Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What is Cancer?

My sister Jessica Is such an Artist. Not only on the canvas but with words as well. Recently she wrote an incredible account of how she remembers my struggles, as well as her experiences with others who have had Cancer. Please take a moment to read through it. It is very moving. I love you Jess!

The bell rings, it’s 2:45 and school is out for the weekend. I run to my turquoise green locker and fumble with the combination. The door clanks and swings open as I grab my coat and all my art stuff and shove it under my arm. I slam my locker door shut and sling my bag over my shoulder, heading for the commons. The rest of the high school kids flood from their class rooms like an exodus. I watch the mob of teenagers flow down the stairs into the commons like a waterfall. A constant buzz fills the room, cell phones ring, and laughter echoes.

I find Mallorie, a junior and a year younger than me. We head toward my ring of friends stopping and saying hi to those we pass. We talk for a while; there is always much to tell since we haven’t seen each other in at least 2 hours. I fumble with my keys and motion to my friend that we should go. We head across the crowded common area toward the front doors. I feel a buzz in my pocket, so I set my art stuff down and reach for my phone while trying to maintain the rest of my load. Mallorie stops and waits for me as I look at the little blue screen emerging from my pocket. Mom. I flip the open phone.

“Hey, mom, what’s up”

“Jess, do you have a second to talk?”

I can barely hear her over the constant buzz . I plug my other ear, and press the phone closer to my ear.

“Sorry mom, I can’t hear you, I’m heading out the door now. I’ll be home soon”

“Jess! We need to talk now!”

Looking for a place to escape the incessant noise, I think of my friend’s mother, who has an office here. I glance around till I find it, then dart inside. Mallorie follows me with the art stuff I left behind

“Ok, I can talk.”

“ Chad is in the hospital. His T2 vertebra in his spine collapsed when he was lifting a cap stone. He went to his doctor thinking he just threw his back out. They took a series of scans and his doctor told him to get to the hospital. When he got to the hospital, they scheduled emergency surgery . They said if he moved wrong he would be paralyzed from the waist down… Jess, they think he has cancer in his spine…”

The coat draped over my arm slides to the ground. Suddenly my world stills. I feel hot liquid run down my cheeks. The thud of my heart loud in my ears. My fingers feel cold against my face. The commons now echo in silence. I can’t speak. My brother has cancer.

“Jess... Jess!”

“ Yeah” I whisper

“Sweetheart... I need to go and watch his kids so Amy can go down to the hospital. I won’t be here when you get home. I need to go. I’ll call you when I get there, ok. Love you, everything will be ok!”

Then only silence.

“Cancer V. To infect and corrode a person or thing through the introduction of a malignant or destructive influence. To eat it’s way slowly and incessantly like a cancer”

(“Oxford English Dictionary”)

I see pictures tinted with greens and yellows. I am 6. An old leather photo album sits on my lap.

“Mom, why did grandpa die!”

I hold up an aged picture of a grey-haired man with a bushy mustache. The man holds a baby wrapped in a pink, fluffy blanket. He sits on a blue couch that is covered in orange and brown tulips. My mom looks down at me, and smiles.

“That’s your sister, you know.” She takes the picture in her hand. And sits next to me on the cold tile.

“That’s Ashley!” I lean over, pointing my little pudgy finger at the pink baby.

“This was 3 years before he died”

“Mom, how did grandpa die?”

“He had something called cancer; it makes someone extremely sick”

“How did he get it?”

“The doctors thought that it could have been when your grandpa was with the navy. They were testing bombs on the Pacific Ocean. They think the radiation in the bombs is what gave him cancer” she says.

“Do you know what his name is,” she asks, pointing to the man with the bushy mustache I shake my head “It’s Don” she answers.

“Just like my middle name, Dawn.” I say.

I turn the page of the leather-bound album with yellow and green tinted pictures. I see a picture of my aunts and uncles outside on a sunny day, They stand behind a wooden box with flowers on it. They all try to smile. Below that picture a pale man lays on a white pillow his eyes closed; all in white. His head is bare and he has no bushy mustache. But I recognize him.

There are over 100 diseases that fit under the category of cancer. Where the effected area of the body has cells that grow at a rapid rate ( “American Cancer Society”). Researchers divide cancers in to two groups genetic and environmental. The majority of cancer is environmentally caused this includes 90 - 95% of patients. Many things can be a factor, choice in life style, old age, radiation, infections, obesity and environmental pollutants (“Cancer”). All cancers start because of abnormal cells grow out of control, the end result being cancer ( “American Cancer Society”).

