We have had a child with a label.
No parent wants their child to be THAT KID.
The kid who is different.
The kid who is sick.
The kid that gathers sympathetic looks from her teachers and other kids’ parents as if those looks themselves will save her.
All the while thinking “Thank God that’s not my child.”
Our daughter was fighting for her life at a time in her life that was fresh and new.
And because of the timing of her disease and treatment…it’s been forgotten.
Her peers don’t remember much about it.
Just as she doesn’t remember much about it.
Yet, every time a teacher in her middle school classes brings up the words “someone who has had cancer” every single head in the class turns to her.
She still has that label of “kid with cancer”, but it’s greatly, GREATLY diminished.
We don’t tell teachers about her past anymore.
We stopped doing that in 4th grade.
She’s now in 6th grade.
And she’s become much more comfortable telling her story.
She’s a survivor.
She knows this.
Recently, in science class, her teacher said this statement after talking about ultraviolet waves causing skin cancer…”I’m sure you know of someone who has had cancer.”
And, this is no exaggeration, Zoe said everyone in that classroom, kids who she’s known since she was 4 years old, turned (as she sits in the back of the classroom) and looked at her.
She said the teacher was a bit dumfounded.
And continued talking about how hard chemotherapy and radiation were to go through.
And Zoe said the teacher seemed to be looking right at her during this speech.
And Z was nodding in agreement.
And then the teacher, who seemed to now understand that this girl in the back row of her classroom with the long brown hair, quirky taste in leggings, and eyeglasses was a survivor.
When one of the students raised his hand to ask if getting chemo and radiation hurt, the teacher looked at Z for the answer.
She smiled and said, yes chemo can hurt.
And that radiation can mess with your senses.
“What do you mean it can mess with your senses?” the teacher asked.
“Well, when I had radiation (to her brain) I smelled a really bad smell in the room. But that smell didn’t really exist.”
Radiation to the brain, in different levels of intensity, can cause a patient to smell a rotten egg-like odor, or see a bright light shining into their eyes as they lay on the radiation table.
Z’s friend Dylan then leaned over to her and whispered “do you still have cancer or are you all better?”
She told him that she had been declared CURED in December of 2015.
Dylan has known Zoe since preschool.
But, these peers seem to have forgotten that she was once “the sick kid.”
Which is exactly what we hoped would happen.
She is in an accelerated math class.
She has a 4.0 GPA.
She is a musician and a writer.
And while it seems she has been able to move on from the stigma of being “the kid with cancer”…she has found herself stuck with a new label.
Well, she’s had this label for quite a few years now.
Her backpack holds 36 different keychains on it.
I know this number to be true because her most recent count occurred this past Tuesday.
Thirty six baubles adding weight to an already hefty middle schooler’s backpack.
She jingles and clanks as she walks into school every morning.
And when she’s running to the bus at the end of her school day, she makes a lot of noise.
She has to run through the high school wing to get to her big yellow ride home.
And older kids have been heard to yell out to her…”HEY! I love your keychains!”
She didn’t want cancer.
That label was attached to her without her consent.
But, Keychain Girl…
That’s a handle she can comfortably live with…