Preface

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2006

The memory of that day is the sharpest thing in my mind. As young as I was, I could still replay it like I am watching it on one of our old VHS tapes. There was static around the edges faded as I was in that moment again.

"Ellie," a voice called pulling me up from the foggy darkness I was engulfed in, "sweetheart can you hear me?"

Pain was the first thing I felt, pain that gets to every part of your body and stays there. Searing in every cell. After the pain there was fear. Overwhelming, all consuming fear.

These were not the first time I felt these over the last few months. Cancer a word I learned in definition and in practice. Vocal fold carcinoma, extremely rare in children. Usually it only showed up after years of smoking and excessive drinking.

For me, it had started with a sore throat, my mom thought it was just a cold that didn't go away. My father had just been laid off so we didn't have great health insurance. It was more of nuisance than something to be concerned about and I wasn't one to complain.

So, we waited it out.

Then my ears started to hurt.

Then my voice got hoarse.

Then the lump appeared on my neck.

Then one night at dinner, I began to cough and couldn't stop.

Then, blood.

They found tumors so large that the nurse in the ER couldn't believe I was able to breathe on my own. I didn't leave the hospital for a long time after that. I remembered the purple, blue, yellow, and green bears on the walls of the hospital room. The ducks on my hospital gown.

Insurance didn't matter anymore; it was life or death.

I learned big words like radiation and chemotherapy.

My mother cried the day my curls started to fall out. They never came back the same way.

It was 3 rounds of chemotherapy later they explained they needed to try surgery. I had overheard the nurses whispering about how small I was, how the doctor wasn't used to operating on kids.

"Ellie Mae," my mother's voice called making me open my eyes.

The bright lights and the rhythmic beeping were the first things I was able to understand. My mothers face was the next thing I saw.

She was seated beside my bed, her eyes weary and her cheeks red from crying. Her curly hair wrapped into a frizzy bun on top of her head.

The doctor stood at the foot of my bed; concern consumed his face. His arms were crossed in front of his chest. Behind him was a nurse, the nurse that had been around me for the last few months. She too had been crying, her cheeks were stained with the remnants of the tears.

"Ellie," the doctor spoke, "your throat is going to be a little sore but can you try to talk to us?"

He frightened me but I nodded and opened my mouth to speak. My mouth tasted like cotton and blood. It felt like sandpaper as I tried to push sound out of my mouth. The beeping of the heartrate monitors increased as I tried over and over to get sound out of my mouth.

I searched the faces that surrounded me. My mother had her hand over her mouth trying to keep tears at bay, her eyes down turned. My father stood over her, his face stone cold, avoiding eye contact with me. My nurse hid behind the doctor, her arms wrapped around her body. My doctor was the only one who looked at me. His eyes analyzing my face.

I swallowed hard, it felt like a lump was stuck in my throat but I forced it down. Again, I tried to speak, the only thing that left my mouth was air.

"Mr. and Mrs. Dawson can you please follow me?" The doctor spoke, his deep voice serious.

He led both of my parents out of the hospital room and shut the door behind him. Only my nurse remained in the room with me. She was hovering over my bed checking the monitors and my nasal canula even though she had checked them moments before.

I tried to smile at her not entirely understanding what was going on. When she saw this her eyes welled up with tears and she quickly turned away.

Suddenly, the sound of my mother's cry echoed through the hallway catching both of our attention. My father quickly gathered her into his chest his eyes staring straight ahead, emotionless. I frantically looked around the room, my tiny hands fighting to pick my body up. I opened my mouth to speak, to call out for my parents. To cry out in fear but I couldn't. No sound came.

"Honey," the nurse spoke softly setting herself down next to me pulling me into her chest.

She smelled like cherry and hand sanitizer. I grasped at her scrubs pulling her as close as I could.

The sound of my mother's footsteps echoed through the room above the beeping of the machines. The nurse's scent was quickly replaced with my mothers, her familiar smell of vanilla. Her face was pressed into my hair.

Muffled by my hair she spoke, "Ellie, you aren't going to be able to talk anymore."

And with that my family broke.

From that moment on I had to relearn how to communicate. I learned sign language but I never liked to use it. People always stared when I was in public.

My mother became overprotective and paranoid. She led a life trying to make up for what happened to me that day.

My father shut my mother out for years until he couldn't take it anymore and left my mother for his longtime mistress. When he left he didn't look back.

My older sister became bitter and angry at me because I was getting all the attention so when she turned 18, she ran away.

My cancer altered the course of not only my life, but my entire family's life.

Each in our own way silenced.

Speechless. 

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