Thanks to all the high school students who shared their personal stories in the “Dear Cancer, It’s Me” essay contest. We truly appreciate the effort, courage, and time that each of you took to participate in this event.
A Letter to Cancer, by Meybell Benitez
I’m breaking up with you. You are out of my life and the lives of my loved ones…for now. You’ve struck me. You stabbed me directly in the heart. It doesn’t matter to you how strong I am, or how weak I seemed.
We first met when I was 15. I was a young lady, just beginning to explore the lifestyle of a young adult, where all the best opportunities begin to open up. A point in my life at which my biggest concern should have been the nerve-wrecking idea of becoming a freshman in high school. This was a time when a child turns to her mom and dad for support; it’s when we need them most. You, Cancer, decided to bust into my life, eager with arrows and puncture my chest without thinking twice. You hurt and stole the person I needed the most.
My mother was not just a mother. My mother took on the role of a father when I needed one. She was my mother, she was my father, and she was my best friend. She was my everything. When I needed her, she was there. When I needed her, you stole her from me. You dealt a colossal blow to my heart, soul, and life that will forever be with me wherever I go – you and I both know there’s no running from the havoc you wreak.
Despite this, I have to thank you. You brought my mother and I closer than ever. Every day with you in our lives I hugged her tighter than ever before, as if she was a teddy bear that I fell asleep with every night, anxious to wake up with it in the morning. Every night before falling asleep I thought about how lucky I would be to wake up to a hug and loving kiss from my mom. Every morning I would thank God for giving me the privilege to receive love from the most important person in my life one more day, with the fear that “tomorrow” might be the last day I’d receive such love from this person. All she ever dreamed of was proudly cheering for me as I walk my high school stage with a cap and gown. I wouldn’t wish this kind of anxiety on anyone, certainly not a child like myself. You made my life chaotic, devastated my mind, exhausted my body, and shattered my emotions.
Just hearing your name physically pains me. Never did I think that a simple word – cancer – would have such profound effects on me. Never did I truly understand you, your significance, and your malice.
When you first attacked my mom, I associated your name with only one word — death. I resented you. It all began when I heard the fateful statement from my mother’s oncologist: Ms. Bonilla, your biopsy came back positive with cancer cells and you have Stage 3 breast cancer.
That was the moment my heart first sank. I blacked out for about 10 seconds. I had been standing in a doctor’s office, but in those 10 seconds I wasn’t. I saw tornadoes destroying everything in my life. I saw dead trees being ripped from the ground, falling flowers, and most of all, darkness. It was chaos in a universe of darkness. From April 2013 onward, my life would never be the same. My former life had left me, and I was there in the dark, scared and devastated. From that moment on, all I could do was hopelessly fight back my tears and the deep aching pain in my chest. This was heartbreak, and it was real.
My mom was your new enemy. She fought you with all she had. She injected poison into her own body sixteen times in the hopes of finally meddling in your plans and killing you once and for all. She fought you even after you took her beautiful hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows away, after you inflicted severe pain, after you made her eyes sore from crying, after you made all her food taste like metal.
You left my mom in bed for months recovering from her bilateral mastectomy surgery. My mom likened the pain from radiation to being trapped in a home with a horrible fire, heat against her skin, it peeling from the burns. She asked if I knew the feeling of getting hand sanitizer in an open wound, and I knew that was what she felt across her entire body. The chemo, surgery, radiation, was all worth it though, because we were ridding her of you.
We thought we had won. When you finally departed, we were screaming with joy. We thought we got rid of you forever. You knew you wouldn’t leave us alone that easily. It was for naught.
Every good story has a falling action and a conflict, and the epic battle between you and my mom was no different. Even when we thought it was over, you still did not get enough of my beautiful mother. You were back.
You killed my dreams of becoming a person that could mention my mom’s name and joyfully say, “My mom kicked Cancer’s butt!” You toyed with my feelings and got my hopes up. You have an incredible capacity to ruin lives, bringing families closer than ever just so you can destroy that in the end.
This was the second time you came into my life, but this time you came in with all your force. You knew we were fighters, so now you were prepared to really fight back. You didn’t show all your cards the first time around. You ravaged 10 times harder, Cancer, and thought it was a joke to make my mom fall and not let her get back
up again. You took away my strength by not being able to help her get up. An x-ray, ultra sound, or a CT scan couldn’t find you, Cancer. I underestimated you, hiding behind a mask of simple back pain. It was not until we tried an MRI scan that we found you wrapped up in my mom’s spinal cord. Cancer, you disastrous and awful disease, you took her ability to walk forever. Hadn’t you had enough?
Within time you invaded her liver, and then went for her brain. We thought she had already gone through the worst of it. The second time, doctors gave up, and you took over. You moved into her organs, unpacked, and there was nothing we could do to get you to leave. The worst feeling I’ve ever had was that there was absolutely nothing I could do to help my mother. For the first time in my life, I envied children with fathers or siblings, with more than one shoulder to cry on. All I had was my mom, Cancer, didn’t you know that? I had every person I ever needed in one body, I never considered what I would have if that body was stolen from me.
