If you know anything about me, you may know me for my comedic demeanor and dislike of taking myself too seriously. I walk with a spring in my step, and I am usually the chattiest kid in class spreading good vibes around campus. But the past few weeks have brought hardship into my life, and it's a little difficult to keep up my bubbly persona.
On Tuesday, Feb. 12, I lost a dear childhood friend to cancer. She was 22 and had been fighting intermittently for three years. Her college experience was characterized by hospital visits, experimental surgeries and ceaseless pain — both emotional and physical. Being far from home, I often let slip from my mind what my friend was going through because I felt distanced from the hardship of problems back in New Hampshire. I’d receive updates from my mother every week detailing her condition and latest struggle, and I often found myself pushing away my concerns as the severity of her condition seemed less real when I was several states and hundreds of miles away.
I had the privilege of tuning in and out of my friend’s sickness because it didn’t directly affect me. I’d hear from my mother, grieve for a bit and then turn off my feelings and head to work or class as I had the priceless luxury of not having been directly touched by terminal illness.
And still, despite my condition of pristine health, I’d hear myself whine about things — my professors asked too much of me, senior year was flying by or it was too cold out that week — all trivial factors in my day to day life that pointed at my privileged position.
I do a lot of preaching — do what you love, challenge the status quo, don’t live behind your screen — and I encourage my peers and professors to better their lives with my anecdotal rants and sobering statistics. And more often than not, I practice what I preach. But my whole nature of “Be thankful! Stop whining!” is something I could be carrying out a lot better.
I hear myself complain every day despite my fortunate status in the world, and it was time I got some perspective. The sudden passing of my friend, while atrocious and heartbreaking, threw me that hardball quickly and with little notice. And the reflection I’ve had since is challenging me to be better. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in every 100 college students has or once had cancer. About 9,000 young adults die from cancer each year. Cancer is the fourth leading cause of death in this age group, behind only accidents, suicide and homicide. It’s the leading cause of death from disease among females in this age group and is second only to heart disease among males.
You never know what someone is going through, and you never know when you can be struck by tragedy. I’m sure my friend would’ve done anything to be able to get in a car and drive to class today, but because of cancer and the cards she was dealt, she can’t. She’d be thrilled at the prospect of having a paid internship, but she isn’t here to do so.
My friend, a beautiful soul, a charming jokester and a vessel for strength in the face of cancer, didn’t get the life she deserved, and it now feels like my duty to make sure her zeal and graciousness touched the lives of others after she’s gone.
My health, my wealth and my positive attitude are such a blessing, and I’ve been slapped hard in the face to come to terms with the fact that I need to be more thankful for them. You never know when everything you’ve taken for granted can be ripped from your grasp.
So take a minute, a moment of your life, and thank the stars aligned that made you alive and able to read this today. Call your mom, tell her you love her. Let a stranger merge into your lane on the highway. Take time to indulge in the things you love, and appreciate the health you have. Do it for a girl who got hers taken away too soon.
I know this story may not change you, or even me, overnight and the ignorance that it will is the kind of pill we swallow when we read preachy editorials in the first place — the idea that the two minutes you spent reading this were going to change the course of your behavior. What I hope for in my publicized rantings is to sow a seed, always a seed, in the mind of a reader that can either be nurtured or forgotten later.
Whether it grows is up to you, and I hope, for her sake, it does.