Seventeen. They say young and free and I was weighted by death. I faced mortality head on as they said I had two years to live. In an instant, I went from a girl with her whole life ahead of her to making bucket lists and growing up. But I didn’t want a trip to Disneyland or to swim with sharks. All I really wanted was to get to live but I didn’t know how.
There is no guide book for how to deal with being sick. No road map to chronic illness. After year after year of strolls down long sterile hallways and waiting rooms I dropped everything. I walked away from treatment in order to find out why I wanted it in the first place. Pokes and prods were so marginalized in my life that the purpose was gone. How do you straddle the line between staying alive and living?
I used to think you could run away from being sick—you can’t. But you can run to a place that shows you why it’s important to be alive.
Bare feet and skeletons are native to me. Summers spent in isolation with squeaky clean surfaces not of that of beaches and sun on my face. I moved to an island. No fluorescent lights. No hand sanitizer or visiting hours. I moved out of the hospital. I worked in a small ice cream store on a quaint island. I helped hundreds of kids a day who couldn’t reach the counter to count their shiny pennies. For a girl who never had a childhood, giving one to others felt like the missing piece to a puzzle I never knew I needed. I gave joy in the form of double scoops.
And maybe life is like an ice cream cone, or mine at least. You can eat ice cream in Antarctica and it won’t melt one bit, or you can have an ice cream on a summers day, it will drip down the side of your hand and you will be stained by the colour that is left by it. But ice cream in the sunshine has purpose and it doesn’t in Antarctica. It leaves a trail to be remembered even if it doesn’t last as long, it’s appreciated in the moment.
I want to be an ice cream on a summers day. I want to live a life outside of the grey walls of a hospital wing because that doesn’t feel like living at all but simply being alive.
I went into this summer thinking I would end it with a big revelation that would allow me to walk back into a hospital, to hook up an IV and start my next dose of whatever the next shot in the dark is. I’m not there and that’s okay. It takes bravery and candor to walk away even if your stumbling. I know now that people will hold my hand and hold me up when they have to. Being sick is less of a burden then one is originally led to believe.
If you can, get away. Go to the mountains. To an island. Anywhere. Learn why you want to live and not just because you are scared of the alternative. Have an ice cream or two along the way.