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I left my house on the first day of middle school wondering if I would fit in and if my iPod was fully charged. By the end of the day I was wondering if my mother would be alive by the time I got to seventh grade. I still vividly remember parts of that day but the year that followed is a blur. I would not wish the experience of having a parent become ill on anyone, but my mother’s diagnosis of Lymphoma–and her subsequent recovery–made me a kinder, more grateful, and more aware person. Unlike most freshmen, I know from experience that life can change in an instant. If I am given the chance to attend the University of Florida I will savor the educational and social experiences. I will become part of the Gator Nation and add a personal perspective on the fragility of life and the need to make every moment count.
Six years ago, I walked to the bus stop thinking “God, this is awful, freaking middle school.” I dragged myself down the street heading in the direction of three other pimple-faced, stout kids gathered around a Banyan tree. “Is this the stop for bus 36?” I murmured. A girl with black hair–dressed all in black–nodded almost imperceptibly. I pulled out my iPod and plugged in my earphones. Sweat began to drip down my face. A few minutes later, a leathery-skinned woman with a voice to match opened the school bus doors. Cold, stale air with a hint of what smelled like feet hit my face as I ascended the rubber steps. That day, I moved from classroom to classroom ignoring my teachers–filled with disdain for my peers. At the age of twelve, I was alienated, annoyed and ungrateful. I hope I would have outgrown this phase eventually. However, the events of the next few hours accelerated that journey.
Something was obviously wrong. My mother looked worried; she barely asked about my first day of middle school. There should have been a lot of questions from my parents about me and my day. Instead my brother and sister joined me in looking across the table at the worried faces of my parents. My mother cleared her throat and began to speak: “A few days ago I went to the doctor for a routine check up. I heard from the doctor today–I have lymphoma.” I looked over at my father. His eyes began to tear up. I was not even sure what lymphoma was, but I knew it was bad.
Cancer? My mother cannot have cancer; she is invincible. She is supposed to be at my high school graduation, my college graduation, and my wedding. Reflecting back on that day, everything from that moment and the rest of that year is a jumble of impressions. My mother began to lose her hair due to the chemotherapy. She spent most of her days in bed, and the only time I remember seeing her was when she slept or was about to fall asleep.
It was tough. I was scared but slowly things got better. I began to appreciate the subtle, small things in my day-to-day routine. Walking to the bus stop did not seem like such a chore. I smiled politely to the bus driver as I got on. I did my work without complaint: I wanted to be on the honor roll to make my mother happy. I did not have many friends, and I hid my mother’s cancer from the few friends that I had. I was not ashamed; I just did not want pity from anyone. A year later, my mother finished her chemotherapy, and a few months after that her tests showed no signs of the disease. My mother was in remission.
Eventually, life for my family and me got back to normal. My challenge now is to maintain a sense of gratitude. I have had only minor challenges since middle school but whenever I feel stressed or ungrateful, I take out a picture of my mother taken toward the end of her chemotherapy. Although she is smiling, her head is bald and her eyes look very tired. I look at that picture and compare it with how she looks today and know that I really every reason to be grateful.
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