Seeking A Sense Of Self This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 31, 2009
Going through cancer is a rough ride. Going through it twice? Even rougher.

I'm 14 years old, and I've gone through things that, hopefully, most of you will never have to think about. I was 11 years old when I was first diagnosed. I remember the exact day and time: September 3rd, 2005, at 9:15 p.m. That was when I learned I would be the newest addition to Boston's Children's Hospital Oncology/Hematology floor. There was a tumor surrounding my spinal cord, and it was paralyzing me.

I began the fight that I would endure for the next 47 weeks on September 5th, which happened to be Labor Day. On that day, I started my visits to one of the saddest and happiest places on Earth. The saddest, because the oncology ward was full of children fighting battles both harder and easier than mine. The happiest, because there was a sense of safety, and even sometimes joy. I made more close friends than I could have ever believed.

However, there are consequences to being a friendly person and befriending everyone on the floor in a hospital: sooner or later, some of those people die. It's something I don't even have words to explain. And believe me, for me not to have words is quite a feat. I believe that in that 47-week course of treatment, four kids I felt close to died.

When my last day of treatment, June 22nd, finally rolled around, I was conflicted. I had basically grown up there, spending a few holidays, a birthday, and many other occasions on the floor. You don't get to stay a kid for long in a place like that. But somehow, that didn't matter that much. Everyone – the people who were repeat visitors to the floor, the people who worked there – had become a type of extended family for me. I couldn't believe I was finally done, but I was sad to leave. How was I going to handle being away from my “family” for the rest of my life?

As it turned out, I didn't have to handle it. A few months later, in October, I began having excruciating hip pain. After a week and a half of crying, taking leftover morphine, and staying home from school, my parents called my doctors. So on the first Tuesday in November, my mother and I took a bus back to Boston, and headed straight for the cancer center. Three and a half hours, four intravenous needle sticks, and a long wait for an MRI later, we got a call telling us to skip the MRI and return. They had found “something” to explain my pain. Little did I know that the thing they had found was Secondary Leukemia, and that the afternoon's trip to the mall food court for lunch would be my last venture out of the hospital for two months. I was put into a private room on the oncology floor again, and was greeted, I'm told, by my old friends, nurses and workers with tears in their eyes. At that point, I was on too much medication to remember.

I was in the hospital for seven months, half of which I can't really remember. I was getting a bone marrow transplant, and was so drugged up that I couldn't even tell you my name. I couldn't leave my room, not that I wanted to. I couldn't eat dairy, not that I wanted to. In fact, I didn't want to eat anything, and eventually had to be fed through a tube.

Since then, this – cancer – has been my life. I've answered countless questions about it. I still get stopped in public places by people I don't really know, who ask, “Sweetie, how are you feeling? How's your health?”

Some days when I'm in a particularly crabby mood, or I want to make my 11 friends in heaven – or wherever we end up – giggle, I want to say, “Oh, the doctors say I have 28 days to live, but don't worry, we'll be sure to inform you when I die.”

Not that it's any of their business. My health is between me, my family, my health-care providers, and those I choose to share it with. You don't get to come up and ask me how I am.

Because the real truth is I don't know how I am. After three years of having to micro-manage every little feeling, having to know exactly what was going on at all times, I've lost my sense of self. And I guess the point of sharing this is to try and find it again.

So tell me, do you know where I can find my sense of self?

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

Join the Discussion

This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

nerdyfish said...
Mar. 31, 2014 at 4:43 pm
Wow this is beautifully written. You are very strong and remind me of taliajoy18. Keep on writing and I can not wait to hear more from you.
PaigeT said...
Jul. 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm


I'm from the Island too, and I thought that this was absolutely beautiful. In what month and year was this published? I want to see it in the magazine PDF online,

Josh said...
Sept. 16, 2010 at 11:06 am
I just wanted to let you know that You are a beautiful daughter of God who has been wonderfully created to do amazing things!  Think about the things you love to do and the things in life that bring you the most joy.  When you seek those out and find who God has truly made you to be then you will find your self.  "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, plans for a hope and future." Jeremiah 29:11.  I want you to know that you are Loved!  
bbygurl21 said...
Jul. 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm
this is so beautiful
TurtleWriter27 said...
May 26, 2010 at 4:32 pm

HOLY CRAP BATMAN. This story rocked my socks. No lie. I'm near tears right now and I'm so so so proud of you :)
Never stop writing.


   A Good Friend.

writerali replied...
Jul. 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Thank you....


I needed to read this. I'm sorry for your pain, and unfortunately I am too busy trying to find my self to tell someone else how to do it. You seem like a really great person and I will keep you in my prayers. If you ever want to talk, I'm on Facebook or my e-mail address is Stay strong. You're inspiration for those of us who have none.

Site Feedback