A Six Letter Word

Written by: Elena S.
May 21, 2021

A Six Letter Word

She lives in my phone. I scroll through pictures of her bald head and blinding smile, a mask often, she didn’t want anyone to know otherwise. She lives in my body, the things she endured took her life away, they torment me today. She lives in my head, her thoughts run through mine as I think back to those years when she wasn’t a picture on my phone but a reflection in the mirror. 

It had started with swollen lymph nodes and migraines. It was followed by something much bigger. A small word, only six letters, found a way to consume all others. It took school, friends, and health, anything it could get its hands on. A bottomless pit that would stop at nothing but to destroy the body of a young girl. A girl who wanted nothing to do with that word, who would? All it brought was pain and misery. It didn’t make her special, just last year one of her classmates had fought cancer, lots of kids had it. So many were younger than her. She was already eleven and a half, so much older than the kids she saw on her social media. She felt old to be held under the gold ribbon.

Everyone who saw her called her beautiful and strong, brave, courageous, no matter the synonym, they always complimented her over it but, she never believed them. After all, what was courageous about being sick and lonely and trying to live? Pain was normal, so was wearing a mask. Going to the hospital was like going to a second home where you got to see your favorite aunts. Except while you were there they took your blood and vitals. Chemotherapy was something that you received every couple of weeks. Did it really take any strength to go to those places to try to rid yourself of that six letter word? She certainly didn’t think so.

Six months after her diagnosis she was told that the six letter word was behind her. Her life would go back to normal. So she started sixth grade, bald, but with dark hair that started to come out from hiding. Everything was great, she just got migraines every day starting around 1:30 that lasted for hours. It was probably just a phase, her mother had them, maybe they were just developing early. She could still learn, and talk with her friends and- The average white blood cell count for a child is in between 5,000 and 10,000 cells. Six weeks after her life restarted hers was upwards of 200,000. The six letter word had never left, it had just hidden, retreated into the spine, and grown more powerful. This time it was stage four, and nothing anyone had ever seen before.

The second time was worse. The second time all her doubts flooded back and screamed at her for attention. Coupled with the new medications and painful side effects she became very depressed. She laid on the couch all day on her iPod. She seldom left to go anywhere but the hospital. Her body was weak. All she did was lay in impatience and doubt as she waited to receive her one chance at beating the six letter word. It was a long seven months before she was able to have a stem cell transplant. It was an even longer six weeks before and after with radiation and dealing with the side effects of having the cells in her body destroyed and replaced. Morphine is a narcotic drug obtained from opium and used medicinally to relieve pain. As far as she was concerned it wasn’t doing anything of use since she was still in pain 24/7. Those weeks run together now in my head. So many side effects tormented her over time and all at once. I can mainly remember the deep desire to be able to go home. After six weeks of hell, she was finally able to return home. It wasn’t too much later she was told the six letter word was gone again. But this time it stayed gone.

Four total lines, a g-tube, over thirty surgeries, countless visits and stays at the hospital, and never once did she think herself special, or strong. She was wrong though. She was special, and strong, and courageous and all the other synonyms that people called her. She lived through pain and fought through something not many her age understand, something that kids her age shouldn’t understand. I wish she could have looked into the mirror and seen my face. To know that she would get through all the pain and misery. That her hair would be halfway down her back and she’d be looking forward to heading off to college. To know that that six letter word wouldn’t be able to take her life. She seems like a dream now. A nightmare that persisted for too long. I am who I am because she fought to become this person. I am who I am because I fought to become this person, and no six letter word could ever stop me.

Elena S.