Cancer Can’t Take My Smile
By Brooke Gardner
Cancer is something that happens to other people and not yourself. Everybody knows someone who has or had cancer. It’s something you hear about on TV or read about online. Despite cancer being fairly ubiquitous, it’s not real until it affects you or someone you love. Cancer became real for me in January 2016. I was nineteen years young. My oncologist found an orange sized malignant tumor in my uterus. I was diagnosed with embryonalrhabdomyosarcoma.
One of my first thoughts was, “Wow, that’s a mouthful.” I was told that it was stage 1, which was a big relief. However, soon after we found out that it was actually stage 4 because the cancer had spread to my lungs. My treatment included ten months of weekly chemo as well as radiation. I was told that I had a 50% chance of making it, which were better odds than a lot of people had. There’s a twisted beauty in knowing that things could always be worse.
One of my first steps was to have an egg-retrieval. I was going to have a hysterectomy and I still wanted biological children. My amazing sister offered to carry my future child for me. It still hurts that I won’t be able to carry my own child, but I focus on the positives of that—the main one being that I don’t have to deal with the excruciating pain of childbirth.
Next, it was time to have my uterus ripped out. The hysterectomy went fairly well, although soon after I had internal bleeding. Talk about ouch! After I fully recovered it was time to bring on the poison. Because my treatment was so aggressive, I had a myriad of side effects.
I believe that I handled my cancer rather well because of two reasons: one of them was because of my incredible family, and the other was my sense of humor. Losing my hair was one of the first side effects of chemo. On the night of my hairs’ funeral, I had my dad give me a Mohawk. My hair was falling out whether I liked it or not, so I figured I would have some fun with it. I also eventually lost all of my hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes. I really did look like a naked mole-rat. I know that my sense of humor made it easier on my loved ones, and that’s one of the reasons why I kept it for the year in which I was sick. Cancer could take my hair and my uterus, but it wasn’t going to take my smile.
The absolute hardest thing about cancer was seeing how it affected my loved ones. With each run to the emergency room, each chemo treatment, and each obstacle I saw their hearts break just a little bit more. I stood strong for both myself and the people I cared about, but it was mostly for them. I refused to feel sorry for myself. I had cancer and there was nothing I could do about it, so why dwell?
I won my war against cancer, and I have the battle scars to prove it. I see my experience as an opportunity to help others. After my treatment ended, I changed my major to radiation therapy, and I was accepted into the Radiation Therapy Program at Galveston College. Ever since my first day of school I have been so excited to step into a clinic and begin my career. It is such a wonderful program, and I’m so lucky to be a part of it. I fought my battle, and now I want to help others fight their own.
I have never been in a better place in my life. I’m healthy and cancer free. I have an amazing and supportive family. I found the man who I’m going to marry. I’m in school studying for my dream career. I believe that cancer had led me to this part of my life, and I am so incredibly grateful.
Ed. Note: Brooke is the grand-niece of Fred Mittag, one of the Ojo’s finest writers. Obviously, literary talent runs in his family.
She has won a scholarship for $2,000.00 from the Ruth Cheatham Foundation. This will be awarded at a gala in Dallas that has her excited. The essay has also been submitted to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston as part of an application for a scholarship.