My Not-So-Normal Teenage Life

October 20, 2015

I always wanted to be different. I always wanted to be that kid that had something that made them stand out from the crowd. I would have given anything to have an accent or be born somewhere exotic. Towards the end of my eighth grade year, you could say my wish came true. I wish I could say that my not-so-normal teenage life is because now I’m famous: the paparazzi follow me around wherever I go and I regularly hang out with Macklemore. But I can’t. When I discovered a bump on my thigh, my family and I believed it was just a bad bruise. But as time passed we knew something was wrong. On March 3rd, 2013, a date I wish I could forget, I was given quite possibly the worst news of my life. I had a cancerous bone tumor known as Ewing Sarcoma. With only 250 cases diagnosed a year in the U.S., it was like winning the worst kind of lottery. My life changed drastically that day. I would never lead a normal teenage life again.
Right away, I began to undergo the hardest thing I had ever done, battling for my life. All of the small problems that I complained about before I got sick began to get replaced. It was no longer if my hair looked okay or if the guy I liked liked me back. Instead I worried about nine months of intense chemotherapy, a major surgery to rebuild my leg, getting feeding tubes up my nose, keeping up my weight while my tastebuds went crazy, and fighting to stay alive.
My experience through my cancer treatment was nothing like I thought it would be. Before I got sick the only kids I knew who had cancer were characters in books, on tv shows, and in movies. They did not seem real. I knew kids with cancer existed, but this had never affected me personally so I never thought about it. I never thought I would be one of them. That all changed when I was diagnosed. The kids, who were once just characters, became real people who I saw every day.
When I knew that my treatment would include chemotherapy, I immediately thought about every chemo situation I had read about or seen in a movie. Each one seemed different, but they all seemed to consist of the child losing their hair and throwing up constantly in a hospital while being visited by famous figures. Some of these stories contained facts; yes I lost my hair, but although I threw up I didn’t do so uncontrollably. However, those stories never could begin to convey the emotions I felt throughout my treatment. I was prepared for being sick and having to spend days in the hospital. But nothing could have prepared me for the roller-coaster of emotions I would feel. How do you convey a feeling of relief when after nine days in the hospital you finally breathe air from the outside again? How do you convey a feeling of panic when the rest of your life feels on hold?
There were days I could do nothing but cry. I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong. I felt I was being punished for something, but I did not know what that was. However, I knew that I could not spend every day crying. Somewhere along the way, I found the strength to look around me. I realized that I wanted, I needed, to be the voice for all the kids in the hospital. I began to speak and raise money for childhood cancer research and awareness. I found my voice and gained the confidence to do so, because it mattered so much to me. I wanted to help. I needed to show the world that the kids at the hospital, including me, were real not just characters in movies and books.
I’m thankful to be able to say that I’m back in high school full time now pretending to be a normal teen. It’s a little easier now with hair on my head, but I still walk with a limp because of the surgery to remove the tumor. I know my nickname is “Queen of Cancer”. Some people avoid talking to me altogether. I guess they are worried about saying the wrong thing. On the day that I get the news that a boy I remember from the hospital has died is the same day my friend decides to have a mental break down over her hair. I can’t get out of the conversation. I tell her that my hair doesn’t look like Beyonce’s either, but at least we have hair and that’s something to celebrate. It doesn’t go over well and I go off quietly and cry in the bathroom. Why did this boy have to die? It’s just not fair. He has the same cancer as me. I can’t cry long. I need to get to Biology for a test. I need to be normal, or at least act like it.
On Friday, when my friends are going out to a movie, I’m putting on my best dress and practicing my speech one more time. I’ve been invited to speak at another charity auction for the hospital. It’s my chance to convince a large group of people to donate their hard-earned money for pediatric cancer research. After my speech a man comes up to shake my hand. As I draw my hand away I can see he has placed ten $100 bills in my palm. I only think for a second about a new pair of shoes. This goes directly to my fundraising site and we’re $1000 closer to finding a cure for cancer. I can go to a movie another day.
Looking back at the person I was before being diagnosed is in a way looking back at a completely different version of me. Cancer changed me in a lot of ways. It taught me to understand that the day to day problems I faced before being diagnosed are really not that important in the long run. It taught me to be strong, confident, brave, and to live in the present. The experience I’m having isn’t anything like that of a movie. I don’t meet drop dead gorgeous guys in the waiting room of the hospital. However, I do meet people whose stories continue to inspire me each day. There are no Augustus Waters, but every person has a unique story to tell. We are bonded together by the fact that we can no longer be a part of our normal social scene. Our sickness made that impossible. We have become each other’s family, the hospital our new home.
Although I am the person I am today because of my cancer, my cancer does not define me. It is the traits I learned through my cancer treatment that have created the new me. I guess the question is, do I enjoy the new me? Can I see all that this new me has to offer? I’m still working on these questions. If this was the movie Freaky Friday, I could go back to the person I used to be, to my normal life. I would definitely appreciate it more now. Since I can’t go back, I have no choice but to accept and embrace the new person I’ve become, and my new not-so-normal teenage life.
Kat Tiscornia