For three whole months, my mother couldn’t move one toe. Over those three months, my heart that had been carefully sewn back together after your first visit shattered into a million tiny pieces, impossible to mend.
One day, I’m going to help the millions of families world wide that you have broken and help eradicate you once and for all, so we can finally stop you from ruining families’ lives. You might have won this battle, but we’re going to win the war. You got what you wanted, Cancer, and on the afternoon of November 28, 2014, destroyed my everything in one body. Goodbye mom, goodbye dad, and goodbye best friend. The joke is on you Cancer, because now I have an angel looking over me.
My name is Meybell Benitez, and I was born on June 22, 1997 in San Miguel, El Salvador. At the age of 5 my mother and I decided to emigrate to the “north” to live the American Dream. I attended Lankershim Elementary School, Walter reed Middle School, and currently attending North Hollywood High School. In the future I would love to attend the University of Southern California and become a successful oncologist, or an anesthesiologist, helping patients, find a way to defeat cancer.
Farewell For Now, by Lorraine Ador Dionisio
It’s me, the young girl who you left without a father for the rest of her life. Why, Cancer, would you take the man whom I thought would be there to watch me graduate or walk me down the aisle? Do you find a sense of gratification within yourself for taking the lives of millions of innocent people? How great does it feel to know that many loved ones are suffering in pain because of you?
Well, Cancer, do you remember me? Or am I just amongst the multitude of people who have to live in the remains of your malice? It seems as if you entered my life just yesterday, but in reality, you have been part of it for the last five years. Within that time, you destroyed my family as you took away the lifetime of memories and experiences that we had with our father. You had the choice to leave my family alone, but instead, you made us one of your victims.
This all started when you came into the body of a great man who still had four young children to take care of and be there for them as they grew up. It was Christmas Eve of 2009, the day when you were first introduced in my life. My parents had just gotten home from a doctor’s appointment and I asked how it went. My mother, with a pale face and tears forming within her eyes said, “Your father has…”. In my head, I began to think of a manifold of things that could have been wrong with my father. Did he need surgery? Is something wrong with one of his organs? Then, my mother finally said the word that changed my life. My mother, with tears falling from her face, ended her sentence with “cancer”. It was you, Cancer. You were the one that caused all the pain and misery within my family the day before a joyful holiday.
Upon hearing about you, I could not believe what my mother had just said. What were you? How deadly were you? What were you going to do to my father? I had so many questions running through my mind about you, but no answers to support them. After the news had broke, my father then said that he had stage four terminal lung cancer and eight brain tumors. He told my siblings and I that the doctor said he only had two months to live and that he had to start radiation after the New Year began. At this moment, I did not know what to think but felt as if my life was coming to an end. I never knew what it was like to lose someone I loved until you came into my life. You started the fear that has haunted me for all these years. It was all because of you, Cancer, that the next four years of my life was filled with nothing but stress and anxiety.
After you introduced yourself to my family, you were nothing but a burden within our lives. However, my father kept a positive attitude about you and always said that he was going to beat you. His motivation was, “Nobody can ever put a good man down, not even Cancer.” With that, he was able to surpass the time that the doctors predicted he had left because of you. He completed two weeks of radiation, a total of fifteen sessions, and after a few months, was told that all his brain tumors had gone away. How did it feel Cancer? Did you like being killed with beams of radiation and having no way out? Did you finally feel the pain that you put on my family, especially my father? The pain of not having a choice, but instead being slowly weakened by something you cannot control? Well Cancer, the war was not over.
As time passed, you continued your battle with my father. He was almost in remission when you decided to fight back. You continued to take over my father’s body, little by little, and unfortunately, you succeeded. But, was the pain you put on my father not enough? Did you have to make him undergo countless surgeries and make my family suffer? From the sleepless nights to the countless number of hospital visits, you found pleasure in seeing my father ache in pain. You sought for revenge and you got it. You reappeared within his brain, and this time greater in number. You spread all throughout his lungs and caused many complications.
Among these, however, your worst attack was when you made my father permanently disabled. I remember that day clearly, as you made me hold my unconscious father in my arms. It was early in the morning and the pain you put onto my father caused him to have a stroke. I had just gotten home from passing my driver’s test and you decided to ruin a happy moment in my life. I was so excited to show my father my license when suddenly, the right side of my father’s face drooped to the side. His words slurred and his speech became incomprehensible. He fell over towards me and I caught his unconscious body in my arms. After this day, Cancer, you made my father unable to walk. You deprived him from being able to take care of himself and made him spend the rest of his days laying in bed.
From this moment, you made him fully incompetent and weakened all parts of his body. You made him lose over sixty pounds and have no appetite to eat. Then, after four years, you finally won your battle. After three months of being bed-ridden, my father could no longer take the pain and decided to give the victory to you. Cancer, not only did you take a life, but you also put many people in misery. With your selfish motives, you brought many obstacles into my life that I had to overcome.
Before you came into my life, I would have never expected to lose my father at such a young age. I expected my teenage years to be carefree and a time where I could learn more about life from my experiences. Well, Cancer, I did learn a lot about life but also suffered much pain. As a high school student, you made it harder for me to balance my studies with the responsibilities that I had for my family. But, despite your evil motives, I was able to surpass all your hurdles. Also, with the huge impact that you left, you have inspired me to become an oncologist to find a way to stop you from taking the lives of innocent people.
