“I’m not sure how yet, but I want to use my light to brighten the world.”
I have an arch enemy. This foe is a bully, but not a typical bully. It does not discriminate when choosing its victims. It bullies those from one to one hundred, regardless of color, gender, income, or beliefs. Whomever it chooses as its target is in for a fight. There are no winners in this fight. Some lose their fierce battle, others emerge as survivors. But, the survivors never come out unscathed. I know, because I am a survivor and my nemesis is cancer.
All before the age of four I battled and survived Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, a rare blood cancer. It is cool saying, “I beat cancer!” But truthfully, my arch enemy is never beaten. I still have physical and emotional scars that cannot be erased. Because even though I won, it still looms over me, lurking in the back of my mind, worrying me about its return. I fear that my arch-nemesis will attack again and the second time around I may not win the battle. This is only some of the psychological uncertainty that plagues me.
There are also my physical blemishes or “beautiful battle scars.” There is the eight-inch scar along my right side from a liver biopsy. The small mark that rest above my heart from my port-a-cath. And, the tiny divot in the front of my scalp, from another biopsy. Each scar is evidence of my feud with cancer. Each one reminds me that the molehills I face today do not compare to the mountain I already climbed.
And believe it or not, cancer also bettered me. It taught me – “Okay, stop.”
I looked up from my essay to stare confusedly at Mr. Sawyer, my literature teacher. “Everything you say after ‘It taught me’,” he said, “Scrap it.” Disbelief was evident on my face.
“Look,” he gave me a reassuring smile, “It has been fourteen years. Cancer is kind of a pebble in your pond. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a ripple, show me the ripple.”
I thought for a second. “I see a survivorship clinic each year,” I explained. He nodded.
” … And an endocrinologist every six months for diabetes insipidus, a side effect of LCH. Essentially, I lack the hormone necessary to regulate my body’s fluids.”
Another, although more solemn, nod, “okay.”
“I’m a Make-A-Wish kid. And I hope to raise money to give back to the organization.”
Mr. Sawyer perked up at that, “Really? I met a “wish-kid”, Mike, who had a dreadful disease and I asked him, ‘Mike, after everything, what have you learned?’ and without hesitation, Mike replied, ‘The sun still shines. The grass still grows and never take anything for granted.” I was silent. Mike and my experiences were parallel, yet where was my revelation? So, I asked myself, if cancer is my cross, what is my proverb? And after much thought, it hit me.
“Cancer is a fire extinguisher!” I told Mr. Sawyer when I ran into him later. His eyebrows furrowed in curiosity at my strange words.
“I thought about what you said. Cancer is a fire extinguisher trying to put out your light. But, for me it did the opposite: cancer became kindling, augmenting my fire and making my light shine all the more. At times it shines like the sun, and at others, it is dim as a star. Regardless, it remains. I’m not sure how yet, but I want to use my light to brighten the world.”
He nodded once more, “So I guess survivorship isn’t just about beating the odds?” “No,” I said almost defiantly, “it’s looking into the face of the monster and saying, ‘You can’t intimidate me. You can’t rob me of my joy. And, you can’t stop me!'” And, then he smiled.
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