Looking Back

June 12, 2011
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While packing away my belongings, I came across a photograph that had been shoved under piles and piles of memories. As I had dug through my mess, it was like I was turning back the clock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. All relating to that occurrence in my life. There were crayon pictures colored far outside the black coloring book’s lines, piled under middle school A+ essays, which were stacked beneath my first high school report card, underneath the endless college application essays I had spent hours editing to perfection, and finally, under my prized acceptance letter. New York University had been a dream of mine, and for Pre-Med, no less. Some people would call a cancer survivor becoming a doctor irony. I call it destiny. As a child, I had resented the doctors who told me I was sick. Aside from some bruising, I had felt fine. For a six-year-old, the prospect of death is inconceivable, and I had blamed the doctors for ruining my life. It did not take long for me to figure out that they were saving me. That is why I want to be a doctor. I want to save people who don’t realize that they need saving, because they need it the most.

The picture.

It was the picture I found that reminded me of what I was leaving behind, the good and the bad. In it, I was sitting on a hospital bed far too big for my tiny, eight-year-old body. To my right were my mother and grandparents, all smiling. My mother looked like she had been crying, but for joy. This was a rare occasion in my childhood. Sammi was standing with my father, behind me to the left. I could tell that she too was happier than she had been for a long time prior. One of the few splashes of color in the picture were the pink, yellow, and red balloons tied to the bedpost. This was the day I was pronounced “In Remission.”

Among all the hazy memories of chemo and surgery that filled my childhood, the memory of my cure remained in perfect clarity. It also saddened me, because these people who helped me through my darkest days would soon be so far from me. And these darkest days became the days that I never wanted to go back, back to that time of misery and sorrow that was put upon my family and myself.

Throughout my treat ment, Sammi had always resented me, and I resented my illness for it. In all honesty, life was not fair to either of us. While I lost my childhood, she lost hers as well. The time and money that my parents had invested in me could never be matched for her, and everyone knew it. But, this was something that we never said aloud, as it could never be fixed. One would expect that this situation would drive me apart from my sister, and it did -at the time. However, after I was cured, we became closer than we could have ever been otherwise. The time she spent with me as a child, the time she had wished she did not have to spend, our symbiotic relationship made us depend on each other in ways other sisters did not, and we would have that connection for the rest of our lives.

I also remembered my parents, the doctors, and nurses that were with me throughout everything. I would miss my parents terribly once I went to college. I already missed Sammi; she went to Harvard 3 years ago to study law. With her determination, albeit often referred to as stubbornness, she would be an amazing lawyer. I was so glad when she was accepted. Finally, she could be proud of something entirely on her own, not under the shadow of cancer that made any news, happy or sad, seem insignificant.

Out of everyone that was changed by my illness, though, I am sure I was the most. I entered leukemia as a scared, innocent child, but I left it behind as a strong veteran of loss. After cancer, nothing scared me the way it used to. I was stronger; that is definite. Yet, I was also softer. I saw all the children in the hospital who were not as lucky as I was. Watching friends die, one by one and day by day, is one of the hardest things anyone ever could do, even though I never knew anyone in the hospital for long. People had told me that my compassion is my best quality, and I acquired it through the pain I faced in the hospital.

I looked back to my stack of memories and noticed that there were very few pictures taken in the hospital. I imagine I was never very photogenic while in treatment, but I wished I had some more. I never wanted to forget the hospital. Though I despised every moment I spent there, I owed it more than my life. I owed it myself, because it is what made me who I am. My name is Michelle and I am a survivor of Leukemia.

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