The Race Against Cancer
Annie Chen, Division 2, 8th grade

At an early age, I was acquainted with cancer. In nearly every dinner on my family’s cramped makeshift table, cancer would be dished out from the day’s outing, the topic never failing to draw to a close on an ominous note. An old friend would happen to be the recipient of the news that informed him of a tumor buried in his lungs. A colleague of Mom’s would come back from the hospital with test results positive. In every case–friends and families plummeting into despair. And these very-much true stories would scare me, filling me with dread and setting my mind into a state of terror where I would envision the day when that one very unfortunate person out of the every three people in the world all prone to cancer would be determined by fate itself as me. The mere thought of it would send my hands into flurry of panic where they would subconsciously commence in pressing and checking for any telltale changes on a seemingly unbroken surface of the skin. And for the longest time, that was the meaning of cancer to me, the need to tread lightly at every utterance of the word and a blinding blow to the face of reality–and my family.

Sixth great-aunt, that was what we spoke of her in Chinese. The sixth-born and youngest among her sisters, she never once hesitated to take my sister and I under her care whenever a matter would call for our parents to leave our sides. During those rare chances, we would tail her around the house, eventually falling into step with her quick strides and never once straying away from her side. At the sound of our ever-present footsteps, she would turn around, a half smile breaking out between the folds of her pale skin, and fish out two bowls of our favorite snack–a clear and chewy jello-like treat dipped in yellow curry sauce. At the sight of this, we would grab it, a brief “thank you” barely escaping from our mouths, and shovel it down our throats, all the while making sure to lick the corners of our lips for any drip of curry sauce that may have slipped under our notice. And always, always, after we would finish eating, we would come running back to her for more as fast as our little legs could carry us, our little sounds of pleas wavering and catching in our throats when the soft gaze in her eyes she had just moments ago hardened into a stern, scrutinizing glare. And once upon her, we would shamefully bow our heads at her feet, waiting and anticipating for her lecture to come to. Only at the sight of our surrender, would she speak. Health, she would say in her clear, resounding voice, matters on the foods you eat, the daily meals you feed upon. Snacks like what you just feasted are not foods you should tamper with for long. Once you do, there is no turning back, so for the long run, take caution in the foods you take a liking to the most, and feed on the foods you regard with contempt because when it comes down to health, you are what you eat.

I wish I could say that I understood this, that I took it to heart when she ordained this to the world that day in the kitchen with the shifting light from the afternoon glow playing on her angelic face and the summer breeze lifting strands of her dark hair aloft so that the whole moment aspired to be magical and with that, inspirational. But I would be lying if I were to say that I understood, denied of even, because on that day, we feigned commitment of those last words, faking it for the sake of willing the moment to pass. And maybe that’s why a reeling wave of pain and guilt had washed over in me when we received the news that Sixth-great aunt was stricken with stomach cancer. Maybe that’s why I had to turn away from my mom when that first tear surfaced in the wake of the horror and began trailing down her face towards the immaculate white of the hospital floor. I felt scared then, believing her bedridden state was God’s punishment to me for not taking her words to heart, for not paying heed to what she had to say about our well-being. On those hospital visits, I could only hold her hand and watch in a daze as lapses of time yielded the image of her slight frame retching the contents of her last meal into a tub the nurses had given to her, her once-strong hands that had held the weight of two infants now shaking with the effort to clutch a small tub. And it pained me to watch her undergo this change, to see her once solid build waning to the effects of cancer, to see her bright dark eyes that had so often herald the sudden flares of her determination giving in to the agony of her affliction. And even then, she was still able to find the strength and heart to hold our gazes and weakly coax us to drink a bowl of chicken broth that she was unable to consume.

But that was the last of what we saw of her. Now, her whereabouts, I know of no longer, for after a time our family ceased to speak of her, but since then, a mindset has begun to mature in me, urging me to eat well–as what she would have wanted me to–and endeavor in my studies, compelling me to absorb all I can about the world of science and in turn, how diseases take root within the body. Because for the time being, that is all I can do to help society advance into a future where there is no such thing as cancer, where the world is a better place for all.
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