subject line: the death of me (I promise some of this is uplifting). April 27, 2015 by Hannah Brencher boston, massachusetts I’m not here to uplift you. I’m not here to tell you that having cancer was a great experience. Did it change my life? Yes. Does it define who I am? No. There comes a moment when a part of you finally allows your childhood to slip away and become a thing of memories. For some it comes at thirteen, at a time when children in the Jewish culture have their bar and bat mitzvahs. For some it’s the quinceanera when they turn fifteen, still others wait until they hit that lucky sweet sixteen, and even still there are some who wait until they hit the legal age of adulthood at age eighteen. For me it happened when I was eight. All it took was one sentence from my doctor. One sentence that took a knife and drove it through my childhood ending it right where I sat in the doctor’s office: “It’s cancer.” I watched as my last childhood breath slipped out of my body. While the doctor described that Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma was a cancer that affected my lymph nodes. It was as though that breath froze on impact as it met with the air. I watched as it fell to the floor, shattering into a million pieces and taking the childhood that I knew and loved and robbing me of it for the rest of my days. “DADDYYYYYYYYYY!” I screamed. I was in the shower using my L’Oreal Kids Watermelon Blast two in one shampoo and conditioner. I lathered like I always did, but when I brought my hand off my head, my hair came with it. I watched as my long, beautiful Shirley Temple curls hit the floor of the shower and slithered down the drain before I had the opportunity to catch them. It was at that moment that I knew that whatever this so called “chemo-therapy” was that I had to go to the hospital for was changing everything I knew and loved about my life. Simple tasks suddenly became the most difficult burdens. Walking up the stairs took me ten minutes and that was on a good day. I could never be “it” in tag because I lost my breath so quickly that the other kids just had to walk to stay away. I couldn’t kick the soccer ball, cut my chicken at dinner, and I wasn’t allowed to go swimming. Everything I had grown to love was taken from me and it was only the beginning. Soon, I was too weak to go to school and I had to drop out. All my friends from school sent letters and cards but looking back I know that it was only another required assignment for them in second grade. At eight, even the most intelligent children don’t understand what cancer is. Hell, I’m twenty-one and I still don’t understand it unfortunately cancer isn’t something you have to understand it’s something you feel. The next nineteen months were some of the most painful days I’ve ever experienced. Chemo Therapy. Radiation. Needles. Losing my hair. Hospital Beds. That sterile hospital smell. Sympathetic onlookers, nurses, and doctors who want with all their might to tell you it’s going to be okay but just can’t even though they’re doing everything they can. I spent the better half of a year bedridden with only one small window as my opportunity to know that life existed outside of room 3218. I considered it a good day if I was allowed to be wheeled outside for fifteen minutes but in my condition those kinds of opportunities were few and far between. Through those nineteen months I watched myself change in more ways than I could have known possible. I lost all of my hair. I lost over half of my overall body weight. I lost the ability to eat without a tube helping. And for a month I lost the ability to breathe on my own. It was as though I could feel my childhood self outside of my body, running and frolicking watching the shell of what used to be me sit limp in the hospital bed, too weak to even pick up a television remote. They say death affects everyone differently. For some it’s losing a loved one, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a pet, or a best friend. For me it was losing myself. Childhood is a time you can never get back. You’re never as carefree, flexible, wild, or loving as you are as a child. The world is your oyster, you can do and be and dream and imagine and become anything you want to be. You’re not confined to get good grades, to keep your GPA up, to get into college, to get the job that pays the big bucks, as a kid you never have to worry. I lost that. I didn’t get to enjoy that experience. It was ripped from my tight hold and taken from me far too early. I didn’t have the opportunity to plead my case or say why I deserved to keep it; it was taken from me and it was completely out of my control. On November 7th , 1999 I died. I lost a part of me that I can never get back no matter how hard I try. On June 18th , 2001 I was reborn. That’s my story. That’s what I wanted you to know. Like I said… this wasn’t going to be uplifting. But, hey I made it through so let me try to be at least a little inspiring. So here it goes… I could go on for hours telling you aspects that were even more tragic like the fact that in the back of my closet there’s still a box filled with all of my wigs from when I was too embarrassed to go out in public bald— but I’m supposed to be inspiring you at this point and I promise… I’m getting there. Some of the things I’m going to say sound a little contrived and cliché and I struggled with this section because of that — but they’re just so true. Like the fact that every single day I appreciate the little things. I appreciate the snow storms that everyone hates. Yes I hate driving in them. I’m terrified of driving in them, but at least I was able to learn to drive. I appreciate being friends with Tom on MySpace and then realizing Facebook was so much better. I love being able to tweet my thoughts on Twitter and spend hours blogging on Tumblr and who can forget the joy found in posting pictures of my food on Instagram and receiving awkward Snapchats who doesn’t love those? I appreciate these things because I’m alive to experience these moments. That’s the best thing you can do is experience your life to the fullest. That’s what those who have left us would want. They want you to love your life. Experience every moment. The good. The bad. The awkward. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Cancer has done that for me. It allows me to appreciate even the smallest thing and cherish everything: words, health, sarcasm, humor, theater, group projects, movies, kissing and everything else that comes along with life. If I’ve gotten through to you at all then I’m elated. I hope when you finish reading this you don’t remember all the bad things I’ve said but rather remember to live. A thing you don’t know about me is that I’m a big birthday person. I live for birthdays. And you should too. Live for your next birthday and your one ten years from now and the one seventy-five years after that. I live for more birthdays, not just my own but everyone’s — because one thing cancer did give me was two birthdays. The day I was born and the day I was reborn.