You have motivated me to strive for educational success despite the hardships that you put in my life. Even though I had to take care of my father and the rest of my family, I was able to get straight A’s in all my Advanced Placement classes and be at the top of my class. Also, you inspired me to start doing research at a young age to find a cure and end your existence. In the summer before my senior year, I conducted research at the University of California Irvine and found ways to limit the growth of tumors. You might have taken my father but one day, I will find a way to take you down.
Also, not only have you formed my aspirations, but you also allowed me to grow as a person. Through all the hardships you brought, I was able to get through all of them and better myself in a positive way. With all the responsibilities I had, including having to work in order to pay for medical bills and taking care of my mother and siblings after my father’s death, I became more responsible and thankful for everything in my life. Thus, even though you brought misery into my life, I was able to take something from my experience and make it for the better.
So, Cancer, now do you remember me? Or do I just mix in with all the other lives you have affected? Well, you may have forgotten all the pain that you caused, but in the end, you will be sorry that you did. But, thank you, Cancer, for opening my eyes and seeing that there is a problem that needs to be resolved. That problem is you. One day, I will end the suffering that everyone and myself endured by diminishing your existence and saving those who are under your control. Farewell for now Cancer, but I will see you again in the future.
Lorraine Ador Dionisio is a senior at Santa Susana High School.
She enjoys baking, learning about different cultures, and watching movies. She is an active volunteer within her community and works as a medical assistant in a pediatric office. She plans to attend a four-year university and major in Biology.
Dear Cancer, It’s Me, by Wendy Darling McAleer
Dear Cancer, It’s Me
We need to talk. I just need to know where exactly I went wrong here. I know we were never really close, but
I don’t think it was cool what you did to my mom. Did she really deserve you attacking her like that? I certainly don’t think so. And boy let me tell you, your timing was awful as well.
My junior year was going great. Now granted, it was a difficult year with AP and honors classes as well as chemistry and math analysis, but I was getting by with A’s all around. I was told previously that junior year is the most prominent year for colleges to look at on applications, so obviously I was working really hard to complete such a busy workload and volunteer and perform both swimming and water polo. And then you threw us a curveball.
Cliché? Maybe a little, but it’s absolutely true. You threw a curveball at my family and it ended up hitting my mom, in the left boob to be exact. And as we both know, that did not go without repercussion. And to undo the damage you inflicted, we had to go through three different procedures and piles of medical bills and insurance statements. But of course, this took time. And during that time I was miserable; we all were, although we never showed it to each other. On several occasions I did cry silently, by myself. I even caught myself tearing up in my classes thinking about what you did, but I would quickly brush the tears away and step out for a bathroom break; there was no time for that at school.
Speaking of school, things got a bit harder for me. No longer was my mind completely focused on what I was learning; there was always a nagging worrying sensation in the back of my mind. I remember getting a C on a quiz I took in math and being absolutely devastated about it. I partially blame you of course. If you hadn’t been distracting me, maybe I would have paid more attention to trig identities.
However, devastating as this C had been to me, it also served as an eye opener. I was not going to let you ruin my schooling that I had worked so hard for. You are not worth it. If anything, after that incident I began to work harder than ever. I brought all my grades back up (which only went down a little to begin with) and finished out the year with straight A’s once again, but not without struggle.
Back at home my mom was recovering well from her mastectomy and from the looks of things everything was going to go back to normal, but the doctors were not 100% pleased with the margins. And so began our journeys to radiation therapy. For the duration of nearly the entire summer, my mom would wake up early five days a week and drive fifteen minutes to the radiation center to get her treatment. The amount of time, money, and energy invested to get rid of your damage was absolutely absurd.
Even now that the radiation is done and her foob (that’s what we call her fake boob) is looking positively normal (I mean as normal as a fake boob can look) she still is not quite done. Every day for the next five years she has to take tamoxifen to help lower her chances of getting hurt by you again.
Are you feeling bad yet? Because you should! What you did to us and what you have done to millions of other people is absolutely, positively, and utterly unacceptable. But you know what? Even after all the nonsense that you put us through, I cannot recall one moment when my mom ceased to be my mom. Even after her big surgery, when I went to see her in the hospital, the first thing she asked me was how I did at my big swim meet that day. And for your information, I totally crushed that swim meet. Best times in everything.
I digress though; this is supposed to be about me reprimanding you. So, I will ask you one more time; what did we do to deserve this? What did anyone do to deserve your malice? This has gotten far out of hand.
I’m warning you now; you hurt my family, my friends or myself ever again and I guarantee that I will not go down without a fight. You think that’s a threat? I can assure you, that’s a promise.
My name is Wendy Darling McAleer and I am a senior this year at Royal High School in Simi Valley. Next year I plan on attending the University of Redlands and study psychology. I love swimming and playing water polo and hope to continue training in these sports as I move on to college. I am quiet and would prefer to watch hours of Netflix shows or read a book than go to a party, but I love to hang out with my close knit group of friends and have a good time.