The day I was released from my final radiation and TEM treatment, I remember a feeling of total freedom. As we boarded the bus for our trip home, I was breathing a different air that was filled with a new-found taste of anticipation. What would life look like now that I didn't have this enormous fear as my daily companion?
I returned to Madison with an imaginary pink eraser in my hand, ready to erase the word cancer from my vocabulary. It had darkened my life for long enough, and now was the time to say good-bye to it. I understood my continued need for blood work on a regular basis, but in my heart I felt like that was merely a short-term requirement I needed to complete before crossing the finish line in my relay for life.
I returned to school with my ever-present quiet friends...food, humor and God. Each was called upon at special times and for distinctively different reasons. In the morning I would greet God with the familiar prayer to keep me safe from insults and cruel comments from my fellow students, as well as continued good health. I would then eat a breakfast rich in sweet insulation, providing me with a gentle dose of sheer pleasure, making any difficult assignment or situation at school easier to handle. Of course, I would need another application of this "medication" throughout the day. After these two friends had been properly greeted and consumed, I would quickly wrap myself with my armor of humor and goodness and head out the door to school. No wonder I would occasionally feel exhausted before my school day would even begin!
During this time I had many friends, most of whom were females. It was difficult being friends with boys since not only did I look different, but I was also restricted in the amount of physical activity in which I was allowed to participate. You see, I had a radiation burn on the side of my forehead that limited me in my exposure to sunlight and body heat. It wasn't easy trying to explain that limitation to my young classmates. That made it more difficult to continue in my attempt to stay below the radar because it made me feel obviously different in yet another way. I may have been cancer-free, but I was weighted down by my self-concept. Where was a therapist or counselor when I seriously could have used the assistance?
I'm not asking for a pity party, but can you imagine how I felt when one of the boys in our eighth grade class decided to have the first girl-boy party and he invited all of my girl friends, but failed to include me? Our teacher took me aside to delicately explain how surprised she was to realize that I was the only one from my circle of friends to be excluded. No amount of humor, food or compassion could begin to medicate the degree of pain I felt.
Was it any wonder that by the time I entered high school I had developed a strong sense of what I needed to survive?