Waking from A Dream

June 15, 2020

Four months of empty memories have risen from the depths of my soul after all these years.

As if I’m in a dream, I see this fuzzy-headed little girl skipping circles around me as she laughs and recalls story after story of being “sick.” I suddenly realized she was me, at six years old, weakened by leukemia. Flickers of memories begin to fill my heart, each image secretly harboring a very significant unidentifiable emotion. These memories this little girl puts in my hands are important, I realize, but they shall impale me with a burning sorrowful frustration. Like a View-Master, she reminds me of my fragmented memories in slides and spurts, each picture reel stitched together with the recollections and the stories that people have retold to me over the years.

In one scene, I am sitting on a hospital bed covered with pink blankets and stuffed cats. In another, I’m playing with small tubes originating from a line in my chest. Next, I’m dragging an I.V. pole along as I chat amongst my neighborhood nurses. In others, I’m visited by spontaneous guests who fuel their compassion with laughter and love. Each image I visualize brings me back to being “sick” with cancer, as I called it. These empty memories, like old photographs, are brief windows into my childhood… but it seems to be from an outsider’s point of view. There is pride deep within me for having survived such a horrific battle, I’m sure of that. Yet, being so young and on so many medications has deprived me of my painful memories, the very things that give my victory it’s personal value.

When the subject arises in conversation and its relevance pulls me in, I can’t help but shift my gaze. They don’t understand that I don’t remember the severity of my condition; I have very few stories to tell that would engage and wow them. However, I can recall the times when my family would express their feelings on that matter. While those four months had seemed mostly empty of emotion, they were in fact the most nightmarish times my family has ever experienced. Sometimes I’ll listen to their stories, most importantly how they felt, but it just wasn’t quite the same; I thought I’d never relive those moments and feel the same way. The feelings from their memories, the fear, the anxiety, the looming outcome, were all sealed away in their hearts and I could never reach them, they could never say anything that would allow me to comprehend how they felt. Hearing this time after time, I swell with tearful indignation; with no painful hardship to relive and remember and be proud of, survivor’s guilt sometimes plucks at my heart.

I’m reminded that I am blessed to be forgetful of the pain, but I’m ashamed to admit I was often selfish. I used to long for a piece, a morsel, of a memory that would invoke a painful sorrow within me. I wanted to feel worthy of being a true survivor, but how could I have done so with nothing but empty faded memories? A knight cannot recall her battles with passion or courageousness if she does not remember them. However, little does she know there are other knights fighting out there who will need to hear her story someday.

When I meet other survivors, who come from the same past, our shared experience fills my heart with bliss. They know and understand what I went through, they endured just as I did. A melting feeling overcomes me when they understand me differently than others have. We could talk for hours about the meaningful insignificant details that help us fill the holes in our memories and heal the wounds in our hearts. They share their stories with me, drawing out every detail, and I look inside and find the colors to paint their picture; I sometimes find myself crying tears of joy seeing the finished canvas with such understanding, such love, and empathy. Life for us brought misfortune and sorrow in the form of cancer, but also a powerful second chance at an everlastingly beautiful experience that we’re all destined to embrace, down to the very last wondrous detail.

There are people from my journey, however, deep down in my heart that I’ll never forget… even when cancer lures them away from me forever. That reality was enough to stop me from wanting more out of my past, I ought to move on with good spirit with what I have and be proud of it. I can live with these faded memories of mine knowing, either way, I accomplished something extraordinary; I beat cancer at only six years old. I’ll never forget the people who became family, the stories they told me, and their beautiful canvases. When I finally get out into the world, I’m going to experience everything I can for them, see every mountain, every sky, every flower beneath my feet, every sight and smell, every beautiful little thing. I’m going to be a scientist and return stronger than ever. I’m going to look down at that microscope and glare at leukemia’s sick face with the spirits of everyone I’ve loved burning inside me. Their colors are here within my heart, always and forever.

This sweet little child before me, with her fuzzy head and innocent smile, takes my hands in comfort. She gives me a forgiving grin as if to say everything will be alright. She has so much potential, so many things she needs to see and do, she has to make it through and see her battle to the end. She doesn’t know it yet, but there are so many amazing people out there she has to meet, so many places she’ll get to see, so many songs she’ll get to sing. I don’t want her to grow up wishing to relive her suffering. I cry tears of joy, placing the View-Master back in her hands. These emotions, these heartfelt slides of memories, belong to her and our past. She won’t need them, let alone know what to do with them, but they’re hers to keep; I’ve finally accepted that. With joy and a carefree spirit about her, she smiles wide and hugs me around the waist. At last, I’ve made amends with this little me from all those years ago. I love her and I’m going to learn from her; with an enthusiastic spirit, I’m going to make new memories and help others fight their battles against cancer.

Like stardust, the little girl fades away into my memories. This conflicting dream has finally ended and I’ve reawakened with a new purpose. I was once confused over how big of a deal others would make of my survival and it tainted my pride and memories. Yes, I was very little when I had cancer and don’t remember the painful moments of treatment, but I soon learned that it doesn’t mean I can’t be proud of what I’ve done. As long as I live, I’ll carry that pride and let it motivate me as I enter my adult life to become a hematologist. With my family’s neverending love and support, I’m going to achieve my goals and hopefully somehow repay them for all they’ve done for me. And to those whom cancer has taken, I’ll fight back one day. I once faced cancer as a young knight, but soon I’ll return as a queen with a vast army behind me; cancer won’t have a fair chance next time it meets me.

Molly Horton