Starting in 2006, Cancer Pathways of Seattle, Washington started a unique program called Cancer Unwrapped Writing Contest. This program uses the power of writing to allow the children of families undergoing cancer treatment the opportunity to write about their own emotions and experiences. Ten years later, this writing contest is still successfully helping families cope with pain and the stress of cancer. We want to thank Anna Gottlieb of Cancer Pathways for sharing some of these heartfelt stories with us. Search Out of the Mouths of Babes for more stories.
My Essay by Jaella Levien
I’m eleven, and I have a pained look on my face. Cracker crumbs from my Lunchables and stubborn, salty tears fall to the floor of my grandpa’s Ford truck. We’ve been driving for hours now, and we have stopped at two places already. My mother and grandpa are tired and scared; they haven’t told me anything yet, and I still don’t know what’s wrong with me.
My back pains me to the point where I can’t stand up, not without help. My cough is deep and piercing. The pressure it puts on my back is unbearable, and I can’t hold back the tears or involuntary sobbing. My doctor says nothing much is wrong with me. I think the pain is serious, but maybe my pain threshold has lowered somehow, and I just need to buck up. I put on a happy face for my brothers and sisters and try to live normally from day to day. I can’t hide the pain any longer, though. Whimpers leap unbidden and unconsciously from my lips. I think of the local doctor we visit multiple times a week, and wonder why she still doesn’t know what’s wrong with me.
I roll into the third and final hospital I visit that day. My mom pushes me in one of those complimentary wheelchairs they keep at all hospital emergency room entrances. An hour and a half of waiting and of tests: blood pressure, blood samples, temperature checks, more x-rays, urine samples, and, thank god, lots of intra-venous pain medications for me. Now a woman walks into the room, and closes the door inconspicuously behind her. All becomes silent except for the constant soft beep of the I.V. pole attached to my hand by long, clear tubes. She discusses my symptoms with my mother, my grandpa, and me.
She says what I have is acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL. She tells me, in a nutshell, that I have cancer. Surprisingly, I’m in some strange way happy about my diagnosis. The cancer means that I’ll finally be able to get some treatment. And the cancer means that I’m not weak and sickly, but that I’ve actually survived longer than most do without a diagnosis. I’ve pushed myself through the last half a year believing that I just complain too much, that I needed to buck up and move on. I tell myself that it has been hard. And yes, the hardest part is still to come. But if I could survive half a year without being treated for cancer, I can survive the next two and a half being treated for it.
There are things that happen to people that irrevocably change them, some people change for the good; others change and become less than they were before. When I had a run in with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, I went through such a change. And, I believe, it changed me for the good. It helped shape me into the independently driven and persistent person I have become.
Before I was diagnosed, I learned to take care of my body and my mind the best I could, when the doctor could not give me any clear answers, or functional treatments. During my treatment, I handled my medications and doses independently and successfully, this gave my mother one less reason for worry. Emotionally, I found the strength to continue with the painful and stressful schedule of treatments, without putting further stress on my family members. I had to learn to take care of myself to survive.
The need to undergo painful, deteriorating, and at times frightening or dangerous treatments required that I be persistent and strong. The refusal to accept or postpone any treatment could have been even more hazardous to my health. The years of treatment I received were marked with only minimal resistance from me, despite my dislike or fear of any given treatment. I persisted through everything because I knew it was in my best interest.
My persistence and my drive helped me to achieve peace- a peace with myself in knowing that I was doing all that I could, without reservation, to better myself. Having to fight so hard to survive put life into a perspective that I don’t think most people get the change to see; it made everything worth fighting for.
The character traits I have developed through my experience with cancer have shaped my life today. My independence, my persistence, my drive, my strength, and my determination, will help me in the future, as they have helped me in the present. I am strong because I have experienced such adversity. When I focus on an area of my life, I excel through my own character.
Once you have become a cancer survivor, you never go back.