Survivor

“You sure you want to do this?” Mom said. “I’d rather have them cut out than have them fall off and see them on my pillow.”

A warm smile sprung onto the hairdresser’s face as she tied my long thick nut-brown hair into several ponytails. I figured she wanted she wanted to make me feel as calm as possible so I wouldn’t react badly. She held the first ponytail calmly in her hands and chopped it. The more she cut, the heavier my chest felt. Once she cut the last ponytail, my stomach sank, it became harder to breath. I looked at myself in the mirror, my face was numb and suddenly a single tear ran down my chubby cheek. From a single tear to a puddle of tears, I couldn’t control myself and began to sob as I stared at my bald head. My mom, who had put on a brave face every single day until that point, couldn't help but cry at the sight of my own tears. We both became emotional wrecks.  

I placed the itchy brown wig with short bangs on my head and moved it around until it was centered so that it didn’t seem fake. And just like that I became a totally different Yasmina. I became the teenage girl with Cancer.

Once I began my treatment, I became was unable to do a lot of the things that people my age would normally do. One of the things I had to do, though, was wear this stupid ugly blue mask to school because of my immunity. I felt like an outsider. I was the elephant in the room. All I could see were people’s eyes analyzing my physical appearance.

Weeks later, as I walked late into my history class in Rockefeller Hall room 111, I noticed every one of my classmates looking up at me. They were all wearing that same stupid ugly blue mask. For a moment, I forgot about being sick, I forgot about being left out.

For a moment I felt genuinely happy.

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When you have Cancer, it is crucial to keep track of your fever, because if you have the slightest fever when your immune system is extremely low, it means that you could catch any bacteria or disease spreading faster in your body than a healthier person

My fever had risen to 102 degrees, and it was protocol that I had to go to the emergency room if it rose above 100. My dad drove me to the ER, where I was told that I would have to be hospitalized for a few days until my immune system grew stronger.

From that moment on, as I continued to fade in and out of consciousness, everything turned into a blur. I remembered one doctor come in holding a flush pump, then six unfamiliar faces with plain white surgical clothes surrounding my hospital bed as my whole body shivered.

I was 15 years young and on the verge of dying.

Three nurses kept placing soaked towels with hot water on my bare body to keep me hydrated. Another doctor then came in and put an oxygen mask on my face. The other doctor injected a large needle that was connected to a tube into my chest where the polycide (a port implanted in a person’s chest to transport chemotherapy treatment) was placed. It pumped out all the water that was filling up my lungs. This continued for thirty minutes. When my blood pressure turned back to normal, I glanced at my mother’s swollen face as she entered the room. The same swollen face that fought back tears as she held my hand while I puked my guts out.

The doctors decided to transfer me to the intensive care unit for a total of seven days—the slowest seven days of my life. I could not see any of my friends or family members. I laid in a hospital bed, isolated in a small chamber full of crumpled wires and large machines. Then I was moved back into my old hospital room and stayed there for 30 days. I had two surgeries; one was to remove the polycide because it got infected and the second was to replace it with a new one.

When they removed my polycide, the only way they could connect tubes into my body was through an IV. At 11 p.m., my nurse came in for a the usual checkup.

" لازم نغير ال-IV"

"ضروري؟ بتعرفي أدش مب حب الابره، فينا بكرا؟ ما إلي جلد ليوم."

"سري ياسمينا  بس  هيدا  البروتوكول"

She brought out the kit, put her white plastic gloves on and prepared the needle that was going to enter my thin, frail veins.

"يالله، ١ ، ٢ ، ٣ "

I shut my eyes and waited.

"شرايينك كتير ضعاف، لازم نجرب بعد مرة"

The nurse tried it once more, nothing worked. She brought in a different nurse to try the same procedure. This went on for two hours, with different nurses trying to inject needles into my sensitive skin.  

Nothing. I cried my eyes out. I wailed from the top of my lungs

“!خلص باءة ! تعبت! مبا فيي! هلكت”

Despite my cries and loud screaming, I was injected eleven more times that night until they brought in a lab specialist to try and complete the procedure. He put that needle into my left hand as I watched it move around underneath my skin, round and around, until he found that one particular vein.

Almost five months in, I went into the Cancer center to get my last treatment of ABVD (chemotherapy drugs). The following week, I had to get a PET scan to see if there was any trace of the Cancer left.   

I waited.

I waited impatiently as several thoughts were running in my head. I kept asking myself, “What if this isn’t over?”

I was Cancer free at last.

The secret wasn’t that my body was going to make me keep going, but it was my determination, diligence and most importantly, my optimism.

I am a person who fought, defied, and conquered Cancer.

I am not the girl with Cancer.  

I am Yasmina, and I am a survivor.

Illustration by Pimploy Phongsirivech