Handicap for 99 Years

After 20 hours, I woke up.

As the anesthesia faded away, my eyes slowly opened. My family and medical team surrounded my bed as I made notice for the first time of all the machines and tubes connected to my body. Nervously awaiting the results, everyone stared as a nurse began to assess the mental and physical capabilities of my now tumor-free body.

“What is your name?”

Elli.

“Where are you at?”

The hospital.

“Elli, raise your eyebrows.”

Normal

“Elli, squeeze my hands.”

Normal

“Elli, wiggle your toes.”

“… Elli honey, wiggle your toes.”

Nothing.

At that moment, it was confirmed that my left leg was fully paralyzed from my knee down. I could not feel it. I could not move it. It was then that my surgeons and family shared with me that after only a couple hours on the operating table, my vitals stopped. My brain was not responding and no signals were being communicated to the rest of my body. The baseball size tumor at the base of my skull had engulfed my carotid artery and cranial nerves. The tumor was stealing all the blood being sent to the right side of my brain. Without an entire new approach, my body would never endure the surgery. My team of doctors took a step away from the table and began to piece together one final game-plan on how they were going to remove the monster that had been growing inside my head for nearly 10 years.

That game-plan saved my life.

It was the surgery complications that caused the paralysis of my leg. This was something I was not prepared for. Leading up to my surgery, I was informed over and over again of the obstacles that removing my tumor would create: permanent tongue paralysis, permanent throat paralysis, permanent vocal cord paralysis, permanent Horner’s Syndrome, first-bite syndrome, deafness, facial droop, carotid bypass, etc.- but without the surgery, eventually the tumor would take my life. I was ready to adapt to these changes, but I never prepared myself to wake up being unable to walk.

As I spent days learning the ways to accommodate for my inability to walk on my own, several test were done to learn the severity of my nerve injury. But results were not good; I was told I would never regain feeling or movement in my left leg.

Months passed by and as my swallowing and voice began to improve, my leg remained dead. I couldn’t help but to think about the idea of never being able to play wiffle-ball at our summer cookouts, or wear high heels on my wedding day, or chase my future kids around the backyard. But my family refused to believe the initial doctor and his test results. So we went for another opinion. Needle after needle, nerve conduction tests were done- Nothing. There were no signals being delivered to my leg, leaving it motionless and numb. Again I was told I would never regain what had been lost.

A few more months went by and I still lacked all sensation and mobility in my left leg. My dad and I decided to give it one last shot so we scheduled to meet with another neurologist, hoping he would spark some sort of hope within me. After seeing him, I had never felt more crushed. Tears fell down our cheeks as the doctor reassured every previous diagnosis- my leg would never work again. The doctor apologized for the news and handed me a slip of paper. I left the appointment with a script stating, “Ellisabeth Thatcher- handicap placard medically necessary for the next 99 years.” He was confident the damage was permanent and he was not alone. I was now the girl who walked funny.. forever. The little optimism I had left was now gone. Somehow, I had to figure out how to accept never moving my leg again. But as hopeless as I felt, my family still refused to believe the doctors. They were convinced I would some day move my leg again. I did not understand how they could simply ignore the facts these doctors had been giving us. As they attempted to keep me positive, I would tell them to just be quiet. I wanted to hear nothing more about my leg. It was already a miracle for me to be alive- there was no way I could wish for another one. For me, it was just time to move on. It was time to find the serenity and accept the things I could not change.

Day after day, month after month, my mom rubbed my leg each night. And day after day, month after month, my mom held my foot in her hands and told my toes to point. And even though they never moved- she never stopped trying.

Now, months later, the hassle that coincided with my lifeless leg became a normal incorporation into each day. But there was one day that didn’t flow like the rest; I woke up, put on my brace, and left for class and work. Once I got back home I hopped in the shower and threw on my robe. My family sat around, eating dinner and talking about our day. No one had anything exciting to share- we were mostly just hungry and ready to go to bed. But my mom refused to let me sneak away to my room without giving me my nightly leg massage that posed more as a comedy act as she spoke sweetly to my discolored, cold, dead foot. She commanded the same motions she had insisted upon every night for months now. Although none of us expected this outcome to be any different than the previous attempts, the simple effort was now a nightly routine. As she said “Elli point your toes”, I sighed and rolled my eyes. But she screamed. For the first time in 9 months, her response was something brand new. As the entire family gathered around, she again told me to point my toes. And for the first time in 9 months, my ankle twitched just the slightest bit- and that was all I needed.

