I was dismayed to learn of Bob Saget’s passing. I grew up fatherless and his role as Danny Tanner on Full House was important: it showed single parenthood as “normal” and nothing to be ashamed of. For thirty minute segments, he stepped in as a positive father figure where I had none. This feeling was so engrained in me that the first time my husband sat down with our oldest son when he was upset to have a heart-to-heart my first thought was, “Huh, like Danny Tanner,” and my second was, “Oh, like a dad.”
In November 2019, I was processing my childhood traumas and the complicated relationship I have with my parents when I wrote a poem that referenced this. I figured now is as good of a time as ever to share it with others.
Twenty-nine years ago on this date, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was so little. There’s no way I could pronounce Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, nevertheless understand what was happening in my body.
Childhood cancer is unique in that it doesn’t disrupt the patient’s life like it would an adult’s. The foundation of life isn’t yet there for disruption: a young child experiences the first hospital stay, the first round of chemo, the first spinal tap in the same way that children experience their first day of kindergarten, their first time riding a bike, and their first time tying their shoes.
I learned to tie my shoes while sitting in a hospital waiting room to receive treatment. My mom was talking to a mother she befriended whose child, diagnosed with the same disease, was back for round two after his cancer came back.
I fumbled as I showed him how I was learning to tie, and he showed me a different way, with bunny ears. I thought he had it wrong, yet I couldn’t show him the way to do it “right.”
That child died the same year. He was ten years old. I wasn’t old enough to grasp the devastation or to fear anything other than the dark. A child’s life is a series of events they can’t control, they have to get good at going through the motions. Those were the motions I went through: my mother asking if I wanted to go to this child’s funeral, then wondering that afternoon, as I played with toys under my Meemaw’s table, if I should feel bad for not going with her. The motions of refusing anesthesia as I recovered from another spinal tap, as even at four, five, and six years old, I preferred pain to uncertainty.
The motions also included being allowed to quietly play with my pre-K teacher in a dimly lit classroom while naps were strictly enforced for my classmates, some lying on their mats pretending to be asleep. It included missing much of kindergarten and the first grade to pass hours alone with my mom in a sunny hospital playroom, my left arm attached to a rolling IV stand, my right painting as I overlooked my town six flights below.
It wasn’t all bad. The mind can’t recollect the physical sensations of pain, no matter how significant. The mind can only recall the suffering that accompanies pain. Because of the privilege of unknowing and the affectionate touch from my mother consoling me, my suffering was not profound. Memories of that time in my life are fond, like the ones described in the previous paragraph.
It is because of these fond memories that I foolishly believed having childhood cancer didn’t affect me greatly. I didn’t think I was a “real” cancer survivor, because I wasn’t aware enough to experience overwhelming fear, impending doom, or the suffering that accompanies those big feelings. Even through my twenties, when it came up in conversation, I would shrug it off: “I didn’t really know what was going on. I think it was harder on my mom than it was on me. I can’t imagine having a sick child.”
I see now how wrong I was. As I was sick and my mom was worried, I felt responsible for her worry and apparent pain. I realize now that when adults would learn I was sick, I’d see their pitying glances and show them with my larger-than-life—or, larger-than-illness—personality that I was going to be fine. I wasn’t frail or pathetic or someone to be pitied. I’d dance, I’d sing, I’d put on a performance and perhaps people wouldn’t have sadness wash over them when they saw my thin hair, frail body, and when they considered probability of a tragic outcome from my diagnosis.
The significance of chemo memories faded in favor of typical and atypical childhood interests and activities, but I realize now how integrated it became in my personality to show up, do big things, and make sure people around me didn’t feel sad. My go-to response of emphasizing my mother’s emotional pain over my own childhood loss wasn’t a perspective I gained as a young adult with a child of my own—rather, it was how I felt all along. I was carrying the emotional pain of others and constantly trying to be more or do more so that I wouldn’t provoke pity again.
I kept up the performance, I was fearless and reckless, I was unflinchingly positive, I achieved goals. My need to prove myself, to be alive enough, manifested in different ways over the years. Childhood cancer affected me greatly. No one is the same after they receive a cancer diagnosis. No one. What’s different in survivors of childhood cancers, specifically those whose long-term memories were not yet formed, those whose only memories from before and around that time were because of the trauma affiliated, is that there isn’t a “before cancer” self to compare to the “after cancer” self.
