Thursday, June 17, 2010


She graduated from eighth grade last week, on a bright and windy day, in a dress of green and blue and black and white. When I look in her eyes, I can see a muted version of those colors. As a toddler, she had eyes of sapphire blue, but by the time she was six, they had paled to a gray-green. Over the next few years, some flecks of brown were added to the mix. Her eyes grew lighter and the outer rim grew darker: twin Saturns with rings, heavenly orbs in milky-white skies. Wreathed by long lashes, they are beautiful eyes, and changeable. Depending on the light, they are hazel, then gray, then green. I call her the girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Through my comparatively boring brown eyes, I’m doing a lot of looking ahead these days. I’m picturing a future after cancer, and mostly, I feel like I’m looking through a kaleidoscope. There are so many pieces to this process of putting cancer behind me: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, Herceptin, Tamoxifen. The potential side effects are daunting: nausea, pain or at least discomfort, hair loss, mouth sores, weight loss or weight gain, brain fog, skin damage, lung damage, nerve damage, heart damage. I have an idea of what to expect along the way, but I know I’ll be surprised and brought low at times by complications and repetition and fatigue. And after all that is behind me, there will still be monitoring and vigilance and a lifetime of wondering if it’s really gone.

These pieces that I imagine, they are broken shards that tumble in front of my eyes as I try to focus on the brightness of life after cancer. Some things are broken already: my body betrayed me, my good habits didn’t protect me. There are a couple of scars already. There is fear. There is still, sometimes, disbelief.

Most of the time, though, I can see through my kaleidoscope pretty well, and it looks good out there, up ahead. The pieces fall into place, and the light shines through to reveal the right pattern, or at least a good enough pattern, one that I can live with.

But my new graduate, Miss A, looks through her fabulous eyes and sees a darker world than I do. She always has: at six she told me that she “never feels joy.” She’s come so far since then. Overall, she’s much more positive and in control of her emotions. She and I have a much closer bond. She makes me laugh with her silliness and her sly humor. When faced with a challenge, she still insists that she can’t or doesn’t want to overcome it—but over and over, she has found the strength and persistence to do so. She’s a high honor student; never the most popular kid, she has a small group of good, close friends. She’s on her way and I think her future is very bright. But, still, there are shadows, times when all she feels are the negatives, when she really can’t see any joy.

So I tell her that this is her nature. I tell her to recognize it and to choose to see beyond the darkness. I promise her that if she feels hopeless, she needs to hold on and wait a bit, and things will eventually get better.

Among everything that I want to teach her, given the time, the most important is to convince this girl of sun and shadows that she can aim her kaleidoscope at the brightest light, and with enough turning and patience, she will see her own beautiful, imperfect pattern fall into place. I’m trying to live that for her, right now. Will she believe it if she sees it?