After that night, I believed in myself again. The idea of walking on my own didn’t seem completely unobtainable anymore. All the annoyance I had ever felt from the unconditional determination of my family had disappeared. Each day that I was too tired to fight, my family stood up and fought for me instead. And for 9 months they continued to believe, even when each attempt provided no type of reassurance. They never once gave up on me. Instead, they showed me to never give up on myself, no matter how many times I am told there is no hope left.

Today I am going on month 15 since I woke up paralyzed.

Today I woke up with complete sensation in my left leg.

Today was another miracle.

elli

 

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Dear Cameron

Dear Cameron,

Right now I sit here surrounded by hundreds of people and below I look at you in your royal blue cap and gown. Around your neck drape cords to resemble the academic achievements you have spent hours earning. To my left sits mom. Tears fill her eyes as she sits with a bittersweet smile on her face. In front of me is dad. He is quiet and focused on the speech your superintendent is giving. To my right is Joey- watching videos of LeBron’s dunk and Steph’s full-court shot.

Over the years I have spent a lot of hours watching you live your life. From dive meets, to award banquets, to talent shows, to school musicals- I’ve sat through it all. And during all of those events, my mind was typically concentrated on where we were going for dinner afterwards or when I could charge my phone. But today my mind and heart are somewhere much different.

On April, 2nd 1998, at age 2, I was given my best friend. I didn’t have a choice- you were given to me. I was forced to play with you. I was forced to share mom and dad’s attention with you. I was forced to listen to you cry and beg for apple juice every second of each day. And for the next few years, I continued to be stuck with you by my side. Literally- mom strapped us into our car seats and there I sat locked in place- right next to you. I did not like having to be your friend. Whether you refused to let me dress you in my dance costumes or whether you had just finished beating the shit out of me with our game cube controllers- I did not like you.

When I was 11 and you were 9, we left. We left the town we knew and the friends we adored. We left Poppy. We left it all and together we rode 600 miles to a new place we were forced to call home. You and I were the new kids. We were alone- but we were alone together. You knew no one and neither did I. We had no friends at school and no clue where to play. But we had each other. Day after day I turned to you to fill the empty holes I had and together we figured out how to make being the new kids not so bad. We leaned on each other.

This was when the tables turned. Being your friend was not so bad and spending time with you was actually better than being alone. From Raleigh, North Carolina on, turning to you was instinctual.

Together we were forced to start over again, again. At 14 and 16 years old, we were the new kids. And again, we felt the sadness and we feared the unknown. We lacked the friendships the kids around us spent years creating. But again, I had you. You stuck up for me when I couldn’t stick up for myself. Even when you were just as new and clueless as me, it was you who eased my sadness and kept me optimistic. You stayed strong for us.

Through everything our family has gone through, you and I have done it together. And as I sit here at your graduation, I have tears in my eyes.  There is no life challenge I wish would have never taken place- for those are what created a bond with you that can never be compared. There is no one I am more proud of than you. I look up to you and I strive to be half the person you are. While moving and starting our lives in different places is something you and I have done over and over again, for the first time, we are not doing it together. Although I would do anything to have just one more year with you trapped under my same roof, go to California and begin the start of a journey you so well deserve.

In a world with so many people, I wouldn’t pick anyone else to be my best friend. Thanks, Mom and Dad. You gave me one hell of a brother.

Love you, Ell

   
   

Another Monday

Monday: April 13th, 2015.

Today is Monday, April 13th. This marks the first day of my surgery week. I woke up and arrived at the James Cancer Hospital at 7am. From there I was prepared for a baseline “brain spect scan” for a pre-surgery I will be having tomorrow. The preparation included receiving an IV which then injected a radioactive substance to show the activity of my brain at its current resting state.