I’ll never know how much cancer changed me, because a cancer diagnosis wasn’t a pivotal moment when things changed. Rather, it was a building block: molded and baked into my very being during my most formative years. It’s a part of me, it runs through my veins just as gifts of blood from people I’ll never know once did. As my doctors used all the tools in their arsenal to improve my health and well-being, I was learning to be scrappy, to heal, to fight, and to survive.
The greatest gift my mother gave me didn’t come on Christmas day. It wasn’t the latest game console, or the the shoes I wore on prom night. It wasn’t intricately wrapped with a ribbon tied around it. There was no bow on top.
My mother gave me life twice. The first time was on the maternity floor. Breathing heavily, she pushed me, unaware, into this world. I was born hungry, wailing loudly. I can’t say much has changed.
There wasn’t a specific time marked by any inky footprint when she gave me life again. No. It occurred day-by-day over the course of two years at a different hospital, nearby. Children aren’t born there. A nurse would take blood or an oncologist would insert a hollowed needle into my spine. But it was always her, eyes wide, looking deeply into equally bugging eyes. Deeply, into one another’s pupils. It was always her, grasping my hand with all her might, as if letting go would allow her to lose me. Continue reading →
I went to Boston over the weekend. I didn’t Snapchat or take a single picture while I was there. It was my third time visiting the city, so I didn’t do any touristy things and I won’t be making a guide to Boston. I went to visit a friend of mine and it was the kind of trip where two people are bonding with one another, with no need for rushing from one activity to the next. It was blissful.
The following post is a bit allovertheplace. It’s a scattering of the helpful things I’ve been doing, the media I’ve been consuming, and some decisions I’ve come to on my creative journey over the past year or so. It’s half-organized into the trip I took over the weekend. The metaphors are there and intentional. Maybe you’ll catch them all. Maybe not. Bear with me. I’m working on a New Year’s Resolution, after all. Continue reading →
I keep giving myself reasons as to why I haven’t been working on a personal blog. All the time. I have this idea that it needs to have some kind of thrilling strategy behind it, and if not it won’t be good enough or well written or–well, you get it.
But I don’t need a strategy. This blog, nor any personal blog, has to be written for the masses or for a specific group of people. It doesn’t have to have a theme and I don’t have to keep up with multiple blogs in order to segregate readers. I don’t have to do any of that to reach my goals. I don’t have a target demographic, I just want to write about something other than my clients and their businesses. I want to write for writing sake.
The Good ol’ Days
Whether you consider it pre-social media or social media in it’s infancy, the early days of blogging were different. I don’t need to go into how Facebook makes us unhappy or what it’s doing to our relationships, I’m sure you’ve read plenty of content about that and still give into the vice. What I loved about that era of the internet was how raw people were. They literally had their diary on the internet for everyone to read, judge, and do as they pleased with it.There wasn’t a concern for sugarcoating their lives, maintaining an image, or highlighting the most interesting parts. They just wrote. People could read it or not and bloggers weren’t refreshing the page often to see if anyone left a comment.
It wasn’t about the amount of people who were reading, if they were reading, or even the person who wrote the content. It was about the message. It was about the story. It was about the potential to be heard in ways the generations prior couldn’t be heard.
We all remember the rules of early internet: “Don’t tell them your real name!” “Never let anyone know any personal information about you: your school, work, or address!” When America went online, we were all afraid of the ways that these strangers on the web could manipulate us with only our first and last names. We hid behind screen names like “coolgurl117300” and “Xxsk8er4everxX,” because we were afraid of what was unknown about people we hadn’t met in person (because IRL wasn’t even a thing yet. DUH.).
Now that Facebook is our drug of choice, we’re attached to our names. Our new facade, however, is the choice we make every time we answer the question, “What’s on your mind?” with how we would really answer, “How would you like to portray yourself?” Instead of being authentic and hiding behind a different name, we see people all day who are being inauthentic and hiding behind a personal brand. We’ve eradicated all fear of strangers knowing where we are, but stigma has grown about family members, friends, colleagues, etc. knowing just who we are.
What the heck am I getting at?
I know I’m not being completely original here. (The internet in this era also has a way of reminding you how unoriginal you are. Humbling.) We complain about the nature of social media all the time, then we still, without a thought, check our pages frequently. I’m not trying to change the world.
I just want to write. Without proving a damn thing. This will be my space for that, consider yourself warned.