9: Cancer Sucks

9: Cancer Sucks

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book

Cancer Sucks

I’m your average teenage girl. I like to shop, hang out with friends, play sports, fight with my parents, and check out boys—all that good teenage stuff.

Besides that, I’m not average, and hope to never be. Last year, I was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. And since then, my life has changed and never will be the same.

Saturday, January 12th.

I felt like I was going to throw up, but I couldn’t get out of bed. Finally, I made it to the bathroom. My parents took me to the clinic. I was given a shot and sent home.

Sunday, I went to church and did my homework.

Monday, I felt sick again so I didn’t eat breakfast. But I’m serious about school, and my exams were coming up so I wasn’t going to let a headache and a bad stomach stop me.

While walking home with my boyfriend, I felt extremely dizzy. I fell into a puddle. I couldn’t walk without help so Peter let me place my head on his chest as he walked backwards all the way home, which was actually quite a feat.

My mother took me immediately to our family doctor. When I stepped off the examining table, I had to feel around for the ground with my foot before I could step down and even then I felt terribly off balance.

At the hospital, I was placed inside an MRI machine that made the loudest, most awful noises I’d ever heard. I wasn’t allowed to move at all.

Hours later, my doctor arrived and asked to see my parents out in the hallway. This may work with younger children, but I was fifteen years old and I knew it could only be bad news, even though I never thought it was going to be anything too terrible.

My parents said I had a brain tumor. I wasn’t scared or worried and I wanted them to know that right away so I just chuckled and smiled and said okay.

Six days later, I had my operation. The last thing I remember was a cold room with a big table.

The next day, after eleven hours of surgery, I couldn’t move. I must’ve been in pretty bad shape, judging by the looks of my family. My entire face was severely swollen from lying on my stomach during surgery and I was in immense pain.

That’s when I saw my father cry—my father, who has always been my inspiration, the man I’ve always looked up to as my rock, who I’d never seen in a weak moment, much less crying. He was pacing as the tears fell from his face and I knew he didn’t want me to see him so torn apart. Only at that moment did I cry for the first time.

When I got home a week later, I couldn’t move my neck or return to school. I sat at home for weeks, occupying myself with television and trying to move my neck.

I was never alone for long. I had visitors—school friends, coaches, friends of my parents, parents of my friends—it seemed like everyone was sending cards and coming over. I had never known that so many people cared for me. I also received hundreds of cards from people I didn’t even know and that amazed me.

Finally, I went back to school and was overwhelmed by the work. But my teachers worked through it with me.

A month later, I started radiation and chemo. I had to lie on my stomach with my head strapped tightly to the table. This was uncomfortable and painful. The radiation didn’t hurt, but it smelled. My dislike for the smell grew so bad that just entering the building could nauseate me.

I also started losing my hair. At first, it fell out in small clumps and I tried with all my might not to think about it. But one night, after growing so tired of it falling out, I started gently pulling. Five minutes later, my entire hairline was pushed back at least four inches.

The next day, more and more fell out. I was so torn up I asked my father to shave my head. I knew he could do it because he’s strong-willed and he’s been shaving his own head for years. But I couldn’t stand the sight of my hair falling to the ground and I asked him to stop. I cried and couldn’t breathe. My dad held me and calmed me down. That marked the second time I had cried. Ten minutes later, he finished my head.

I went to school the next day, wearing a hat. I didn’t let anyone see my “new look” unless it was a close friend or the occasional person who asked. I’m far from being shy. I’m loud, opinionated, and I like to think I’m fun. But losing something that’s such a part of me, like my hair, made me much less confident.

I gradually got used to my new head but hated the way it looked without being tan. Since our family was about to go on our annual vacation to Florida I would have a chance to tan my new, hairless head.

At first, I was self-conscious because of the large scar on the back of my head. But gradually, I convinced myself that I was going to be me no matter what I looked like.

Then, someone on the beach told me I was beautiful. Not because of my looks but because of how I never seemed to care about any kind of troubles and just lived my life. That week, I began to get my confidence back. I realized that my self-assuredness should never come from how I look, but from how I feel inside, from knowing who I am and loving myself. I returned to school and never wore a hat again.

I didn’t want to be treated like a cancer patient anymore. I went out for the softball team and made varsity. Softball is a huge part of my life. I’ve played since I was in second grade. It’s one of the things I love most.

I was part of a team and I wasn’t treated specially because I had cancer. I had to miss some practices and a game or two because of treatments but it was all worth it. I was on the front page of our newspaper and even in Sports Illustrated. People thought I was doing something brave or special, but to me it just felt normal.

I didn’t understand why I was getting so much publicity for just being me and doing what I do all the time. So, my parents explained inspiration to me.

One time in the radiation room, I was given a button that read “Cancer Sucks.”

Personally, I think that’s the best way to look at it. Cancer does suck, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can realize that no matter how much it sucks you have to deal with it, and that you might as well deal with it with a smile.

~Emmarie Truman, age 16

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