I am a cancer survivor. It’s not a secret, and it’s not something I publicize–it’s like my shoe size. If you ask, I’ll tell you and if you don’t, I won’t. It’s as simple as that.

March 30th was the door I opened to cross a bridge of 44 doses of chemo and 24 rounds of radiation. I had my first surgery the following day: an IV in my chest, a hole in my throat; I can recite my entire medical history, and I’m 17. I could do it when I was 10.

I don’t really think about the year and a half I spent in and out of the hospital. It happened, and I deal with it, as do plenty of other cancer kids out there. We grow, we move on, and we live with it.

My post-anesthesia haze saw me “ask” my grandmother where I was. “Where am I” never escaped my lips; I was as silent as a church mouse, but at least church mice can squeak. For two weeks I signed and gestured. I had to reteach myself how to sound, how to do what babies are born doing. In six hours, I had lost the ability to do something I’d gone to sleep knowing – it was muscle memory, but my muscles had amnesia. I got my voice back, but it never changed – high-pitched and sharp, I sound like a child, but I’m almost an adult. 

Often people will ask me about my voice, whether it’s real or not. I alway oblige because I don’t want to seem rude. I humor them – “yes, this is my real voice,” “yep, I was born this way. Always sounded this way.” It’s annoying sometimes, and when I’m with friends, they’re shocked when I say it happens all the time. They don’t notice my voice because it’s part of who I am. They’ve grown up with this voice; to them, my voice is normal.

I’m deaf. Well, technically I’m not…almost…it’s complicated. My right ear is for decoration – it just holds my earrings. My left ear does all the work, hearing for two the way expecting mothers live for two, being everything and nothing all at once. My left ear is everything, and my right ear is nothing. Young and impressionable, I got a hearing aid at 14. Slightly cynical and nonchalant, at 17 I got a hearing aid for my left ear and a microphone for my right. Do I really need all five senses when I’m 17, but I have to function like I’m 77?

It doesn’t really bother me anymore, my hearing loss. I actually think it’s kind of funny when I pretend like I can’t hear my mom telling me to do something. She knows I’m joking because she can see my hearing aids. They’re red by the way. I may have to act like I’m 77 but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun with it. I wanted to have two different colors, but that’s not something that can happen unless you buy two sets. Alas, I am stuck with the one color, but at least it’s not a boring beige.

I faced a year and a half of bad days and not so bad ones only to find out that I’ve become clinically accustomed to the glass half-empty, but I’m here. I’ve stared Death in the face, and now we’re acquaintances. I’ve felt my bones through my skin – malnourishment with a full refrigerator. I’ve seen my growth stunted so my life wouldn’t be. Eight inches is what I lack; 5’0 is what I’ve been given. Cancer takes lives but all it could visibly take from me was the ability to reach the Frosted Flakes.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Some cancer kids don’t get to see what I see. I am proud to say that I am a survivor and I am proud of those who have survived along with me. That isn’t to say that I’m not proud of those who didn’t. Those who could not continue their fight, couldn’t keep their head raised above, I’m proud of them too. Cancer kids are proud of cancer kids no matter the outcome. September is a month for gold ribbons and celebrating those who can tie them into pigtails and those who have to wear them around their wrists; those who can wear them as often as they want to and those who get the one chance.

I’m proud of my gold ribbon kids.