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A Boy So Young, A Woman So Strong
I am a fourteen year old carefree teenager. I have just finished playing football on my front lawn and as I look down at the hungry summer grass I recognize the shadows of the large trees and the outline of my house silhouetted on the ground. This beautiful day has ended and a storm has arrived. Suddenly, I feel a drop of water trickle down my neck and I look up at my surroundings. As the steady rain begins to fall from the skies above, I see Mary jogging up the street, the once desert dry bandanna is now covering her wet, bald head. The storm picks up and I watch her look up at the dark heavens above; she is determined to finish what she has begun. She looks over my way as she nears my house and a smile extends across her face. I stand frozen in time and the world continues around me. As parents usher their screaming children inside and as cars drive by splashing water as they pass, my life suddenly changes as I begin to link the similarities of this rain storm with the disease that is tearing away at this woman’s body.
My memory takes me back to early November and as the orange and brown leaves fall off the large oak trees; the Unami football season is winding down. Now that our successful season is over I think about the months ahead and how I will have several hours after school to sit around and do absolutely nothing, wishing ever so greatly to fill the wasted time with something fun and worthwhile. It is Tuesday and I walk up the steps with my heavy schoolbag hanging off of my shoulder, I am still sore from last weeks final game. I plop down on my bed and sit there twiddling my thumbs trying to find a reasonable excuse so I will not have to begin my project. There is a knock and as I look over at my bedroom door and it slowly opens. Standing there is my mom; she looks nervous but calm. I sit up on my bed and she walks over and sits down beside me.
“Honey, I have something to tell you,” she says.
I can tell by the tone in her voice that the news she has is not good. I can feel my eyes squinting and I very slowly tilt my head. The suspense is killing me.
“Mary has breast cancer, Brian.”
My hands grab onto my sheets and I squeeze ever so hard, my face is turning red. I am shocked, in disbelief, and my mom gently puts her hand on my knee. Suddenly all these thoughts fly through my head. I think “this can’t be right, I just saw her the other day and she was fine.” I look up at my mom and her head is down, she is biting her lip. In reality there is no such thing as pause, stop, fast forward or rewind; it is stuck in play and it is all too real. At dinner the mood is silent as my family and I sit in our seats, looking down at our plates. I think about all the times I have spent with one of my mom’s best friends and how she is always the life of the party. I think about her two young children, Jack is in second grade and Katherine is only a baby. As a nurse she spends her days saving lives and now she must trust someone to save her own life.
Winter arrives and Mary is waking up each and every day, determined to control this disease and not let it control her. She has lost all of her hair and now for the first time we are seeing her at what is her weakest point, but she is not giving up, she is a fighter. It is now the beginning of spring and as the leaves come back to life Mary is getting better. Several days a week I walk outside to get the mail and I see her running up the street and I wonder how she is so motivated to run and exert all of her energy to do something most people find as a chore. I walk inside to find my mom standing over a pot on the stove, making our dinner. After I ask her about my last thought and how I always see Mary running through our neighborhood she tells me that Mary runs because it gives her time to think and clear her head. She says that running gives her strength and how with each step she feels more energetic and more determined to beat the odds.
It is late spring and Mary has entered herself in the Broad Street Run in Center City, Philadelphia. I have always known her to be a person who goes above and beyond what is expected but I never thought she would fight running through miles of pure hell. She gets to the race and unfortunately she is not feeling well, but she is going through with the race anyway. As she is running, the sweat is burning her flesh covered head; she has thoughts of stopping and quitting. Out of nowhere a man runs up beside her and talks to her, he begins asking her questions and she acts negative towards him, she is not in the mood. He is not giving up and continues to talk to her and suddenly she begins speaking to him, listening to every word that comes out of his mouth. They begin talking about life, her struggles with cancer, how she goes to get treatment everyday with a screaming baby in the back seat, how she just recently lost her husbands mother and her own mother to cancer, and about God and how he works in mysterious ways. After a while she tells him to go ahead and that she is probably slowing him down but he insists to continue running with her. They stop to get a drink at one of the water stations and she tells him that she wishes she knew how to get out of the race and that all she wants to do now is get on the train and go home. This is too much for her weak body to handle but he tells her that he will continue to run with her, not leaving her side. They get to the last mile marker of the race and she is putting one foot in front of the other, every step is a struggle. He turns to her and says “Congratulations Mary, you have one mile until the finish line,” and with that he takes off, never to be seen by her again. Moments later as she crosses the finish line she thinks about their talk about how God works in mysterious ways and she wonders if this was her own Guardian Angel sent to her by God, making sure she was not to give up. To Mary, he was her hero.
The rain is now pouring down like ice pellets and Mary reaches my house, she stops and stands in front of me and we begin talking. She asks for some water and we sprint to my garage, trying to escape the storm.
“How are you doing,” I ask as she sips on her water, wetting her dry and patchy lips. She puts her water down on the ground and looks up smiling.
“Great, I’m feeling a lot better and the doctors say things are looking good.”
The rain picks up and I am brought back to the stormy summer day. With the sounds of the summer rain thrashing in the background, I realize how one woman has changed my life. Suddenly, the storm stops and we step outside; the steam is flowing off the wet, hot driveway. She tells me that she has to be going and slowly begins to jog off. As the clouds wither away, the children return outside with smiles on their faces and the birds begin to come out of the trees. It occurs to me that just like a thunderstorm that rolls in on a beautiful day, unfortunate events can roll into our lives and suddenly everything changes. Only if we prove to ourselves that we have the power to survive will the happiness return to our lives. Once again the image of the man at the Broad Street Run flashes through my mind and I think about how Mary had told me that to her, he was her guardian angel and her hero. I smile, watching her round the corner, and suddenly my own hero disappears into the now bright and sunny day.