The Sun Rose Again
It was as if all the light was being pulled from my body, pouring into the atmosphere and leaving a trembling cold behind. I stepped outside in 80-degree weather and couldn’t control the shiver. I was freezing. I was sick. I was fading.
I remember going to the doctor and the specialist immediately stating that he was worried, that surgery would need to be scheduled immediately. I remember being so scared of the idea of an operation, fearing the needles that came with it. I had always been terrified of getting poked. I remember going into the surgery room, feeling a little dazed but still holding my mom’s hand for a quick second before I smiled and got whisked away. I remember making friendly conversation with my surgeons until the anesthesia knocked me out cold, trying to ease the fear that gripped my heart before the medicine stopped all sense of time. Even when I was brought to my knees, surrendering to the chill throughout, I never imagined that I had cancer. The word stung like needles and burned like antiseptic in an open wound. Cancer was for the elderly, for frail infants. Cancer was a sad story you read in books or a plot point in movies designed to make you cry. I was a perfectly normal fifteen-year-old girl, doe-eyed and healthy. How could malformed cells strip me of everything I didn’t have time to fully appreciate?
I told my friends it wouldn’t be cancer, not just to reassure them, but to convince myself. And for the longest time, I truly believed that it couldn’t possibly be. I lived in a state of blissful ignorance until the day I walked out of my Drivers-Ed class. I saw my mom standing at the bottom of the staircase, her usually present smile a million miles away, and my world fell apart.
The fear and absolute heartbreak in her chocolate eyes said it all, the biopsy came back positive. “Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” she whispered into my hair through strangled sobs in the school hallway. My parents enveloped me in a tight embrace, and though those hugs usually melted my worries, I didn’t feel nearly as safe now. The sun had set on the easy days I remembered, and I knew many dark nights lie ahead.
I was terrified to face the unknown, to fight this war alone. But I never expected what came shortly after my diagnosis. Hundreds of texts came pouring in from my closest friends and people I barely knew. Stories, like glimmering stars in the night sky, were gifted to me by cancer survivors and their loved ones. I was awestruck by how many people cared; they were in this battle right alongside me. I was showered with presents, visits, and heartfelt letters. My cheer team showed up at my door with a basket of all my favorite things; this group of girls had my back no matter how weak I was bound to get. I was lifted from rock bottom by healthy hands, carrying me through the earliest stages of treatment.
With the strength of thousands around me, I was taken to the hospital in Salt Lake where I would be treated over the summer. My first night at the hospital is one that is forever seared into my memory. The piercing white lights above, the burning smell of hand sanitizer that infected the food I ate, and the broken smiles plastered on families’ faces, who looked to be moments away from collapse. I laid on the medical bed, thin paper separating my body from touching the surface. I squeezed my mom’s hand, attempting to hide the fear in my eyes as the cheery nurse disinfected my skin to prepare for my port access. The resounding click of the needle piercing skin sent electric shivers down my spine. The doctors pumped my body with cold fluids and medicines, and I was feeling okay. I watched TV and ordered room service. It wasn’t until a couple hours later that I started to shake. I asked for an extra blanket, then two, then another. A nurse calmly checked my temperature and reacted with alarm when she realized it was 104.7. And still, I was freezing. Doctors came in and forced the blankets off me. After half an hour of absolute misery as deafening cold tortured my body, they gave me a pill that helped me fall asleep. I was awoken repeatedly by concerned nurses, needing to check my temperature again. But the worst was over. I just had two more days in the hospital before I could be released.
I returned to Idaho a few weeks into treatment to go to cheerleading practice; I wasn’t going to miss my second year on the high school team no matter how sick I was. I found myself stumbling, barely able to complete a lap around the track with the other girls for warm-up. I sat on the bleachers, pulling at blonde strands of hair, and letting them fall to the concrete. A few nights later I stood in my shower, tears cascading down my cheeks as I watched my honey-gold hair swirl down the drain. I sat in a chair as my mom shaved the rest, each stroke on my scalp like a knife to my pride. Standing in front of the mirror, I barely recognized the skeleton of a girl that I used to be. She was pale, grey, and drained of the life that used to course through healthy veins. I was damaged, broken, full of sickness that few could understand. I tiptoed downstairs, my head physically lighter, but weighed down by shame. When I reached ground level, my dad kissed my bare head and said I was strong. Despite all my imperfections, he still called me beautiful.
After that, everything was strictly procedure. I took each needle, each transfusion, each blood draw with the decisive mindset that I was just working towards a goal. In school, I never settled for less than perfection, and my diagnosis was only a project needing completion. I needed to beat cancer to prove I was good enough. I had a checklist of tasks, such as taking my meds, resting frequently, and drinking lots of water. And there was the finish date when I was supposed to be completely done. I would reach that day, no matter what it took. I had no other choice. Because it wasn’t just me battling for my life, the world was backing this fight.
After months of combatting the disease that had overstayed its welcome, my last scan came back perfectly boring. There was no abnormal glow on the X-ray, indicating where the cancer had invaded. I could breathe a sigh of relief and feel the pure air course through my healed body.
In each passing day, my hair grows longer, and the pain fades into distant memory. The darkness had taken over, twisting its ugly tendrils around my lymph nodes and breaking down my helpless immune system. Drops of sunshine trickled through my veins with each treatment, light overtaking the dark. And after months of relentless battle, the light won. For all the people struggling with their own battles, you can win. For all the people that have lost, you can still live. Relish each morning and soak in the glow because for you, and for me, the sun rose again.