“Are you ready?” my roommate asks. She grips my braided ponytail in one hand and scissors held tight in the other.

“Just do it,” I say. I watch her in the mirror, she puts the scissors to my hair. I can’t Look. I close my eyes tight. I force my eyes open. Her eyes are closed. I yelp.

“Don’t you close your eyes!” Her eyes fly open and she smiles nervously.

My other roommate comes closer with a camera to document the experience. She begins the recording.

“Jessica is donating her hair to locks of love,” she says, narrating our every move.

I give the camera the same nervous smile that my roommate had only moments ago. She puts the scissors back to the braid and I hear the first snip. My hair is thick, and the scissors gnaw at my hair as she tries to cut through the whole pony tail. She grabs a sharper pair of scissors but they still gnaw at my hair like the others did. My breath quickens. ‘What if this doesn’t work? What if it looks horrible?’ I think to my self. The gnawing continues, 2 minutes have passed. Finally she takes the last snip and raises my hair in triumph. She passes me the 11-inch braid of brunette hair. I did it. My roommate pulls another elastic from the hair on my head which she used as a guide. My hair falls to my shoulders.It is short and choppy, and definitely needs some work. I cry but I don’t know why. Maybe because I did it, maybe because it’s all gone, and maybe because I’m excited to show my brother that I did it for him.

Cancers and tumors are classified by what is presumed to be the origin. The names of the different types of cancer are added as a suffix to a Greek or Latin word of the organ that is effected. Carcinoma, Sarcoma, Lymphoma, Leukemia, and Blastoma, all with their daunting names, don’t make the cancers any less invasive. A biopsy or surgery is needed to be able to make a complete diagnosis. (Wikipedia)

We walk through the halls of Primary Children’s Hospital. The Brightly painted walls greet me and the air is filled with a sterile smell. Hand sanitizer guards the entrance to every door. We enter a dark room. In the corner stands a crib and adjacent is a cot. My cousin gets up from the cot and comes to hug us. She spends most of her time here now. The room is full of balloons, flowers and Children's toys. We all walk close to the edge of the crib and peer in. There he lays, in a diaper with tubes protruding from his body. Ten-month-old Lucas has cancer. He lies awake but so still. His teddy bears arm clenched in one hand. When he sees us he pulls the bear over his eyes.

“He does that when the doctors come in, he whimpers sometimes. He’s afraid of the doctors and their needles” she says

He’s a quiet baby, sweet and gentle, even when he’s in a world of pain. His face still covered by his bear, I watch his delicate chest rise and fall. I look at his mother who clutches the neck of her sweater in hand. My heart aches for her.

Cancer is known as a fatal disease. As of 2004 cancer claimed 13% of all deaths. In general more than half of it’s patients die from cancer or it’s treatments. The rate of survival for each type of cancer varies greatly; from most patience surviving to no patience surviving. Many factors of the length of survival depend on the type of cancer, the patience health before, and the age of the patient. Survivors need regular cancer screenings to make sure the cancer has not returned. Even after recovering from cancer and it’s treatments, there are several side effects. On occasion it is accompanied by physical and emotional difficulties. Usually it requires rehabilitation and other forms of extensive care.

We stand there, on an over cast day, gathered around baby Lucas’ casket covered in flowers. His teddy bear lays on the bed of flowers. We watch white balloons drift into the sky, let go by his two older brothers and parents. I glance over at my brother Chad, his scalp pale and bare. He grips Amy’s hand and I watch the tears freely flow down his face. The tip of his scar from his surgery barely visible above the back of his white collared shirt.

Cancer claims the lives of those we love. It takes some and leaves others though we cannot choose who will survive, it is a fight that we can endure and overcome. I have learned that life can be cut short, so I must take each moment of my life and savor it. When we loose something we have the option of becoming cold and bitter, or grateful for what we do have and the things we have left. It’s in our attitude about how we face the world everyday. No matter the outcome, it’s how we bear the burden that truly counts.


  1. This really makes you think about what friends and family go through when one of their own is diagnosed with Cancer. Thanks Jessica for being brave enough to share your story with us...

  2. Wow! Jessica is a tremendous writer. Thank you for reminding me what is important.