Tomorrow is a big day. I have my “balloon occlusion test”. This is a procedure where my doctor makes a small incision in my groin and places a catheter up into the carotid artery that runs through my tumor at the base of my skull. At the end of the catheter is a small balloon. The doctor gradually inflates the balloon, blocking off the blood flow to my brain from that artery. Because the doctor needs to see my level of responsiveness as the blood flow is reduced, I’m awake for the procedure. I am having this test to know if during my big surgery, if my carotid artery is damaged, whether or not a carotid bypass is mandatory. It’s a scary thing. It all is. But it is what I have to do in order to get better.

I cannot believe that this week is here already. I am nervous.. so nervous, but beyond ready to get this surgery under my belt. Everyone is nervous. The sleepless nights are only getting worse. I see the emotional strength in not only myself, but those around me, lessening. Now we are focusing on things day by day. I never imagined feeling the way I do now. I have never been more scared. As the days pass by so quickly I know soon I will wake up living a much different life. Although there is no way to prepare for something like this, I feel as ready as I could be. I am ready to be healthy again. I am ready to live a normal college life. I am ready to start fresh.

I beat Monday.

Monday: April 11th, 2016.

Today is Monday, April 11th. One year ago, this marked the first day of my surgery week. Today I woke up and arrived at The James Cancer Hospital at 7am. Instead of checking into registration and heading to my appointment, this year I clocked in for my shift and headed to my desk. As I sat there, the thoughts consuming all my attention were identical to those I felt on this Monday one year ago: the nerves, the butterflies, the unknown. But these feelings were for different reasons.

One year ago today I never thought I would be sitting here at work. One year ago today I never thought I would be going to school. One year ago today I never thought I would be living the life I currently am. No one thought I would be the girl I am today. This year has tested me in every way and this journey has been one in which no others compare. The life I lived Monday of last year was one far different from the one I lived today. Last Monday, I had everything: the nerves, the arteries, the bones, the movement, the voice, the tumor. All of the things I lack now, I used to have. But those were all removed and where they used to be is now covered by scars. Some scars visible to the eye. But many scars unable to be seen at all. But it’s the scars that make me, me. It’s the scars that remind me miracles truly exist. It’s the scars that make me see life in the way that I now do.

I cannot believe that this week is here already. I am still nervous, so nervous. But beyond ready to continue on my journey. Still after 365 days, discovering the new me is far from complete. There is much more to learn and there is much more to conquer. But each day I see the emotional strength in not only myself, but those around me, improving. Now we focus on the beauty behind the blessings we were given and the life that was saved. As the days pass by so quickly, I know each morning that I wake up was one more than expected.

I am thankful. I am lucky. I am a fighter.

I beat Monday, again.

Stubborn Me Saved Me

For years, my stubborness always resulted in negative outcomes: being grounded by my parents, dumped by my boyfriends, sometimes ignored by my friends. But within the past year, it was my stubbornness that saved my life.

Over and over again I was told nothing was medically wrong with me. My heart was healthy. My lungs were healthy. My blood was healthy- besides the low level of iron that didn’t concern anyone much due to the fact that I was indeed, a hormonal teenage girl. But that same stubborn trait that often left me in trouble, pushed me to continue to seek for the help I knew I needed.

5 Years or 60 Months or 260 Weeks or 1825 Days- whichever way you look at it – is how long it took for the stars to align and for me to fall right into the hands of a man that wanted to help me as much as I knew, deep down, that I needed him to.

February of last year was the final month I ever spent living the first version of myself. Every time I sat at my desk and answered a phone call coming from The James Cancer Hospital operating room, never once did I pick up and think that only a couple months later those same calls, from that same operating room, filled with the same nurses, would be updating my family for 20 hours as miracle work was performed on my body. And never once did I think that every time Dr. Old stopped by my desk to have me place the family of his patient’s in a consult room, that my family would soon be sitting on those same couches, in that same consultation room, praying and waiting to hear the same three word phrase all families hope Dr. Old say – “She is OK.”

