October 20, 2012

March 3, 1996, a day that my family will never forget. That is the day that my family heard the words “your daughter has cancer” come out of a doctor’s mouth. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), those are big words for a three year old to understand. At that time all I knew was that I was sick and was going to be spending time in the hospital. Now I know that day did not just change my world forever, but the lives of whomever walked into my life as well.
A hospital is a big scary place for a kid. People dressed in funny clothing coming in and out of a strange room poking, prodding, and asking you questions. Children’s Hospital helps to take away the fear though. The hallways are bright and the faces are warm. They are all family now. My nurse has always been there for my family. If it was two in the morning and my mom had a paranoid question she would answer her phone and talk her through it. She and her husband come over every Christmas for dinner to this day. Children’s makes you feel safe.
I still remember the day that we shaved my head. I remember I was tired of it falling out and so I crept up stirs and was standing in the kitchen pulling out my hair. I remember it was quiet and it was only me up stairs, I kept the lights off as if I couldn’t see it, then no one could. A few minutes later my mom came up stairs and found me. I was embarrassed because my parents had always told me that it was my choice when I want to shave my head. I could have just asked for help but I wanted to by myself. My mom was scared when she saw me and I could see it on her face even though she was trying really hard to hide it. She asked me if I wanted to shave it and I said yes.
That night my daddy sat me on the counter and shaved my head. I was sitting on the right side of the counter right next to the light switch. My parents were smiling and telling me how good it looked but I could tell that it was one of the hardest things they had to do. I could no longer hide that I was sick. Everyone would be able to tell that I was sick. I no longer had the beautiful brown hair. Now my head was just fuzzy. I remember turning around and seeing myself in the mirror I remember wondering if now the kids at school would treat me different.
All the boys in my family shaved their heads in honor of me. Even my younger cousin who had no clue what was going on. My Uncle Jimmy was a football player at the University of Washington and he shaved his head too. That year his picture in the program he had no hair. The kids at pre-school treated me the same. Actually, they thought it was kind of cool. The two boys I carpooled with used to pet my head in the car. Like I said, my head was fuzzy. Losing your hair is not even close to the only thing that changes physically when you have cancer.
A port-a-cath is a metal object that is about half an inch in diameter that the doctors put in your chest. They do this so that you don’t have to constantly get poked for blood draws and IVs. They put it on your chest so that it can feed into and draw blood from, the right place. When it is in you couldn’t see it but you could see the scar. You could defiantly feel it though. I didn’t really like people touching it. I could feel it when they touched it. I didn’t really even like wearing clothes because they would lay on it and it bothered me. The scar on my chest from my port is the only obvious sign of my cancer left for everyone to see.
In elementary school I tried so hard to cover it up. I didn’t really understand at that time that the scar was my badge of honor. A sign for the world to see that I was not to be messed with. My fourth grade teacher had a scare on her hand. I don’t even remember how she got it, but one day I was staying after school and she was working with me on a project. The shirt I was wearing that day was a red t-shirt, the sleeves had some lace on them, and there were some small flowers on the bottom of the shirt. It wasn’t a low cut shirt but it did have a tendency to show my scar. It was the end of a long day and my frustration with my shirt was starting to show. My teacher asked me what was wrong and I told her that my scar was showing and I didn’t like it when people could see it.
She kind of laughed and then got very strong faced and told me that everyone in the world should see my scar and that it should not be a burden, but a blessing. That was really the main point where I started to realize that I needed to be proud of my story.
In Jr. High school I need to advocate more for myself with my teachers and make sure that they knew about my learning disability. For them to understand me they need to know my story. My English teachers suddenly knew my story with any free write. In January of 9th grade my friend’s mom passed away due to cancer and that put the fire under me to go out and find a cure.
Our Jr. High pulled together behind my friend and we started a Relay for Life team. I started to tell my story even louder. I saw the affect that my story had on people. Again I realized that I needed to be an advocate, not just for myself and the side effects that the chemo has left me with, but for other people touched by cancer.
My story and history has helped my friends understand the importance of hope when it comes to dealing with cancer. My friends can now understand that they really can help people.
When I was only a few months into treatment, I did the fashion show with the Gilda’s Club. There was an older girl there named Kristen. She was diagnosed at the same age I was and was now a strong, healthy 12 year old. It helped my mom realize that I could make it through it. It gave my mom hope. Once you have hope you cannot be taken down. Through the ups and downs of treatment it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With hope the rode seems wider and the end is a little bit easier to see.
I am a cancer survivor. My body, my family, and my friends have all been through a lot. Some days it is hard to see that what happened to me happened for a reason, but when I help people get through one of the hardest times in their life, I know it happened for a reason. I have a scar on my chest that shows the world that nothing can knock me down. Being a cancer survivor is something that no one can take away from me.
Katie Skurski