Five days ago I was diagnosed with cancer--Hodgkin's disease. It seems so unreal writing it, but it's true.
I've had a lump on the side of my neck and the doctors told me it was probably just a swollen gland, possibly a cyst, but definitely nothing to worry about. They decided to biopsy the lump to find out if it was caused by some kind of infection or virus.
The day after the biopsy, I went to the doctor to have the stitches checked. During my appointment he received a phone call and took it in another room. He came back 10 minutes later and turned my world inside out.
"It looks like lymphoma, so you will need to see an oncologist," was all he said. I was very confused. When my mom started asking him questions, he said brusquely, "I'm just the biopsy guy, I can't give you any more information." I walked out of the office in a daze. I didn't realize it was cancer until my mom told me in the elevator.
Tears streamed down my face uncontrollably. Pictures of children from Ronald McDonald House commercials flashed through my mind.
"Am I going to look sick like they do?" I thought as we drove away from the hospital. I cried all the way home. I knew I had to tell my friends, but I couldn't find my voice. I didn't want to worry them. And I wanted to stop crying so I wouldn't worry my mom. I want to be strong for everyone.
Yet I have never been so scared in my life. I'm afraid of the chemotherapy. I'm terrified my hair will fall out. I know that must sound vain, but I can't help myself. I never imagined I would get cancer, and I definitely wasn't planning on spending my junior year in high school wearing a wig. At the same time, I don't question why this happened to me. That's not going to get me anywhere. I'm learning to live my life one day at a time.
Just the word "cancer" scares everybody. When I say that I have cancer, people's jaws drop in disbelief and their faces become frozen with alarm. I find myself saying that I am going to be all right--just to ease their minds. I don't want to burden anyone with my problems. I don't want my cancer to cause anyone else trouble, but I know that I can't avoid that.
Having this disease has given me a new perspective on friendship. Yesterday, a girl I never really thought of as a friend held my hand and told me that she was here for me. Teachers who have known me for two weeks have reached out to me and my family and reassured us that they are here to help as well. Some have even put me in their prayers.
Just being asked how I'm feeling when I walk into class or receiving a hug when I pass someone in the hallway has helped me immensely. Knowing that so many people are here to support me helps reassure me that I am strong enough to get through this. A myriad of people whom I had considered casual acquaintances have suddenly become so much more.
It takes me an hour now to fall asleep at night. All of my deepest fears come crawling into my body and form a pit in the bottom of my stomach. If I'm sitting down, my legs shake like a dog running in a dream. If I'm standing up, I walk around the living room in nervous circles, unable to stop myself. The only way I am able to calm down is to count my blessings.
I am blessed that I have a wonderful family who are willing to sacrifice anything for me. I am blessed that I have friends who surround me with their love and kindness without question. I am blessed that so many people have reached out to me, even though they don't know me very well. I feel so loved. I am blessed that I am not alone.
Emily Kastelic is a senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. This article was written for her high school literary magazine, Vertigo.