If I’m going to die, I’m glad my week-old sister wouldn’t remember sitting together on the plaid sofa, or how I tried to avoid changing her diapers. It’s a precious thing to hold something newly alive while I could be slowly dying, even if the doctor’s say my type of leukemia has a 95% survivor rate.
I don’t have time to think of how my long-term girlfriend broke up with me the day before my diagnosis because I’m too busy catching up on US History homework and not-studying for chemistry. I don’t have time to think about how cancer sucks because I’m too busy throwing up everything I eat. The chemo doesn’t make me feel too sick yet, but I heard that’s coming in a more intensive phase.
All of my hair fell out. I eventually asked my dad to shave it because I would wake up with it on my pillow; it would be all over the tub, and after each night and each bath, I would be surprised I wasn’t bald. I have to take baths because I have a PICC line that goes up my arm into the main artery of my chest so the chemo spreads quickly—the line would become infected if it got wet. When my dad shaves my head, I think of Mulan chopping off her hair to save her father by risking her life in the war against the Huns.
I’m 115 pounds, no muscle, all skin. I’m on Prednisone, which makes me insufferably hungry. Vincristine slows my digestion. Together they’re a nightmare. I’ve been so constipated I couldn’t walk. The Prednisone fattens my face. My dad has taken to calling me “fatty fatty fat face” and posting pictures of Ron Stoppable around the house. I’m glad he can find the emotional space to laugh.
Other than that, things are good. I only go to school when I feel like it. Today, I threw up my breakfast, so I stayed home and watched Mulan downstairs while I sat on the floor and did homework. I remember how Dad took me to see Mulan in the theaters. I laughed so hard I had hiccups. Dad laughed and covered the top half of his face like he does, then his eyes would peek out over the hand as it slid down his face.
I’m thankful my baby sister wouldn’t remember me this way, or at all if I died. I would hate for her to love me and then I died, but the beautiful thing about that scenario is that I could love her until I died even if she didn’t love me back. There was a moment at the beginning of my diagnosis where I was supposed to die. But I didn’t. I woke in the hospital bed the following morning with my dad laying next to me, sobbing, shaking, kissing my face, screaming the most sincere, “Thank you, God” I ever heard.
My dad still laughs about Ron Stoppable. Eight years later, my sister and I will sit on the plaid sofa together, singing along, watching Mulan cut her hair and fight in the war for her father.
“Remember when I was bald?” I’ll ask.
“Nope,” she’ll say, “but I knew you were.”
I am both moments, sick and home from school and in November 2015 with my sister on the sofa; she will always be as precious as a newborn, full of growing life, and Mulan will continue to be our favorite movie, especially the end where she saves China and wins the war.
Andrew Hahn is a graduate student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in Lamp Literary Journal, R.kv.r.y Quarterly, and Lavender Bluegrass: LGBT Writers on the South. Follow him on Twitter at @andyhahn1, and on Instagram at @g_andrewhahn.
Andrew wants you to check out The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth.