A Dose of Reality

Growing up, I was always told to appreciate life; I was always told to never take anything for granted; I was always told to remember that things could be worse.  These cliché phrases swirled around me my entire childhood, yet it wasn’t until I was fifteen years old that these words held powerful meaning to me. Nearly every adult I had ever met gave me those words of wisdom, but it had little effect on me; it only took one teenage girl to engrave those words in my heart forever.

Slowly my eyelids opened. Just as I began to take in the beige walls surrounding me I felt it.  The most excruciating pain- like that of a bullet- pierced my chest.  My screams of agony sent my parents rushing for the doctor.  That is the last thing I remember from May 7, 2010.

24 hours later, a doctor reluctantly entered room 509.  I attempted to sit up, but was quickly shot back down by the unwelcome return of pain in my chest.

“There was a complication when we placed the Bravo monitor on your esophagus. It seems that during the procedure, your esophagus was torn, so air is being trapped in your chest cavity as well as your neck.”  The doctor then proceeded to feel my neck, asking me to do the same when she finished.

I cautiously pressed on my neck.  The pockets of air crackled beneath my timid fingers, like 100 rice crispies inside my neck.

“So what does this mean?” I asked.  Her hesitant response was that it would heal on its own under one crucial condition: I could not eat or drink.

My breath caught and the room began to spin as reality set in.  How could I possibly survive without food and water?  What was going to happen to me?

Two weeks had gone by when desperation began to consume my every thought.  I couldn’t imagine any more time trapped within the beige walls of emptiness; that’s when I met Jenae.  When Jenae’s mom first introduced herself to my mom in the hospital corridor and suggested that I meet Jenae, I was terrified.  I had never met a girl my age fighting Leukemia, and I didn’t know how I should act around her.  As I walked into her room I expected to see anger, pain, exhaustion, or some sign of frustration in her eyes.  Instead I was greeted with a smile and chocolate brown eyes filled with nothing but kindness.  It was her third month at CPMC; the chemo had taken her beautiful brown hair; her white cell count was rapidly decreasing, yet the first thing she did was make sure I was okay.  Despite how sick she was, Jenae’s main priority was to make sure I was comfortable.  Even when she became neutropenic and could no longer have any visitors, she made jewelry and sent cards to my room reminding me to stay strong and offering support when I needed.  As her life was slipping through her fingertips, Jenae stayed strong, always wearing as smile and showing compassion for everyone she met.

After I was released from the hospital, I stayed in contact with Jenae and her mom.  Two more months passed and Jenae seemed to be on the road to recovery.  Her oldest brother was a bone marrow match, putting the transplant success rate in her favor.  But a few weeks after her bone marrow transplant, Jenae was told that the cancer was terminal.  Jenae passed away on November 24, 2010.  In her short 15 years of life, she touched more lives than I could ever dream of.  As sharp tears pricked at the corners of my eyes I realized that, although I had lost a friend, I had gained so much more.  Jenae taught me that things could always be worse; she taught me how to be selfless; she taught me how to wear a smile through the hardest of times; but most of all, Jenae taught me to embrace the things holding me together rather than the things that were tearing me apart.