After beginning my job working in The James Surgical Visitor Lounge, only two months went by before I quickly realized that the subject matter of the messages on the other end of these phone calls I spent my shifts answering, was soon to be me.

Now let me refresh you- in February of last year, after 5 Years or 60 Months or 260 Weeks or 1825 Days- whichever way you look at it – my days were still filled with endless amounts of light-headed spells and endless worries as to why the swelling in my face and the lump in my neck still remained. And the stubbornness that kept me questioning doctor after doctor and begging for any sort of direction as to how I could find answers, still freaking remained.

It was during the first week of this past March, after 5 Years or 60 Months or 260 Weeks or 1825 Days- whichever way you look at it – that all the eye rolling and head shaking and fear ignoring that my persistent stubbornness to those around me brought about, soon became worth it. And in that March, the worry in my head and the pain in my heart in which had been building up for 5 Years or 60 Months or 260 Weeks or 1825 Days- whichever way you look at it – struck Dr. Old. Finally it was then that I found the help I knew I needed all along and finally it was then that I knew the stubbornness that came alongside of this fiery red hair, was never a characteristic to be ashamed of….

When I was told in March of last year that I needed to withdraw from my freshman year of college with an understanding that a normal college life was no where in my near future, it was the stubbornness that refused to ever let that statement stand true.

When I went to the hundreds of preoperative appointments and scans to hear repeatedly about the complexity and severity of my baseball sized skull base tumor, it was the stubbornness that somehow kept me from thinking that this battle, given to only 1 out of 5 million, was one I could not win.

When I slept on that operating table, surrounded by 5 of the best surgeons from all over the world who stood shocked, speechless, and worried that after only a couple hours my body would not survive the unavoidable brutality of the surgery, it was the stubbornness that somehow kept me alive for the next 17 hours as they performed a medical miracle.

When I laid in the hospital bed with dozens of tubes and machines keeping my body running for the following 10 days, it was the stubbornness that kept me fighting hour after hour.

When there was no physical way I could walk with my leg being fully paralyzed from my knee down, it was the stubbornness that kept me spending all my time in a rehabilitation hospital- working my way from a necessary wheelchair, to a walker, to a pair of crutches, to a single cane, to just an ankle brace, within a matter of only 8 days.

When I was told that because of the permanent paralyzation of the right side of my tongue, throat, and vocal cord, talking and swallowing would forever be extremely difficult, it was the stubbornness that now leaves me able to eat what ever I want and speak just as if nothing was paralyzed at all.

When my recovery was planned to take at least 18 months, it was the stubbornness that allowed me to be back at work 3 short months later.

When a normal college life filled with roommates and late nights and mistakes and tons of laughter was so far from ever reachable, it was the stubbornness that now has me living with 7 of my very best friends on a college campus where I spend my days and nights doing things the stubbornness will keep my mouth from ever mentioning to my parents until I not only have children of my own, but grandchildren too, and possibly even great grandchildren.

When neurologist after neurologist told me that the nerve damage done to my leg was too severe and that I would remain paralyzed, unable to feel or move anything from my left knee down for the rest of my life, it was the same damn stubbornness that only three weeks ago had me wiggle my toes for the first time in 9 months- leaving myself and family in tears of joy and shocking every doctor who had to break my heart after so many test revealed how bad my injury truly is.

Now, as I lay in my bed smirking and reminiscing about all the times my sassy stubbornness left me locked in my room or having my cell phone taken away, I laugh.

And the truth is, thank gosh there was just no punishment that could have possibly taken away this girl’s stubbornness.

Sorry, Mom and Dad-

Stubborn me saved me.

Truth

I find it tough to swallow and accept many of the messages I receive throughout each day. My email inbox and Instagram messages are flooded with notes regarding my beauty and my strength. I often read the line “You are so strong and beautiful, how do you do it?”. And while the image I may portray most of the time is the strength and positivity I have within me, I lack to show some of the true emotions and feelings that I face each day.

I struggle. I get angry and upset. I get down and sad. I worry about my future and I sorrow about my past. I am not Superwoman. Although I am blessed and grateful for my miracle, I still feel the pain many would expect to coincide with such a life-changing event like the one I just went through.

