Getting into the Groove of Back to School

      Pencil – check, pens – check, ruler, notebook, calculator – check, check, check!  It’s that back-to-school time of year. Time to get into the groove.  Some kids are probably excited to see their friends, new classroom, new teacher, and to have homework again (well maybe not the homework part). Some other kids are dreading going back to school and counting the days ‘til fall break.  For me, personally, I am excited to go back to school (yes, I am THAT kid).  I am particularly excited because I am starting high school this year.  That’s right!  High school here I come!

I can see the excitement my parents have for me.  However, if you look really close at my mom and dad, their eyes silently speak the words “where has the time gone” and “this is all happening too fast”.  They are probably thinking like that because I like to often remind them that in a little over a year, I will be getting my driver’s license.  WooHoo!!!  Now that I am in High school this year, I get to be a student teacher with an amazing dance instructor at my dance studio in the little kid’s class.  This munchkin ballet class is an overload of cuteness, tutus and the color pink.  I am proud and excited to continue my ongoing roles in fundraising, ambassadorship, and drawing awareness to all the organizations that help me and other kids like me.

This year, I am excited to focus my time on some new upcoming events and a few new adventures I have hidden up my sleeve.  It is exciting to see my friends and their parents posting first-day-of-school pictures on social media.  I enjoy this viewing parade of new sneakers and kid cuteness as many parents are posting pictures as their children are heading off to school.  It is such a special time, especially for the proud parents.  I see some of my friends are starting high school, some are heading off to college, some started middle school, and some are starting school for the very first time.   I see some of my friends in the pictures looking happy, some looking nervous, and there are a few friends in the pictures that have that look on them that says “mom, stop taking pictures already.”

What is Life Like Getting Back to School as a Survivor?

I remember after I was done with all my cancer treatments and I was somewhat healthy enough, it was time for me to go back to school. I was able to start my 6th grade year on the first day of school like everyone else.  I was so excited.  I got to see my friends again, the school building, the staff, the teachers, and I even missed homework. When you are dealing with a life- threatening medical condition, your life gets put on pause. For me 6th grade “back to school” was when I got to press the play button to resume being a kid. By unpausing my life, I got to be me again and get back to what once was a typical life.  But what used to be typical was even more special.  I spent a year away from school and a regular life.  I really missed going to school so much.  I can’t say enough how much I missed it.  I missed learning and using my mind, I missed being around other goofy kids, playing at recess, and even school lunches.  And more importantly, I felt triumphant because I kicked brain cancer’s butt.  So yes, I was the kid that was so happy to return to school to get homework, to say “hello” to my teacher, and to play with my friends again. That first day of school I walked in with my head held high and a big smile on my face. I was so happy to be there.

Yet there is still something different…

Underneath my school uniform, I still had my port catheter and I had a G-tube going in my stomach.  If you looked closely, you could see my G-tube under my shirt which looked like the top of a beach ball.  While many kids came back to school with new hair styles, cool braids, and awesome haircuts, I was bald.  Kids looked tan from their summer vacations and quite frankly, I looked very pale and weak. The last time some of these kids had seen me, I had such pretty, long hair, awesome braids, and a nice glow from a summer tan.  I didn’t look like that anymore.  I left for my treatments in 5th grade and came back to enter 6th grade as a doppelganger of what I once was; evolved, morphed, and looked like a whole different person. Coming back to school as a survivor is incredible, but different. Despite everything, it was still my best back-to-school day ever.

What about Back to School for my Hospital Friends?

      I have friends that I made in the hospital.  I got to know their families as well.  I think of them often.  I am so proud and honored to see many of them that have survived and have moved on with their lives.  You can’t help but to be so proud of my fellow cancer warriors.  I see social media posts of them and it puts a smile on my face.  Their parents have also been posting back-to-school pictures as well.  One of my fellow pediatric cancer warriors who fought cancer four times is heading off to college this year.  She is heading out-of-state for college even though she was hospitalized this summer.  One of my survivor friends is going to middle school and starting 7th grade even though it is very difficult for her to walk.  Another warrior is entering 5th grade and he is going to start playing baseball again.  Rising 3rd grader and cancer conqueror is now continuing to be on a cheerleading team after her second battle of fighting cancer.  My other little warrior friend is still currently battling cancer and will start kindergarten soon.

Sadly, some families aren’t posting any pictures.  Some of my friends from the hospital lost their battle with cancer.  They don’t get to have a “back to school”.  Their parents don’t get to send them off to school anymore.  There is no school supply list, new clothes, and new hairstyle. There is no need for pencils, pens, rulers, notebooks, or calculators. There is no longer an empty desk waiting for them at school. There will forever be a vacant place in their homes and hole in their parents’ hearts.  I know that I am one of the lucky ones.  I don’t know why. I just am. But I do know that we all need to enjoy what life has to offer, be proud of one another, and capture each and every back to school moment you possibly can.

Have a great school year!

Jessica Meyer

Positively Jessica