up and her eyes watered. “No, you are special to me.” What happened now, big guy! I began cursing in contempt. Think about my mother, if not myself. What will happen to her? I sobbed harder. And me? Do I deserve this? I don’t want to be your favorite. I believed in You when all else failed, but You failed me. Here I am barely able to drive, having barely experienced life, my first kiss, my first anything, and You are taking it away from me.
My mom eventually made me get out of my pajamas and go to school the next week. I was mad at the world and I wanted to curse her too for forcing me, when in mere 12 months school would be the least of my worries. As I sighed and pushed my first period door open, the whole classroom grew morbidly solemn as if I had ironically entered my own funeral. The faces filled with pity and sympathy jabbed me into reality as if I had thought it all a dream. I don’t know how I could have bear to get through that day, let alone the next few weeks. This was possibly one of the lowest points in my life. You know how there is that saying that ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, ’ well, simply put I was afraid that the lemonade might be too sour, so I threw my lemons away. I cowered at the notion of death, and with each day, it becoming nearer. But even then, I did the worst… I became invisible. I hid away pretending, carrying on as if nothing had happened behind school, the walls of my room, and my body. It was my best coping mechanism. At the time, it seemed to make perfect sense. Becoming invisible would make the sympathetic looks more bearable, and when I would be forgotten, it would make the pain upon others more tolerable. How wrong I was…
That year, we celebrated a half birthday. It seemed more of an intervention on my friends part, and a reminder on mine of what I would never again celebrate, but nevertheless, I agreed. They all came over and we had a slumber party. After they left, I unwrapped my presents. I tore open the first; I got a necklace with a cross. Another was a light rectangular ticket. I flipped it over. It said “Two passes to skip class” I had to smile at this one. Last, I picked up something heavy – a book, I guessed. I opened ripped the wrapping. They Said Months, I Chose Years : A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story written by Rhio O’ Connor. Typical Sam. I thought. She was my best friend since before pre-school. We went through everything together. She taught me how to color, do my nails, get a guy, cheat without getting caught, and all the rituals of womanhood. But she was always the fighter. When Michelle Swanson told me that my lunch smelled back in fifth grade, it was Sam who stuck by me and made faces at her. When Bobby Raymond stood me up on my first date, it was Sam who gave him a black eye. My mom always thought that Sam was a bad influence on me, but rather Sam was my protector, someone who I looked up to and admired for I would never have the courage which she conveyed. I put the book aside.
The countdown continued. It had been two months since I talked to my mother last. Her upbeat positive- self reliant – uplifting – pep talks had at last struck a cord. I realized at the end that they were no longer relevant. Nothing mattered. I don’t have to do homework anymore. I could stay up late and eat ice cream by the gallon. I could go see the Taj Mahal. Hell, I could even go skydiving. Nothing mattered! Okay, this was one of my most ridiculous ideas yet, but that day, I called up one of my old friends, who rented bikes. I was going to learn how to ride a motorcycle. We drove up to Chespeake Cliff, one of the most rockiest terrains, yet perfect for motorcycling. Lesson One: Put on your helmet. Yet, more on the stupid side, I decided that as it didn’t matter, the most enhancing experience would be to practice without it. I released the clutch and pressed the pedal, and bike went forward with a whirl. It really was the most brilliant feeling in the world, but in the two seconds that I was absorbed by this, I found myself head first into a bush. That day, I went home with a bruised face. “What happened?” My mom had asked. I had reasonable explanation of course. “Life doesn’t matter. Nothing does.” I responded. My mom slapped me.
Back in my room, my bruised face now embellished with a hand print, hurt more than ever. I looked to throw a tantrum. Nothing mattered. I could throw tantrums now. I began to look for things to throw. When I came upon that book again. I don’t know what came over me. I read the book that night, and finished it by the morning. I was at awe at Rhio’s story. The next day, I fixed up my face and paid a visit to my doctor’s office. I requested a release of my patient record. I was surprised and at awe at the same time of how much there was that I didn’t know. Since I was eight, I was told that I had lung cancer, I never bothered to ask where or what type or how big. I had adenocarcinoma. I googled it. Adenocarcinoma : Cancer of the lungs specifically; mostly found in the outer lining of the lungs. Malignant tumors may go so far as to metastasize to bronchi as well. Then I googled bronchi and type four, malignant, how to read an x-ray, and my afternoon flew by. Today, as I write this story four years later, I don’t know what or where I would have been if I had not heard it from someone else in my place. Had I been the same self loathing, free of a care soul, would I still be alive? I do not know about any doctors, but I do know that Rhio’s story was utterly awe inspiring and so relevant at a moment of my self doubt.
By: Verma, Akanksha