Cancer.

It’s not often one gets to witness a moment in one’s own life quite as graphically as I did today. An ethereal window into the past opening and closing like a camera shutter recording every minute detail of the event, remembered or not – it is there.

The phone rang and she answered it. I could not hear what she was saying and I could not hear what she was being told, but I saw.

An intelligent innocent girl of twenty three, slightly pale skin transformed in front of my very eyes. I was able to pinpoint the very moment it fell. Her lower right eyelid slid discreetly toward the inside of the socket, a brief instant of surprise as her eyebrows raised, and a red hue started spreading from the tip of her nose to cover her face. A vein in her temple swelled slightly and her eyes convulsed as if a sharp blow struck her in the stomach.

No more than half a second later the news left her auditory cortex and fell through the gaping hole the impact had left to crush her very soul. She burst into tears and everyone rushed to her side. The noise of “be strong”, “he’ll pull through… you just have to believe” and the remarkably stupid “technology has come a long way these days” was already starting to build and I could see all of her hopes and aspirations shattering and turning to dust. I suddenly remembered every agonizing nuance of that call I got four and a half years ago… the shivering knees I couldn’t control as I made my way back to my cube and the disbelief I wanted so desperately to cling to. I felt I had to say something to her, the loneliness of receiving that news is hard to describe. “I know exactly what’s going on in your mind right now… I’m right here if you need to talk”.

My father looked at me and said it was “childhood’s end”. I resented it at the time, who was he to tell me I couldn’t be a kid anymore, take a look in the mirror you’ve got bigger problems than mine. But he was right. Nothing will ever be the same again, the age of innocence was fading, like an old dream. No one can help you, you have to help yourself, deal with it on your own. Nothing anyone says makes any difference, it’s all noise and you feel like you are all alone in the world. It relentlessly torments you with remorseless intensity and there’s nothing anyone can do about it except for you, and you realize even if it somehow goes away completely, you’ll have to deal with it again sooner or later. You realize you can never hope to beat it although with time, you may be able to tame it.

Everything has changed, forever.

Time goes by and the reality sinks in, day after day you confront it and hope for the best while preparing for the worst. Cancer is kind in that way – it gives you time. You grow numb and by the time its’ over whichever way the coin falls you’ve changed to become a completely different person. You realize just how finite you really are however larger than life you make yourself out to be in your mind. Welcome to the real world, it sucks, you’ll love it. How can you not? It’s all you have, all you can hope to have and choice is an illusion.

You calm down and you start tentatively looking back over your shoulder, you gain a new found respect for the fact that you exist and learn to cherish it and enjoy it for what it is rather than live in perpetual expectation of what you want it to be.

Life teaches you lessons and you take them in and you grow and you live. You wake up every morning to a new dawn, you breathe it in and the colors of the world start coming back and although the light has changed it still fascinates you. You either embrace it or you close yourself off and become miss Havisham, it is entirely up to you because, like it or not, you are now in charge.

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