Y ou A re S eco nd Place Wi nner A Survi vor 2011 el b re SoAnd ard Aw
A bo ut This year’s Second Place Winner of the Andre Sobel Award elected to remain anonymous. We congratulate this winner and share their essay within this packet.
Es say ALL PAINS ARENT PHYSICAL There are times when the word "cancer" is just too heavy for me to pronounce; as if saying it is harder than living through it. It seems like ages ago, and yet I remember like it was yesterday. I dont like talking about it; it hurts like hell to remember, even for a moment, but I remember: I remember the date. I remember the time. I remember what I was wearing. I remember wanting to cry -‐ but being unable to cry or afraid to. I remember it felt like a dream -‐ waiting and hoping Id wake up and it would be over. I remember the unbearable ache of waiting and not-‐knowing the evening after my chest x-‐ray. Ill always remember every moment of it. Most of all, I remember the loneliness. Maybe you might assume that the worst part of cancer is the pain of the chemotherapy and its many side eﬀects. But for me, the worst part was the painful loneliness. Because the chemotherapy and its side eﬀects kept me home or in the hospital a lot of the time I needed to take a medical leave from school, and that only added to my feelings of loneliness. I not only felt alone, but I felt isolated and forgotten. Sitting in that empty hospital room I found myself hoping that people would make a special eﬀort to include me, or remind me that I was forgotten. I even imagined that friends would surprise me with gifts, cards, or even an impromptu gathering -‐ just for me. But that didnt happen. My life was in limbo. Their life was not. I had all the time in the world to talk, they did not.
Life went on for my friends. They still has parties and sleepovers. Photos were taken and posted on Facebook. They were still making plans, but not with me. Because of my absence, they assumed that I wouldnt know what they were doing, but what they didnt know was that I ﬁlled my days trying to remain a part of my old life via Facebook and Twitter, living vicariously through their lives. But I wasnt a part of anything. The days went by: Where is my face in those photos? Where are my invitation (s)? Does anyone even miss me? Can you at least pretend to include me? Can you please not make it so easy to forget me? Im still here damn it! Please dont give up on me! Dont you know that you are my lifeline, my lifeline to live? Why are you cutting it? All I wanted was for someone to say that I was beautiful and that nothing was wrong with me. Day after day, all I hoped for was for the chemo to come to an end, but when it ended, I hated that it would start again. And I just did not want to start again. All I wanted was my old life back; I wanted to pick up where I left oﬀ. But I couldnt because I wasnt the same girl. I was a slower, weaker version of myself -‐ more exposed. I didnt know what was worse: sitting at home fearing that I was forgotten, or returning to school and fearing that I would be the topic of whispers and stares. In my mind I thought I knew what they were thinking -‐ "Is that her real hair?" "Boy, thats a nice wig -‐ I wonder how much that cost?" "Why does she get to be late?" "And I thought she was all better -‐ why is she still getting "special attention?" It was hard to stop holding on to what I no longer had. And even harder to pick up the pieces of my "shattered life" and start to rebuild, one piece at a time, starting at the center of it all -‐ starting with me. Starting with my perceptions. It wasnt until after my friend Mariah shared a paper she wrote about the day I told her I had cancer, that I realized that my "cancer" was deeply aﬀecting not only me, but those who love me. I ask why you werent in school. My mom is in the seat next to me, waving her hands into little waves, mountains, telling me to hurry. The ice cream in the backseat is melting-‐we need to hurry, so you need to hurry too. You are a pain, slowly waning, sucking away from me. The song on the radio muﬄes your voice, and the arms waving, and the ice cream melting in the back seat, and the dogs barking are
making it very hard for me to hear you. I want you to spit it out, because I am shaking, spinning out of control. I ask you if you are sick. I am convinced, because you skipped the math test on Thursday. Bitter misery of jealously. The painful, painful irony. You whisper my name, tell me to stop joking. Why are you talking so softly? You are making me angry because I cant hear you above the barking dog and the song on the radio. I tell you to speak up, but you dont. You just break up your syllables-‐ your voice is broken. And my voice is about to break too. You breathe in, inhale softly, and I swear you have stolen my air too. You tell me you have cancer. Mariahs paper was the jolt to my emotional recovery. Before then it was impossible for me to see past myself to see that this "cancer" wasnt just about me. "My" cancer was aﬀecting everyone. I can tell you that cancer disrupts a lot of your relationships. Your friends wont know what to say or do, but you should not take that personally even though your heart is broken. Youll cry for no particular reason, and it will make people uncomfortable. Some friends will rise to the occasion, others will fall. You will ﬁght with your best friend, just because. And the one person that you imagined would never let you down probably will. Youll learn that everyone has to learn how to recover from it. Theres no one-‐size ﬁts all when it comes to recovering from cancer, because its not just recovering from the disease. There are the things that I will remember, and those that I want to forget. There are the piteous feelings I harbored, and yes, I sometimes still succumb to. There are the relationships to be mended, or their loss accepted. Theres no right or wrong when it comes to healing. I know now that we are all healing and helping each other to heal. There are so many, many aspects to cancer. I realize that its not just about me. Im not sure when my healing -‐ our healing -‐ will end. Its a "work in process." Truth be told though, today I am less fragmented and more composed that Ive been in months. I am growing stronger every day. We are all growing stronger in ways that I didnt even know was possible. We are all healing.