Swing This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     Kick, pull. Kick, pull. “My motherhas breast cancer,” I exhaled rapidly, pumping back and forth onthe vinyl swing high on the hill of my elementary school. With thissingle sentence, I began sobbing. My best friend Liza, sitting next tome, stopped her swing. Her eyes widened in shock, but she said nothing.Words started spewing from my mouth as I repeated the explanation mymother had given me the day before, but I hadn’t been able tolisten. Instead, one fearsome word kept smashing around in my head:cancer, cancer, cancer.

As October 19, the day of mymother’s surgery, approached, I constantly thought of her illness.This would be the day the surgeons would remove the offensive tissuesand, most likely, several lymph nodes. An operation scheduled so soonwas wonderful but I was still preoccupied. October advanced, slowly butsurely, and my mother explained, “After my surgery, my tissue willbe sent to the pathologists, and they’ll do tests on it. They needto see if I have a clear margin.”

“Meaningwhat?” I asked.

“Meaning, if the edges of the removedtissues are cancerous, there is more in my body so I’ll have tohave chemotherapy, radiation or both, probably over Thanksgiving andChristmas, and into next year.”

How I prayed for that clearmargin! My mother in the hospital for Christmas? My sister, only six,still believed in Santa Claus. How could we have Christmas without apile of festively wrapped presents under the tree? My fathercouldn’t pull that off alone. I banished these thoughts andinstead put all my energy into acing Latin and passingchemistry.

I was already worried since my mother’s surgerywas scheduled for my brother’s birthday. I felt so bad that theday would be ruined for him. The morning of the 19th, I wished mybrother a very happy birthday, and gave my mother a large andheavy-hearted hug, telling her how much I loved her.

All day atschool, the only thing I could think about were random scenes ofhospitals, snapshots of my mother waiting for her operation, andquestions of what, exactly, she was doing right then. In religion class,we prayed for her. At the town library after school while doing researchfor my term paper, all I could see was my mother on a metal table,multiple surgeons bending over her. What is happening! My mind shriekedand tore at me all day, even into bed after doing my homework. My motherwould be in the hospital until Thursday or Friday.

Everyonewas so good to my family during her hospitalization. My sister’steacher called and asked if she could make us dinner; my aunts andcousins came over each day; girls I never even talked to at school askedhow my mother was doing. Liza’s mother brought me a pink ribbon,the symbol of breast cancer support, and a pink rubber bracelet bearingthe shibboleth “Share Beauty. Spread Hope.” All the girls Iknew wanted one, and it filled me with joy how willing to support thecause they were. I went through the motions of each day in a daze,stumbling through school, sports, dinner, homework and sleep.

Mymother came home Thursday afternoon. She was fine, though unable to workor drive. I was ecstatic to have her home, for everything to be as italways was. Talking to people was much easier now that my mind was freefrom thinking about my mother all the time. I was fine until I asked ifshe knew the results of her pathology tests. Cautiously, she explainedshe did not have a clear margin. Her cancer had spread and the doctorsdid not know how far. A node near her heart was cancerous. She was goingto need chemotherapy for six months.

Unlike when she first toldme she had cancer, I didn’t cry or use enough tissues tomake a pyramid on the kitchen table or stare wide-eyed and dejected outthe window instead of at her eyes. I didn’t really say a lot. Thistime I found it all too much. Thoughts of ruined holidays and birthdayswithout celebration and days without dinner and my mother bald in ahospital bed for Christmas flew through my head, and this time Icouldn’t stop them.

Three days later I was back at schoolon the yellow swing. I was confused and furious. I found my legs pumpingharder and harder above the sea of wood chips and the swing flew higherand higher. The arc brought me into the sky and I could see over thelong slides, over the blue play truck, over the hopscotch patterns onthe pavement. I could see over the school’s roof and the chimneysprotruding above. I could see past the school’s baseball fieldsand over the valley into the forests of the neighboring towns. I swunghigher and higher, swinging away from my pain and confusion, seeing theemerald, the crimson, the chocolate, the sunshine yellow of the treesfor miles.

It was all I could do not to think of my mother on aswing, an arc swinging back and forth between home and hospital, benignand malignant, health and cancer.

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

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the February 2005 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.






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