1. Nothing. The first thing that crosses your mind is nothing. It’s been a long, uncomfortable, unknowing night, and the doctor is about to come back to the room and utter those words, that phrase, the “You have cancer,” that you’ve spent your night wishing away. You’re falling in that moment, in the wake of that moment, and as you fall, your mind will wander to a variety of places. Nothing will be the first one. It’s all so sudden, and then so still. Nothing happens. You hit some kind of mental crossroad, where there’s a disconnect somewhere between your brain and those words. They’re not real words, at least not as far as you’re concerned. Cancer isn’t part of your vocabulary, or at least it wasn’t, and there’s no room for it to join the party. Silence falls. Hearts drop, faces drop, the world, your world, drops off the map. In that moment, nothing crosses your mind. Your mind, your thoughts, your words, your life, clear. It’s time to make room for a new way of thinking.
2. No. As the fog of nothingness dissipates, denial appears in the clearance. Not only are those words not real, this night isn’t real. This isn’t happening. This doesn’t happen, you haven’t heard of it happening. Not to you, not to anyone close to you. Cancer is a far off creature that consumes far off things, like one of Lance Armstrong’s testicles and Samantha’s overused breasts on Sex and the City. Not you. Not the real world. This just doesn’t happen. It won’t go away in a pinch, but you’ve convinced yourself that it’s already gone. Your eyes shut tight, and you open them wide to the same sterile white hospital room, the same bleak overhead lighting, and the same droid-like doctor that was there moments before. They have the wrong blood sample, the wrong diagnosis, the wrong life to ruin. Cancer’s knocking at your door, but you’re in no shape to answer.
3. Death. Death will cross your mind. Sooner that it should, sooner than you need it to, death will be there. It will consume your thoughts and kill your spirits. In a surrounding completely devoid of emotion, yours will flood in. This is when the tears come. This is when you realize what’s really coming your way. Cancer isn’t the word that everyone’s so afraid of, death is. The problem is — or so you think for that moment in time — that cancer and death walk hand-in-hand. This is your weakest moment, where you allow yourself to succumb to the notion of death. You’re fifteen, you have leukemia, and you have no idea what that means. Death is the only thing more unknown to you than cancer. The unknown is where you’re headed. How did you get here?
4. What? As well as who, why, how, where, when, but most importantly, what? What is cancer? After nothing, after denial, after you regain your footing and death hasn’t come any closer, you’ll accept reality. This is happening, cancer is happening, and so you might as well figure out what the hell it is. What do you mean, chemo? Why shouldn’t I web search the survival rates? How did this happen? Who did it? It’s because I had my first drink before high school, isn’t it? Was it that time we put an egg in the microwave just to see if the YouTube videos were real? You have questions and there aren’t always going to be answers. There are no rules to this thing, there’s no right and wrong. Cancer’s a gray area, and you’re just beginning to feel your way through.
5. You’ve got this. The next stage of acceptance is courage. The next thing to cross your mind is empowerment. You’ve allowed yourself your weaknesses, you’ve asked your questions, and now, now it’s go-time. You’ve got this, whatever ‘this’ entails. Your mind will build up its walls, and there’s only one clear thought: survival. There will be ups and downs from here. Your mind will falter, strengthen, strain, and regain. You’ll continue to fall, you’ll begin to get back up, and you’ll be pushed back down even when you thought that you were at rock bottom already. The path isn’t clear and there are forks in your road, but you’ll remember that first fall you took. You’ll remember how you got to this foreign place; you’ll remember nothingness, you’ll remember denial, you’ll remember death, you’ll remember hesitancy, and then you’ll come back to this place. This place where your strengths outnumber your weaknesses, this place where your courage outweighs your fear, this place where cancer is the hare and you are the turtle: cancer was ahead of you at one point in time, but slow and steady wins the race. Power on.