For me, much of my focus has been based upon the idea of reassurance to my audience that I am okay. And the truth is, I am okay. But being okay doesn’t mean I am perfect. I have a great life. I live with 7 of my best friends on a college campus that brings a smile to my face every single day. I have the most beautiful home, filled with the most beautiful family. I drive a nice car and I am very fortunate for many other things I have. And while those are the visible things to many, those are not the things that define me. While my college experience looks flawless, it is not. I struggle in my classes and with managing my time. And even though my home is beautiful, the battles within it are not. I break down. I spend nights in my beautiful room upset and worried. I fight with my parents and yell at my brothers. Behind the smile I show off each day are struggles with anxiety and depression. I am not perfect. I am human. I have my highs and I have my lows. I have my laughs and I have my tears. I am thankful for my life but I am angry with it as well.

But at the end of the day I reassure myself that I am human.

To me, life is about balance. Balance your tears with laughter and balance your frustration with peace. Sometimes it may seem that your struggles outweigh your beauties- but you have to roll with the punches. The lows only make the highs that much more beautiful.

And in due time- everything will be okay.

 

Luck of the Irish

I guess when life catches you by surprise it is hard to realize what exactly is fully going on around you. 6 months ago life caught me by surprise.

The days were normal. I spent my nights staying up late working on chemistry homework and woke up early to start my day which was composed of college classes, a shift at the hospital, and another round of homework. I was stressed. I couldn’t quite understand how I was supposed to manage studying pre-med, working part-time, while also incorporating the social life any normal college student was known to have.

Suddenly everything changed.

It was the very beginning of March when my normal shift at The James Cancer Hospital turned into something much different. I was suspicious of something being wrong for awhile. I just did not feel right. After years of unexplained symptoms, I worked up enough strength to approach a head and neck oncologist who I worked closely with each day. I told him about the daily lightheaded spells and the subtle but concerning lump in the right side of my neck. Halfway through my shift he pulled me aside to inform me of the news that would change my life forever. He told me I had a baseball sized tumor sitting in my head and neck, right at the base of my skull. It was then that I realized the chemistry homework stress did not seem like much.

Instantly I knew I was about to endure something many young girls don’t have to worry about. I had to fight. About a month later- after dozens of preoperative scans, test, and appointments- the tumor was ready to be removed. For 20 hours my family sat in the waiting area while my body fought. The tumor was mean. My 4 surgeons, 2 anesthesiologist, and numerous nurses knew they had their work cut out for them. Early in my surgery, my tumor was winning the battle. My carotid artery was completely engulfed by the tumor. After they had made incision and positioned me in the necessary way to remove the monster, my vitals dropped. The tumor was stealing the blood supply to my brain. Worried, the surgeons suddenly believed that maybe the removal of the tumor was not going to happen. They were unsure as to if I would survive through the surgery. After much thought, prayers, and consideration, they came up with a new game plan and the surgery continued. Their plan worked. I woke up in an Intensive Care Unit bed 20 hours later with only 5% of the tumor left. They performed a miracle. was a miracle.

Since the day my normal work shift took a turn for the worst, I have been fighting. There is no way to prepare for something like this. I was not prepared and I quickly learned there was nothing I could do but to program myself to worry about nothing but the battle I was given to fight. And that is what I did. That is what everyone around me did. We fought.

While there were many people who entered the scary journey with me, there was one who gave me the strength to make it through each day. I sit back everyday and thank God for placing this person in my life during such a tough time. We fought together. We fought a battle no 19 year old ever plans to fight. While I dropped my life to fight the battle, he not only fought my battle but he fought his own. All the 271 mile trips he incorporated between school exams and football practice are what kept me going.

Yesterday I sat in the stands at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my family. 6 months ago I was told this was not going to be possible. Play after play I watched you do what you do best. I watched you fight. I cheered for you just as you cheered for me. With each play I felt butterflies of nervousness just as you felt for 20 hours on April 16th. Through all the change encountered over the past 8 months, no matter what, I will forever remain grateful. I am so proud of you.

