I was barely one-year-old when I was diagnosed with cancer and it was, unmistakably, the worst thing to ever happen to me. The diagnosis was a long process, followed by a long treatment, and through every stage, it was all happening to me, I had no control. Cancer wasn’t the only struggle I faced during this journey.
For years I’ve been fighting for my medical records, for the chance to see what happened to me as an infant – to see the objective medical list of what I survived. It’s a struggle I’m making no progress on or with. I’ve been that girl, the girl who visits the hospital too often, the girl who has to visit the nurse at weird times, the girl who always carries a bag, even in the first grade. And through all of that, all the isolation and the oddities, it’s been a struggle to accept my story as something I want, or something to be proud of.
I survived it, and so for 17 years people have been telling me I’m strong for beating cancer. But the real truth is, I’ve always struggled with, always hated, the word strong. It is a word that has been assigned to me, not something I’ve ever seen in myself. So, when I saw the Four Girls’ t-shirt which read “My Story = My Strength”, I recoiled. These are the two words I hate most, printed in large, bold lettering across the chest.
“MY STORY” is something I never really want to claim, “= MY STRENGTH”, something I’ve never really believed in. It struck a nerve in me, but, in a weird way, it also felt soothing. As if, by acknowledging and accepting this heavy, heavy story I carry with me, the weight might lift. My story so often feels like a weakness, and in that weakness, my supposed strength feels hollow, thin and ladened with shame. Shame that I survived when others didn’t. Shame that I don’t use my chance at life as I perhaps should. Shame that my ‘strength’ is bestowed upon me in the meaningless kindness of strangers’ pity, without reason or empathy. And that ‘strength’ feels so very much like a lie.
I want to change that.
I’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for research and other kids in treatment; I’ve spoken at events, volunteered, and befriended other kids in treatment and even friends who have siblings in treatment. Even through all of that, I’ve never wanted my story to belong to me. I’ve always watched my friends in their unconscious wholeness, and I’ve envied it. But when I really think about it, really dig deep, I come to the tough realization that I have been letting my history, my differences, my story, scare me away from embracing and accepting my whole self.
I’m done with being scared.
In a prior blog, I wrote 2020 is the year I will do things that scare me. The year I jump into everything, every opportunity, with as much energy, as much strength, as I can bring into it. So, I ordered the shirt.
My story belongs to me. It belongs to me alone. It doesn’t belong to the kid in my physics class joking about my disability. It doesn’t belong to the girl in the hallway who was my friend until I heard her making cancer jokes, only apologizing after she realized I was there. It doesn’t belong to the endless apologies and condolences and validations bestowed on me by those who will never and can never understand how it feels, day in and day out, to live in my skin.
But I’m growing to love that skin, scarred though it may be. And I’m growing to love the story that my skin carries in those scars and traumas. I am embracing my story. And I am taking my strength back. I’m claiming my versions of both, and leaving the rest by the wayside. Because in this case, in my case, my perspective is the only one that can ever matter. And that perspective, that story?
That’s my beautiful, incomplete, scarred strength.
-Althea Mae Hutchinson
Junior, Henderson High School
Member of GirlGov