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

October 30, 2009
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She has cancer.

It’s weird to write that down. My mother has cancer. She found out last week but couldn’t bring herself to tell my brothers and me until today.

I knew it was bad news when my father called us down to our living room. I knew it was bad news when I saw the box of tissues conspicuously relocated to the coffee table. I knew it was bad news when my father prefaced his speech with “Your mother is going to be okay.” On Tuesday, I found out my mother has bone cancer.

On Wednesday, the phone calls began. Dozens of calls from relatives. Every time the phone rings, it’s someone spewing sugary words of encouragement, imploring my family to keep going, promising that everything will be all right.

My mother doesn’t answer the phone anymore. Ever since she told her sister, who told everyone, she pretends that the phone doesn’t exist, because that’s easier than pretending the cancer doesn’t exist.

My mother has cancer and she won’t pick up the phone to hear the feeble attempts at cheer and optimism from family members and friends who have resolved to be strong in our time of need. My mother has cancer, so I answer the phone for her and pretend that my relatives are right, everything is going to be all right.

She looks the same as last week, before I knew she was sick. The telltale signs of cancer that my doctor TV shows conditioned me for are missing. There are no sunken eyes, no frail body, and no bones poking out from under thin, crepe-like skin. There are no ghosts in this house, only five fully alive people. This cancer is never on TV – this part that consists only of sitting and waiting. My mother has cancer and I am waiting for something to look like it does on TV so I will know how to act. My mother has cancer and I am preparing the lines I have heard on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” because I don’t know what else to do.

I found out today that cancer has a smell. Since the rest of the world now knows about the cancer that has roosted in my mother’s body, flowers have been arriving endlessly. My mother has cancer and our neighbors think that a vase of tasteful calla lilies will somehow make it more bearable. Someone decided to put all of the flowers upstairs in the bedroom where my mother has taken up residence. I am afraid to go upstairs because the whole floor smells like calla lilies. Upstairs smells like cancer.

The air has changed in our house. Everyone holds their breath, tiptoes around. As if being quiet will make the cancer go away, as if it can hear every sound we make. My older brother has adopted the cancer vow of silence, like a monk praying for nirvana. He stands in my doorway at night while I lie in bed reading cancer-free books. He stares and stares until I invite him onto my bed and read to him. My older brother does not speak, but sits on the flowered comforter that seems too joyful for our now-cancerous lives. We listen earnestly to the gentle drone of the radio, allowing it to fill the space between us. No words can be formed from this diagnosis. My mother has cancer and my older brother is silent.

My younger brother does not understand. The word “cancer” deflects off his shield of innocence and he continues watching cartoons as if it were last week, before we knew. For him, my mother’s cancer means sugary cereals for dinner and as many cookies as he wants. Cancer means jumping on the bed and not brushing his teeth because no one can tell the child whose mother has cancer to do anything. My mother has cancer and my little brother thinks this is a vacation.

The normal activities of my family have been replaced by one common activity: eating. As the cancer that grows in my mother eats her alive, my family eats the endless procession of baked goods, casseroles, soups, sandwich trays, and other thoughtful items our neighbors have deemed appropriate for a family stricken by cancer, confusing our cancer-ridden silence for hunger. Someone took it upon themselves to create a schedule of meals to be delivered, and I suddenly feel like a first grader being doled out pre-made meals with stunning regularity and precision, except someone gave us meatloaf. My mother has cancer and no one else knows I don’t like meatloaf.

My mother has cancer, and the sun still rises. Cars filled with people still race past our house on their way to work in the morning and on their way home in the evening, like clockwork. The clock still has the audacity to tick and keep track of every moment that my mother has cancer. The world continues even though mine seems to have frozen over in this winter of 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 November 2009 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.

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Mystiecub said...
Nov. 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm
No words for how clearly and perfectly this is written. 5/5
Godschild said...
Oct. 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm


my dad has cancer. Every single thing you said I can relate to right now. I have felt the way you do so many times. Thank you for having the guts, unlike me, to actually express it. you are inspiring.

lit.rox This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 30, 2011 at 7:38 am
Lovely...really touching...i hope you'd find something that can console you very soon. 
Jackie.C said...
Oct. 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm
So beautiful. Incredible. 
steph95 said...
Aug. 3, 2011 at 9:04 am

i know how you feel, a relavtive of mine (my cousin) had cancer , she died two years ago... i feel with you

+ loved this article a lot

KayleeRae said...
Jul. 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Love it. So beautiful.

My sister had Ewing's Sarcoma, and I can totally relate.

NehaThakur said...
Jul. 8, 2011 at 3:28 am
I can exactly undertand how it feels dear for my mum's herself suffering cervical one in acute stage!  there alwaz remains a silence of graveyard....though the person is still breathing!
Queena said...
Jun. 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm
This was so good I can't even write the words to explain how this made me feel.
nicklenz said...
Jun. 22, 2011 at 12:21 pm
That was a really good article. I never have lost any of my parents to cancer but i did my grandma and grandpa. It's not the easist thing in the world to deal with. But it was a very good article
elaine_forsaken said...
May 6, 2011 at 8:55 am
my mom has cancer too. i know how it feels
Wandering_Soul17 said...
Apr. 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm
This is very powerful. My class read this today. And we were all in awe, a few of us were even crying. I recently lost someone very close to me with Bone Cancer. It took so much courage to right this, i am sure. I wish you luck.
kristen178 said...
Mar. 29, 2011 at 6:13 pm
I love this article! You are so talented. I'm very sorry though, my father died from cancer in September so I know how you feel. :/ On the bright side, you will go far in your life whether an author or not, and your mother would not ask for more =)
ama1013 said...
Feb. 8, 2011 at 7:32 pm
That was so good. Keep writing. ;)
skaters said...
Jan. 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

hey omg your story is the best ive seen i love you descriptions!!!! ITS REALLY GOOD U CAN REALLY FEEL THE TENSION when your reading it it sounds like if shes really reading


Chanchie said...
Dec. 7, 2010 at 6:43 am
I'm very sorry you had to write this but at the same time I have to say you write beautifully :')
TakeMeAway said...
Dec. 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm
im so sorry you have to go through this. my little sister has brain cancer and my mom has lung cancer. so i know exactly how you feel <3
wordsmith97 said...
Nov. 21, 2010 at 10:38 pm
I'm sorry you had to write this, but please keep writing.
eflores85658 said...
Nov. 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm
Georgeous and touching .....Great thing to write ...hope she feels better.....loving and from the heart♥ ♥
MMGloria said...
Nov. 10, 2010 at 8:52 am
I really like the way you repeat some selected things in this memoir. I also like that the tone stays the same all throughout this piece. Very well done.
MillionGreenDroplets This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm
Unveils the reality of what cancer's like for the family of a victim.
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