You Must Be This Tall to Ride

October 20, 2018

My life is a rollercoaster. I’m just sitting in the cart for this rickety old ride blindfolded, never knowing when the next dip or loop will occur. Some dips are more memorable than others, such as the summer of 2014. The year I had been diagnosed with Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma, and began an nine-month long treatment. I only really remember the beginning and end of my treatment, but those memories and experiences changed me, and if they were for better or worse is up for debate.
It was July 2014. I had been told that I had to go immediately into major abdominal surgery to have my tumor removed. Everything was moving so fast, and before I knew it I was flooded with exhaustion and my mind was racing. As I recovered, I waited to learn if I needed chemotherapy. The wait was distressing, the fear ever-present. But as much as I wanted to know, I think the pain I felt after being told I needed chemotherapy was worse. The chemotherapy I was scheduled to take destroyed my body. My hair fell out, I vomited often, and my limbs were so weak I could barely walk. At times, I couldn’t even sleep and I would just lie in bed staring into the darkness of my hospital room. I couldn’t even entertain myself because looking at screens and listening to music made my nausea worse. I hated taking baths or showers because of how careful I had to be about the machine that was plugged into me. There was always so much preparation and it had to be done every night. A protective sticker here, a warning about water there, it was unbearable. I feel that maybe if I had been able to enjoy anything that I used to, it would have been easier on my mind and my soul.
I plummeted into depression. I couldn’t do anything to ease my suffering and I felt like a worthless burden. Barely anyone ever came to visit me, and I think that’s what hurt the most. I had friends, but none of them came to see me more than once. Crying and spiraling into hysteria became a norm for me in and out of that lonely hospital room. I only had my parents, but turns out they were all I needed. They weren’t perfect but they were always there for me, encouraging me at every turn. I wish more people had done as they did for me, but being bitter won’t help me now.
As I said before, there weren’t many comforts for me during treatment. One of the few things that brought me joy were when the art therapist would come to visit me. Art was a big part of my life, and it still is, but during this time I struggled with practicing the subject I loved so. I rarely ever made anything anymore, and it killed me inside. The art therapist helped me with my struggle. She would paint, sculpt, and even discuss my art with me. She kept my art, and my innovativeness, alive.
Once school began, I was still in treatment. I was only two months in by that point. It was my freshman year of high school, and I was so excited for it. I was told from the get go that I didn’t have to try and go through with schooling while being treated, but I was determined. Driven. I could only go to the school about two days every month or so because of my weakened immune system. Regardless, with a tube in my nose and bag in my hand, I went through with a four-period schedule starting at nine a.m.
I only lasted until winter break that same year, and I tried. Oh boy did I try. I’ve been told by my mom that she knew it was time to pull out after this one event with my math homework. I was really struggling, I just didn’t understand it. I asked my mom for help, and she did. However, once I moved on to the next problem, I had completely forgotten everything. I didn’t want to stop trying. I wanted to essentially run myself into the ground until I was caught up with my classmates. This only ended in tears. Many tears that coupled with severe nausea and pain. I was defeated.
By this point I had finished round 7 of my 8 chemotherapy treatments. I only had one round to go, but the accumulative deterioration of my bodily functions, and the continued treatment of my oral chemo became overwhelming. I was at the end of my rope and felt that nothing more could be worse. But once I had finished my chemotherapy, I was plunged into radiation treatments. They weren’t too bad, as I could listen to music and fall asleep during treatment, but the after effects were awful. My nausea increased and I was tired all the time, often falling asleep in the most uncomfortable positions. The doctors had stopped me from taking oral chemo because it had started to do more harm than good. In the end it took several months to recover, and even though the treatment was coming to an end the effects were not. I returned to the hospital multiple times with infections. I couldn’t eat, drink, or use an N-G tube so I was forced to have IV nutrition. I was miserable.
Although I often couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I knew it was there. The thought that this all will be over soon is what stopped me from giving up. I don’t look back on this time fondly, especially since I don’t remember most of it, but the things I learned from it are invaluable. I faced death with a courage I never knew I had, and learned how precious life is. How time is short and anyone’s life can be brought to an abrupt end, even a child’s. Ever since then, I’ve been riding this roller coaster of life with my eyes open, savoring and experiencing every moment to the fullest. Now I look to the horizon as I begin my ascent towards college.
Meghan Walker