October 20, 2014

Brianna is 18-years old.
I am 18-years old.
Brianna had no hair when I met her. I had hair down to my shoulders when she met me. I was 5-years old when I learned that life isn’t fair.
Brianna has always been shy, but I imagine walking into your first day of school with no locks would add a significant amount of nervousness to one’s personality. Luckily, I didn’t mind Brianna’s absence in her appearance, because I knew right away that she would be my friend for life. God works in funny ways; that day, He decided to place an unfathomable amount of acceptance in my 5-year old self.
The cancer started in her stomach. The doctors said that they caught it just in time; that if it had even one more day to grow, she would have been a goner. Countless trips to Pittsburgh for surgeries and treatment were made, and at 5-years old, Brianna would brush her hair before bed and watch clumps of chocolate colored strands fall to the floor after each stroke.
At 5-years old, I would scream and cry while my mom combed my hair before bed, so much so that she made me cut it short, so she wouldn’t have to hear my irritating shrieks with each jerk of a tangle.
I don’t remember ever talking to Brianna about the cancer. We talked about other things, like horses, and mermaids, and how we would both love to meet Harriet the Spy. I’d like to think that I was Brianna’s escape from the pain, but I guess I don’t really know. I talk to Brianna a lot. We don’t talk about the cancer.
When we celebrated her fifth year “cancer-free” at Splash Lagoon, we were old enough to wear stylish bikinis to show off to the other girls our age. I remember excitedly changing in the dressing room, twisting my long hair into a braid, when I noticed Brianna still hadn’t changed. At 12-years old, she was afraid to show her stomach. What would the others think of her nauseating, raw scar? She had regretted buying the bikini, regretted even considering wearing a swimsuit, and regretted having the party at all.
At 12-years old, I was worried other girls would think my stomach roll was gross, or that I was too pale. I was worried about popularity, and how others thought of my image.
But I would roll my eyes at Brianna’s worries. “Stop,” I said. “You are perfect. Every girl here wishes she had your body! No one will even notice the scar.” Brianna winced just at the mention of it.
She overcame her fear, and to this day she rocks a bikini better than anyone I know. Sometimes though, I will catch her covering her lower belly. I’d like to think that it’s out of habit, but I’d be naïve to deny that she may still be fearful of what others will think of her scar.
But I wish Brianna knew what people really think when they see her scar. What I think. She is an over-comer. She is full of faith and prideful in achieving her dreams. This girl…there aren’t enough words in the world to describe all she is to me. She is inspiration. I have watched her grow up, from a 5-year old, to a 12-year old, to an 18-year old. I have watched her hair grow, and her scar fade. I have watched her take strides in a violin career that is now carrying her to college. I have watched her quietly serve her way through a successful tennis hobby, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA that includes AP and college classes. Did I mention she is a full-time nanny in the summers? “Well-rounded” describes Brianna to a T.
I’ve watched cancer go from something that defined Brianna, into a question asked by many: “Wait, what? She had cancer?!?” It truly is unbelievable, to look at her bright brown eyes and glowing smile and know that cancer once tried to take her down. Brianna is a fighter; cancer lost.
I’ve had a few distant family members lose their battle. And of course, I have many friends who’ve lost countless loved ones to the disease. I have been blessed and fortunate to have somehow escaped the aims of cancer thus far into my life; but I can’t say for certain that in the future I will be able to say the same. I can hope, and pray, for myself and others around me, but there’s always something. Cancer is a big something in today’s world. However, at 5-years old, I learned something about cancer: it isn’t invincible. It can be defeated. Brianna will carry the title “cancer-survivor” around for her whole life, and many will look at that fact as a burden. But Brianna, I know, now sees it as a gift. Cancer granted her the inner strength that many will never find. Brianna’s cancer granted me a best friend that has taught me the definition of inspiration since day one.
Brianna’s cancer is dead now. Brianna is 18-years old.