6 Months

It is hard for me to believe that it has been 6 months since I “Beat Thursday”. I remember the dinner the night before my surgery with all my family and closest friends. The fear within everyone was covered by smiles and laughter. I will never forget that night. While my stomach was in knots, I was happy. I had everyone I loved right next to me and we laughed all night just like we always had in all other group gatherings. I would love to do it again- the same place, with the same people, and the same smiles.

6 months ago I was on the operation table for 17 hours. My life was saved by 4 surgeons. The past 6 months have been a complete roller coaster ride. I have had the best and the worst times of my life.

With a half paralyzed throat, tongue, and vocal cords, normal is not easy. Learning to speak, swallowing, and chew with these disabilities has been a challenge. But where I am at today is shocking to most. I am able to eat almost whatever I desire. My voice remains raspy and soft as it will forever but I understand it is just the new me. After I unexpectedly woke up from my surgery unable to move or feel my left leg, everyone was mind blown and devastated. Unfortunately there has been very little improvement in my leg at all within these past 6 months. It remains paralyzed from my knee down. Many doctors believe that I will never regain movement or feeling in my leg but there are few that still ingrain hope in my heart. One being my hero- Dr.Old. And quite frankly, I believe anything he says. It saddens me to think about the little things that having a paralyzed leg brings. I have always loved to dance. Dancing is tough now. Many things are tough. I think about my wedding day and the limp I will have while walking down the aisle. I think about not being able to put on my high heels with my girls as we prepare for a night in the city. I think about not being able to one day run and chase after my kids in the backyard. Those are the things that get me. But I continue to pray for another miracle- I lived one once, I can do it again.

Within the past 6 months I have moved from an operating table, to an ICU hospital bed, to a head and neck oncology hospital bed, to a rehab hospital bed, to my own bed at home, to a new bed in a house on campus with 7 of my best friends. Moving out of my house as been such a new experience. I could not be happier with college right now. While my chemistry, biology, statistics, and medical terminology courses are not easy- I am having the experience of a lifetime. Finally I am a college student. The girls have changed my life. They truly put a smile on my face every single day. We have created bonds and friendships that I will cherish forever. They keep me motivated and strong. They support me in everything I do (even when they should probably tell me no). I love them.

So tomorrow when I wake up I will start my day with an IV. They will then take an MRI of my head and neck at 7am. Then I have an MRI of my abdomen and pelvis, followed by an MRI of my chest. Next I will have nerve testing done in my leg. The study they do is called an EMG. The neurologist will place a needle into my leg in many different areas and impulses are sent to see if my nerve is responsive. No EMG in the past has produced any results close to ideal, but again, I am praying for a miracle. I hate EMG’s. After my EMG is over I will have my last test, an MRI of my leg, completing my day at the hospital at 7pm. The results from tomorrow will create a path for the upcoming months of my life. Whatever they may bring, I am ready for. Although I am nervous, I remember my blessings and the butterflies subside.

Remember, I did beat Thursday.

Matter of Time

As many can agree to, things tend to always work themselves out. As we pedal our way through life, events take place- some we love, and some we wish had never happened. But throughout the past year, I have learned to roll with the punches and understand that although at the time of many unwanted events, something down the road will help you understand and appreciate the struggle you were previous put through. While the experiences with my medical condition have been unfortunate and unexpected, I am not only thankful for the incredible health care I received but the lessons I have learned.
I am not perfect. I have made mistakes. I will continue to make mistakes as well. I have hurt those who stood by myside. I have made choices based on the moment rather than the future. I have been selfish. I have said things I do not mean. But through my flaws, I have learned. While I have made these mistakes, so have others. I have been hurt. I have been unappreciated. I have been put down. I have been fooled by those who desired me for the wrong reasons. But if there is one thing I take pride in, it is forgiveness. Perfection is unrealistic. Forgiving may not be easy, but it is mature and it is right. I do not expect my flaws to be dismissed- confrontation and recognition are helpful. I may be stubborn and I may not accept them initially, but I always see them as time passes. I am not afraid to apologize. Apologizing shows courage and acceptance of one’s own mistakes. I have learned to be understanding- understanding of mistakes-understanding of the past and how to help the future- understanding of what is important and that what is meant to be, will be. People are not defined by their flaws.
I have been able to relate the lessons I learned through my battle with paraganglioma to all aspects of my life- especially on a personal level. I believe that if you are unhappy with something; trust that it will work itself out. I believe that if you are hurt; forgive those willing to apologize. I believe that if you are scared; lean on those who know you best. Just like people, life is not supposed to be perfect. We go through patches of the rough to appreciate the beautiful breakthroughs. Whether you are living the beautiful or watching from afar, appreciate it. Be happy for others. Be happy for yourself. Be happy for what you have and what is to come. It will be beautiful.

