Teen Essay Series: Dear Cancer, It’s Me
This is the fifth in a series featuring the finalists in our inaugural Teen Essay Contest. Ryanne Bamieh’s essay won 3rd place in the Family and Friends Category.
Ryanne Bamieh is a junior at La Reina High School. Ryanne is a member of the mock trial, speech and debate, and varsity soccer teams. Her favorite class is English and she enjoys watching movies and hiking.
Dear Cancer, it’s me,
I’m not sure if you remember me, it’s been a while. But I know I will never forget you. We first became acquainted when my sister got sick. It started seemingly benign enough, but escalated rapidly. When the doctors first used the word cancer that’s when I knew, even at 7 years old, that the situation was serious. Cancer’s not only a scary name, but a downright terrifying one.
I’d like to say I know your modus operandi pretty well. Remy, my sister, was only 4 at the time of her diagnosis, but that didn’t stop you. No easy ways out, no shortcuts, no mercy. I sometimes get angry at myself because I can’t remember the details of Remy’s sickness. I remember seeing her at the local hospital – looking normal. The next thing I remember is seeing her infrequently at the hospital in Los Angeles. I remember my mom staying with my sister, and I’m ashamed to admit that I became angry that I couldn’t see my parents at a time when I wanted them. Then came the desperation, the hopelessness, the first time my parents told me that Remy wasn’t going to make it.
Being in third grade, I was idealistic, irrational, and unfailingly optimistic. I was certain that you, cancer, would make an exception in Remy’s case. She was only 4 after all. Plus, she was healthy, energetic, and young – all qualities that others told me were indications of success, of triumph. Imagine my surprise when my sister left the hospital and came home, the first realization for my eight-year-old self that my parents recognized that her health had reached such a state that hospitalization was futile.
Remy passed away on January 21, 2005. It was a Friday. My parents told me when I was walking to recess. Her funeral, burial, ceremony all happened so quickly that I don’t have any concrete memories. Yet, I distinctly remember requesting to go back to school. I was determined that my life would be, from then on, normal.
But you, cancer, you have ensured that my life has been anything but normal. I went through the motions – school, soccer, girl scouts – but I also went through some more unique experiences, therapy, grief groups, cemetery visits. I became, essentially, an only child and experienced envy of those who had siblings. I was especially resentful of those who complained about their siblings – how dare they be anything but grateful for such a gift, a gift that could be ripped away at any time. Then, came the guilt I experienced as memories of my sister faded away. I could go through whole days without thinking much of her, a realization that made me worry. Thoughts and memories were the only remaining connection I had with Remy, and once those started to become less and less frequent, I began to obsess over any event that I could label a “sign” of her presence – any ladybug, rainbow, or freak occurrence was immediately linked in my mind with my sister.
My sister’s death has also brought a host of uncomfortable situations. When meeting people, do I list Remy as one of my siblings? It’s come to the point where I usually don’t, mostly because I hate answering the long list of questions that follow, especially since such questions almost certainly lead to me breaking down. Plus, there’s that tricky decision of when to tell those who become good friends about Remy. If I don’t disclose when first meeting them, then should I tell them when they come to my house for the first time, or is that too late?
In 2006, my mom became pregnant. I was ecstatic. I was sure that having another sibling would return my life to normal. I could defeat you, cancer, by coming up with another sister to take her place. A couple months later, I was again informed by my parents, this time in my school’s parking lot, that my sibling had died – a miscarriage they called it. Again I was reminded that humans are only as strong as their health, a concept that, though it seemed simplistic, was harsh and unforgiving. I was told all throughout my childhood that anything was possible, but now, for a second time, I faced the reality; modern medicine still couldn’t combat you or other medical realities.
My mom became pregnant again in 2007. This time, I went from extreme caution to extreme excitement. My sibling’s due date was Remy’s birthday – February 2. Again, obsessing over what the significance of this “sign” meant, I concluded that the universe must be sending me a sibling to fix what you had done earlier. My new sibling would be able to fulfill, if not replace, the spot that Remy had occupied previously in my life. Sam, my wonderful but crazy brother, was born on February 10. Both Sam’s birth date, and the fact that he was a boy, not a sister as I had originally thought, were subtle reminders from the universe to me that Sam wasn’t a replacement for Remy, but, like Remy, a unique individual in his own right.
So cancer, I wrote this letter to let you know that I still am thinking of you. I don’t think I can ever forgive you for what you’ve done to me, to my family, to my sister. I don’t think I can ever understand why you chose to take Remy. I don’t think I will able to accept that you are a part of life. Yes, cancer, I will not be satisfied with you until you are completely eradicated, powerless, gone.