What No One Tells You About Terminal Cancer

What No One Tells You About Terminal Cancer

No one tells you that every time you step outside to be greeted by the sun, it will be more than just the sun just shining down on you.
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In elementary school, I met a strawberry blonde named Hannah. First impression? She was a total spitfire with a constellation of freckles on her cheeks and eyes that reflected her soul – full of life. Our childhoods were bliss. We were little girls as naive as sprouts whose roots were hardly established in the garden of this world. Hannah was a 13-year-old eternal optimist, forced to grow up too fast.

Because that’s what terminal cancer does. It steals childhoods, obliterates futures, and takes away the life in a little girl’s eyes.

I embarked on the journey of our friendship unaware that I would vicariously live through a battle of life versus death and come out in the end a new person… but without the warrior beside me to tell her own tale.

One year after her original diagnosis of brain cancer, Hannah received an update of massive tumor growth – essentially, her ticket to death. And a few days later, I ventured to the hospital with not a clue of what to expect because my best friend was invincible to me. I had never heard a complaint about the treatment reeking havoc upon her body or the side effects. My hopes were high until reality struck my preteen world that day.

The exquisite pain of wanting something unobtainable usually becomes trivial as life goes on. But what if all you wanted was another day with a beating heart, a functioning brain, or the opportunity to breathe?

Everyone who has walked through a pediatric oncology unit has a different type of understanding of what it means to be alive. Cracked doors and windows reveal children of all ages in the midst of fighting for a change in fate… sterilization masks and hair that’s long gone, but still believing in magic. Even if that magic won’t provide them with a cure.

After getting the news myself, I laid beside Hannah in that hospital bed. And through her slurred speech and tainted vision – we put together a list of her wishes that evolved into a legacy of our friendship, the beauty of life, and death. That list holds an explanation for why I wore hot pink stilettos to the funeral and why the name “Hannah” will definitely be embroidered on my wedding gown.

Inevitably a month later, Hannah died in her very own bed, in her Monmouth County home.

It’s almost three years later, her 17th birthday is right around the corner, and sometimes the realization that she’s gone still hits me as if I’m a child standing in the ocean hit by an oncoming wave. Because when your best friend dies from cancer freshman year, no one tells you how it’s going to affect the rest of your life.

No one tells you that you’re going to be numb at the wake. And you’re going to have trouble finding the words for a goodbye letter to put under her casket’s pillow for eternity.

No one tells you that chances are – you’ll sob alone in the bathroom at school on what should have been her Sweet 16. And each milestone will conjure up more tears because it’s just not fair.

No one tells you that resting sunflowers on her grave every summer isn’t the same as the old adventures throughout the summer haze of your childhoods, and passing her house on your neighborhood run will never become easier.

No one tells you that time doesn’t stop for anyone because life comes and goes by the numbers. But the meaning of time is impossible to define until you’ve realized the value of each moment.

But no one tells you that you can venture on in the face of a horrible prognosis and move forward ready to empathize with others as they face tragedies of their own.

No one tells you that no matter who you meet or where you travel in the world, you will always find a piece of your friend. Whether it’s in that pair of vaguely familiar blue eyes on a stranger at Target. Or how you get a laugh out of Nutella gelato in Europe – because she was allergic to hazelnuts.

No one tells you that if you open your heart – you will gain a new family. Her mother becomes your mother and best friends become your sisters. The teachers who once taught you academics will teach you about life and the names of people in your hometown are no longer just familiar faces. Everyone has a story.

And no one tells you that every time you step outside to be greeted by the sun, it will be more than just the sun just shining down on you.

For me, it’s the personification of sunshine… the life in a little girl’s eyes… it’s forever and always, my Hannah. And not even terminal cancer ever had a shot at taking her away.

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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Buying New Clothes Every Month Has Been The Key To Helping Me Become Happy With My Body Again

Loving my body in new outfits has boosted my self image so much.

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Being body-positive has been really hard for me to do throughout 2019, despite there being an overwhelming surge in body-positivity around me, whether through my friends and family or YouTube. I look in the mirror and what I see is someone I want to make a jean size or two smaller like in the past. That being said, I've slowly been coming around to accepting the body I have now, instead of bashing it constantly. A key way I've come to accept the body I'm in now is through buying myself something new every month, like a new T-shirt or a pair of jeans or sneakers that help me see myself in a positive light. When I'm in a new outfit, I feel invincible. I don't think about how pudgy my stomach is, or about the hair I have growing in random places, like my neck or on my nose (yes, not just in, but ON too).

My bank account tends to suffer as of recently because of this, but it's worth it when I can genuinely feel good in what I am wearing every day. I like to wake up and think about how many outfits I can put together, ready to post my #OOTD for Snapchat without caring what anyone thinks. I've let social media dictate how I feel about myself more than I care to admit. I see how perfect all the models are in everything they're wearing from brands I know and love, yet when I try the same thing on, it's a whole different ugly story.

I don't enjoy trying things on to avoid the shame I feel when things don't fit me right, or if something that I thought would flatter me actually makes me look like a sack of potatoes. Instagram has really hurt my body image a lot — enough to make me delete it for a week after one post sent me spiraling. Going through those bumps made me finally realize it's not my fault if something doesn't fit. Sizes range depending on the item, it's the clothing items fault, not mine. Now that I see that, it's easier to brush off something not fitting me as it should. I know my size very well in the stores I frequent the most, so it's easier for me to pick out things I know will look good and not have to worry about the sizing issue.

Buying yourself something new is not something you should limit to every few months or longer. You shouldn't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone price wise every once and a while either. Coupons exist, stories always offer you them when you first sign up to receive emails and even texts. You can be crafty and still get a high price item for less. If you treat yourself to cheap things, you won't feel half as good as you want to. Granted, sticking to a limit is important but there's no shame in going over the limit every once and a while.

I love shopping as much as I love country music and writing short stories — a lot. Yes, I get yelled at almost every time I get something new. I need to save my money for important things, like for my sorority or for medical issues that could suddenly arise, or for utilities at my house next year off campus.

However, my mental well-being is not something I can ignore.

I can't push the good feelings aside to save 30 or 40 bucks a month. I don't want to feel as low as I've felt about myself anymore. I'm tired of feeling sad or angry at who I am, and I want to learn how to accept myself as I am. Buying myself something new, like clothes, is what offers a positive light to view myself under.

Whether you treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant, or to face masks, or to a new movie when it comes out — don't be afraid to do it. Put yourself first and you'll realize your worth and how much you've been ignoring it in the face of poor confidence.

My confidence isn't back up to where it used to be, but it's getting there.

It may not be the most cash efficient method of self-love, but my body positivity is better than it was a few months ago. Aerie and American Eagle have really helped me become happier with my body, and I can't thank them enough for being more inclusive for people like me who are learning to love themselves again in a new body.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us hoping to promote our own body positivity, and it could all start with a simple purchase from your favorite store after you read this.

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