The Most Touching Short Story
We got a great response to our short story contest from some very talented teens. It was hard to decide, but we have chosen winners for three categories: funniest story, most touching story, and most exciting story. The winners received gift cards to local book stores, and will have their stories displayed in the Young Adult area of the San Carlos Library, as well as right here on our blog.
Most Touching Story
Here is Frieda Freeman’s moving story of her mother’s struggle with cancer, and the important lessons that life can teach you when you least expect it.
“The True Survivor in My Life”
by Frieda Freeman
Cancer is like a hurricane! It strikes and damages everyone’s lives. I will never forget the day it damaged mine, when I found out that the most caring, wonderful, strong, courageous, beautiful, loving person in my life was diagnosed with cancer - my mom.
It was early January 2006 about a week after my sister’s Bat Mitzvah, and I was only eight years old. In an instant our family went from celebrating a very happy, joyous occasion to one of great tragedy. What an unwelcome and unexpected turn of events! I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from religious school at 6:00 p.m., when all of a sudden her car pulled up, but my dad was in the driver’s seat. This was very unusual, since my mom was always the one who came to get me. I became suspicious, started to worry, and anticipated that something was wrong by the look on his face. I got in the car and wanted to know what was going on. In a slow, calm, sad voice he said, “Today I went to the doctor with your mom, they did a few tests to investigate, and as it turns out it didn’t go well. We got some bad news. The doctors diagnosed her with stage 2-A breast cancer.” A lump started to form in my throat, as I tried to process what my dad had just told me. I wanted to cry and scream and just fall apart, but I knew I had to keep it together for the sake of everyone in my family.
There was complete silence during the rest of the car ride home, as I waited to face the person who was my rock, and now I had to be hers. I walked through the front door very slowly only to find my mom standing at the top of the stairs of the second story. She looked down at me blankly and could already read my mind. She said, “Oh, I guess Daddy told you the news. How are you doing?” The person I looked up to most and who never put herself before anyone even now had unselfishly thought of me first. I couldn’t believe she had just been diagnosed with cancer and was concerned about me, but it was so typical of my mom. I ran up the stairs, looked directly at her, and gave her a big bear hug, as I clung to her tightly, refusing to let her go for fear of losing her forever. Then in a proud voice I answered with, “Never mind about me Mommy, how are you doing?” As our eyes met, tears began flowing. For the next few minutes, we just stood there hugging each other, embracing the fact that we were both here now and that’s all that mattered. Finally, she let go of me, and we knew that a long journey lie ahead of us, but we would make it through together.
It was hard to believe my mom would suffer so much in the months and years ahead, but she was determined to keep life as normal as possible despite the changes in our family. I never witnessed her cry or get depressed, and she just carried on even with all of the challenges she faced. I could no longer ask to have my needs met, but had to be there for her for a change. I felt mixed emotions of sadness, anger, fear, frustration, shock, and numbness in the days before my mom’s major surgery on February 7, 2006. The night before I remember how hard it was not to be able to hug her, because she had radioactive dye injected into her chest. It marked the main lymph nodes that had to be removed near the breast tumor to see if the cancer had spread. I was so young, and it was so hard to understand why we couldn’t kiss or console her, but for 48 hours it wasn’t safe, and she wanted to protect us all.
After that day I said good-bye to my mom. I didn’t say see you after the surgery, because I didn’t know if I actually would. It was a terrifying feeling. My dad sat patiently and anxiously for a very long eight hours in the hospital waiting room to get the news from the doctors. After reassuring my mom once she woke up in the recovery room, he rushed home to tell my sister and me the wonderful news. They got the entire tumor out and the cancer didn’t spread. Little did we know that this would be one of seven surgeries she would have in three years, and each time I would still give her a hug and kiss and say good-bye.
I remember some of the tough moments that were equally matched by the funny ones, like the morning two weeks after her first chemotherapy treatment when most of her hair fell out except for a stylish squiggle curl hanging on by a thin thread over her forehead. She said she was so shocked and overwhelmed at the sight of huge clumps of hair in her hands that she couldn’t even react emotionally. Instead, she called my aunt to come over and shave the rest off and asked her closest girlfriend to come for an unveiling of her bald head, which turned out to be a very beautiful shape.
That afternoon when she picked up my sister and me from school, we each asked why she was wearing a hat. We knew the day had come, but we still found it hard to accept, as my mom openly and honestly told us the truth about what she experienced and how she felt. I guess that’s why we were so comfortable whenever she told us what she had to deal with, because she always put us at ease and managed to have a sense of humor. When we got home I was more curious about feeling her buzz cut. After she took the cap off, I had a flash back of her combing her hair that morning, but now there was no hair left to comb. My sister walked out of the room, and I told my mom I would shave my head and donate all my hair to have a wig made for her. She told me, if she couldn’t have hair she wanted me to have it for her.
She ended up turning the hair loss into a fashion statement, with the glamorous wig she got. It was very flattering with the subtle blond and red highlights, and at my third grade open house the principal, parents, and teachers stopped dead in their tracks when they saw my mom in it. It drew more attention than visiting classrooms and was the topic of discussion for the night and the morning after. My mom also never thought of herself as a hat person, but she became the ultimate in chic style with the collection of hats she bought for all occasions. It is also a very special tradition for cancer patients, whose hair is growing back to donate their hats to others going through the experience, so my mom kept some for sentimental value and passed the rest on to those who desperately needed them.
My mom has been cancer free for five years now and is doing better than ever. She is still on post cancer drugs and has every side effect in the book, but continues to handle herself with dignity and grace. We, as a family, have also discovered the importance of giving back to others in the same circumstances by volunteering with two wonderful organizations, Breast Cancer Connections in Palo Alto, and the American Cancer Society. I chose to do my community service project for my Bat Mitzvah with Breast Cancer Connections to acknowledge them for helping my mom make decisions during the hardest time in her life. I have continued to make jewelry and bookmarks of hope for their cancer totes filled with all sorts of wonderful items given to cheer patients.
Every summer we participate in Relay for Life at Carlmont High School in San Carlos, and it has become such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Two years ago I walked 25 miles just for my mom. My dad, sister, and I always decorate luminaria bags for her, which are placed with many others around a track of bright lights of hope all a glow. She and other survivors walk the survivor’s lap, as they are honored and cheered on by loved ones, friends, and those who have lost someone to this devastating disease. It is a weekend of sharing stories, making new friends, and connecting with people, who have a common bond, but the most important thing I have learned is to offer support and comfort to those affected by cancer and encourage them to have faith.
Even though this was a horrible time in my family’s life, it just made us stronger. When I don’t want to do something, I think of my mom and how she had to adjust to circumstances she couldn’t control. She didn’t want to lose her hair or go through chemotherapy, but she didn’t have a choice. There were moments when I thought it was all a bad dream, and if I pinched myself I would wake up, but I never did. In some ways I’m glad I didn’t. This entire experience taught me a valuable lesson- never give up no matter what curve ball life throws at you. I also learned what an amazing and incredible survivor my mom is. Her willingness to discuss her situation and the desire and commitment to help others with cancer has made her a great inspiration of love and devotion. Best of all she fought to conquer this disease and she is alive!
Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography
Chris Gray is an Extra Help Librarian. When he was a teenager he started to write an epic poem about a misunderstood hero’s unrequited love. After he showed the first few pages to his English teacher, she was kind enough to not say how awful it was, yet wisely did not encourage him to finish it.