Be patient; It is only a matter of time.

 

Beautiful 

Today the most beautiful thing happened to me.While working in the surgery waiting area at the James Cancer Hospital, I tend to see a lot of scared faces. As each family is facing their own battle, I find myself relating my personal experiences to their own quite often.

The facial expressions on the faces all seem too familiar. But there was one family that stuck out to me a few weeks ago.
As I sat behind my desk, I saw a mother and a father sitting in the chairs directly in front of me. They were younger parents and I knew that they were here for their daughter who was having surgery that day. As the day went on I continued to watch the fear fill their faces. All I could think about was how my parents just sat in this same waiting room, filled with fear, while their young daughter was in surgery.
I then got up from behind my desk and went and sat next to these parents. I introduced myself to them and we began to talk about the situation I just went through myself and how it was all too familiar. I reassured them that each day everything gets a little easier and that if they needed anything at all while being here at the James, they knew just where to find me.
As the weeks passed by I did not see the family from my waiting room. I prayed that everything was going okay and that the fear they felt that day was slowly turning into hope and strength just as it happened to me.
Today, I was walking down in the lobby of the James during my shift and noticed a stray wheelchair sitting outside the main front doors. As I went out to get it and bring it back in, I turned my shoulder and the mom from the waiting room greeted me with a huge hug. There, standing next to the valet parking station, we began to talk about her daughter and how tonight she finally got to go home. The mom asked me to please follow them to their car out front where her daughter sat wrapped in a blanket in the front seat, ready to go home. I met their daughter and asked her how happy she felt to finally get to leave. She smiled and expressed how excited she was just as I recall feeling a couple months back. As I shut the door to their car, the mom hugged me again. She told me how it was just “meant to be” to run into them on their last day, just as I sat with them on their first. The pain that I saw in her eyes on day 1 was gone. She had a smile on her face and hope in her heart. As the family sat in their car, I watched them pull away. With tears in my eyes, I smiled.
This is what life is all about.

Tested

Elli:

Today is June 22nd. While a little over two months ago I was laying in my hospital bed on the 21st floor of the James Cancer Hospital, today I am laying in my own bed, thankful to see another day.

Although at troubling times, it is hard to find reasoning as to why, I am a strong believer in everything does happen for a reason. Throughout our lives our strength is tested. And in some ways it is tested deeper than others. Lately I have been tested. Physically, my body has been tested. Day after day that test becomes easier. It is slowly becoming a part of my normalcy. Waking up, putting on my brace so I can walk, explaining to those around me that no, I am not sick, and no, my throat does not hurt, this is just my voice. Physically, my body is adjusting. What has been tougher for me is the mental side of the test. After my surgery, I was elated. Finally after numerous years, I could begin my life feeling healthy. Being 19, recovery time does not seem to want to exist. I want to do what my friends are doing. I want to go to Cedar Point and play beach volleyball. I want to dance and eat pizza late night. But right now, I can’t. The time is what hurts. The waiting is what hurts. While it is not easy to admit, I was impatient before this experience, but I am more impatient now. The only thing pushing against me is time. My leg needs time. My throat needs time. My mind just needs to learn to accept that.

What keeps me going is the reminder to myself that I am a fighter. And while I know this test that I am currently taking will not be an easy one, I know I won’t fail it.