The Nuances

October 20, 2016

Walking past a girl wearing artificial berry lotion, a shudder involuntary passes through me. The scent drags me back to an old but vivid memory.
Lying on the hospital table, a nurse asks me what flavor “mask” I would prefer. I tell her it doesn’t matter. A flexible rubber mask covers my mouth. The air is tinted strawberry. A suffocating, sickly sweet strawberry. One that drags the consciousness out of me.
I am at a volleyball game in fourth grade. The after game snack is packaged cheese and crackers, completed by a red plastic stick. I cringe and refuse to touch it. The smell makes me gag. The vending machines at the hospital were filled with the poison. I ate them almost everyday. I used to find spreading the artificial cheese on crackers and making “sandwiches” amusing. Now, the thought of the red stick makes me uneasy.
The teacher is giving out scented stickers for coming up to the board, and answering a question. My eyes light up with glee, pure and innocent joy. My hand immediately shoots up, and I almost sprint to the board. After completing the problem, I collect my sticker with delight. After blood draws at the hospital, they would always give me strips of stickers; I have a shelf of binders filled.
“You give me cancer” and “That is such cancer” are common insults among teens. It’s never been directed towards me, but whenever I hear the phrase, it makes me shudder inside. A silent, heated shudder, as I remember what cancer was really like. It is not an insult; it is not an adjective. It is a disease caused by uncontrolled cell division. “Cancer” is ingrained in the cross-fire of insults, but few realizes the weight of the word.
I was given two scars in exchange for my freedom. One beneath my right collar bone, the other below my belly button. I am wearing a cardigan over a camisole, and my “survivor” necklace. The scar peeks over the top, but I don’t notice anymore. It is just as permanent as the green veins flowing beneath my skin. But, the girl next the me notices and points at my chest, “what’s that from?”, she inquires. I shift my feet in the other direction, ever so slightly. My neck tenses, and gaze adverts. I quietly reply that the necklace says “survivor”, I got it from a Relay for Life event, but I don’t go into further detail. The conversation dies. Was she looking at my scar or necklace? I doubt she understands what “survivor” means to me. I stretch up the top of the camisole to cover the scar. I use my cardigan to blanket myself from the seemingly innocent questions; burying the necklace beneath my hair.
Cancer hasn’t just left me with dark memories of chemo, it’s mark is exposed in the mundane everyday. Though, not as you might expect.
On most days, I’ve forgotten that I’m a cancer survivor. But alas, it’s effect is engraved in me, revealing itself in the subtlest of ways. I am cancer free, but now the devil is in the details. Since then, almost everything has changed, yet remnants of my shadowed childhood return to haunt me.
Krystal Graylin