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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I Blame My Dad For My High Expectations

Dad, it's all your fault.
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I always tell my dad that no matter who I date, he's always my number one guy. Sometimes I say it as more of a routine thing. However, the meaning behind it is all too real. For as long as I can remember my dad has been my one true love, and it's going to be hard to find someone who can top him.

My dad loves me when I am difficult. He knows how to keep the perfect distance on the days when I'm in a mood, how to hold me on the days that are tough, and how to stand by me on the days that are good.

He listens to me rant for hours over people, my days at school, or the episode of 'Grey's Anatomy' I watched that night and never once loses interest.

He picks on me about my hair, outfit, shoes, and everything else after spending hours to get ready only to end by telling me, “You look good." And I know he means it.

He holds the door for me, carries my bags for me, and always buys my food. He goes out of his way to make me smile when he sees that I'm upset. He calls me randomly during the day to see how I'm doing and how my day is going and drops everything to answer the phone when I call.

When it comes to other people, my dad has a heart of gold. He will do anything for anyone, even his worst enemy. He will smile at strangers and compliment people he barely knows. He will strike up a conversation with anyone, even if it means going way out of his way, and he will always put himself last.

My dad also knows when to give tough love. He knows how to make me respect him without having to ask for it or enforce it. He knows how to make me want to be a better person just to make him proud. He has molded me into who I am today without ever pushing me too hard. He knew the exact times I needed to be reminded who I was.

Dad, you have my respect, trust, but most of all my heart. You have impacted my life most of all, and for that, I can never repay you. Without you, I wouldn't know what I to look for when I finally begin to search for who I want to spend the rest of my life with, but it might take some time to find someone who measures up to you.

To my future husband, I'm sorry. You have some huge shoes to fill, and most of all, I hope you can cook.

Cover Image Credit: Logan Photography

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5 Tips To Help You Feel Better If You're Sick

A few helpful tips if there's a bug going around.

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Not to brag, but I don't get sick very often, maybe once a year. When I do find myself a little under the weather, there's a few things I like to do for a faster recovery. I have no idea if any of these are 100% accurate, but I'd like to think they do. None of these will immediately make you feel better, but they'll help quicken the process.

Drink lots of water.

This one is a no-brainer, but it can be hard to do sometimes. I know when I'm sick, I definitely don't think about it. Water can help flush toxins out of your body, makes you hydrated, and can help you feel more awake and energized! If you're not a huge water drinker like I am, Tea also helps.

Stay home.

If you're sick, it's honestly better if you just take a day off and focus on feeling better. If you're worried about going to school or work, it's better that you don't spread anything. Let me just say, I'm fairly certain the last time I caught something was because someone behind me in a class was coughing through the entire lecture.

Rest.

This one goes with the last point, but sleeping will help your immune system fight off any infections. It's good to take some time off and get any extra sleep you can.

Clean everything.

I like to wash all of my clothes and bed sheet, because they're what I wear and touch the most, especially my pillow cases. This will help get rid of some germs and stop them from spreading. It's also good to disinfect anything you touch often, like doorknobs and table surfaces.

Take medicine.

This one also sounds like a no brainer, but seriously if you expect to feel better soon you should be taking some sort of medicine. At the very least, it'll help with your symptoms, so you're not couching or sneezing every couple minutes.

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