It Whispers This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

I still hear the whispers of encouragement to search for a cure. Unfortunately, most cases of ovarian cancer are discovered in stage four. If only she had heard it whisper sooner.

Our families developed a close bond when I was in second grade, mostly through school activities. She and my mom were my Cub Scout den leaders, and we had many pool parties and camping trips together. She knew her way around power tools, which was quite useful for our Odyssey of the Mind (OM) team and in constructing our Pinewood Derby cars. Her knowledge and skills truly impressed me. She even taught me how to pitch a tent.

Unbeknownst to us, a deadly foe had been lurking in her body. She was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. Her son and I secretly designed possible cures for cancer, just in case her treatments didn’t work. She did not back away from life, though. Instead, she volunteered to lead even more activities. I marveled at her enthusiasm and tried hard to apply her energy to my own pursuits.

She coached soccer teams, hosted pool parties, coordinated Cub Scout awards, carpooled to swim team events, and led design meetings at work. She epitomized the modern mom, a woman who could balance work and family – with a smile. In fact, very few knew about her condition. Only in the final months did she begin to conserve her energy.

I remember one brisk autumn morning picking apples for soup kitchens. The vivid red and orange leaves decorated every tree, rustling in a cold wind. She chose to wait for us, barefoot in the SUV. This was the first time that she had ever sat on the sidelines and watched. Her treatment had left painful radiation burns on the bottoms of her feet. She still drove a carload of kids and held her head high, sharing pleasant conversation with us. It was the first outward sign of the intensity of her treatment, but her passion for life still shone brightly in her blue eyes.

The falling leaves foreshadowed colder times ahead. During the winter, she spent many days inside conserving strength. The following spring and summer, she and my mom coordinated a three-day field trip. I admired her tenacity and focus in the midst of such chaos. She was invincible, and I was sure that we would be having barbecues and pool parties soon.

As the months passed, the cancer began to take its toll, and she received more treatments, which enervated her. She began to greet us from a comfy swivel chair in her kitchen next to the fireplace. It made me realize how serious her condition was, but her intense blue eyes were never obfuscated by her exhaustion. We would sit and talk or play computer games with her, but it was strange to be at OM competitions and pool parties without her. As her cancer worsened, she was forced to go to the hospital. I was scared of the uncertainty. Then, just as suddenly as the cancer had impaired her life, it took it.

As my mom read a poem about friendship at the funeral, I imagined instead hearing my friend’s mom reading those words to describe my own mom. At that moment, I fully understood the loss that her sons felt, and tears streamed down my cheeks.

A few days after the service, we wanted to do something to honor her and decided to run lemonade stands with our team to raise money for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). We made trips to parks and ball games with rolling stands of cookies, popsicles, and lemonade. We hoped to raise $500, but instead collected $879.91 in four days! We presented a check to the family along with teal ovarian cancer bracelets from NOCC that read “It Whispers.” I still wear mine. Her family sent her remaining medicine to Cuba, so it could help save others.

Even though my friend and I did not find a cure in time to save his mom, this tragedy made a lasting impact on me. I still research telomeres and telomerase for a cure. Telomeres are “caps” on the ends of DNA that protect the genetic code from degrading during mitosis. Telomerase is a molecule found in cancer that rebuilds the telomeres, allowing cells to continue dividing infinitely. After attending a lecture by Dr. Lance Liotta on proteomics and individualized therapy for cancer, I spoke to him about introducing certain yeast into cells that destroys telomerase, which would cause the DNA to wear down and the cancer cell to die. He thought for a moment and said, “It just might work.” He invited me to visit his laboratory and observe his engineers at work. This further intensified my passion for biotechnology.

Late at night, I do my best thinking. This is when I can still hear it whisper. My desire to save my friend’s mom and others from cancer did not die with her. I picture her smile and intense blue eyes, as she seems to whisper encouragement to continue my quest for a cure.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

charzard said...
May 19, 2010 at 12:31 pm
wow. this is a very sad, but truly inspiring story. i lost a classmate to brain cancer at a young age. at least she got to have kids and get married. great article.
practicerandomkindness said...
May 21, 2009 at 12:47 am
Amazing. Best story I've read on this site. Go for your dream!
Faerie6 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 20, 2009 at 10:22 pm
That's aunt died of ovarian cancer and I do a 6 mile walk every year for NOCC
InspiredRedHead said...
Dec. 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm
wow. thats all i can say. this story gave me goosebumps and it really inspired me to help a great cause like NOCC.
Eve said...
Sept. 10, 2008 at 12:20 am
That was beautiful
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