I Live For Those Who Can't: What It Feels Like To Survive Childhood Cancer

by Abigail Houck

The knot in my stomach boils, and the pain gets more and more intense.

I can barely breathe.

This is a feeling I experience almost every day of my life. There is no rhyme or reason for it, but it comes on like a soft wave, bouncing me back and forth until it feels like the entire ocean is gutting me from within.

This is the feeling I get when I’m reminded of the pressure. “What pressure?” you ask.

It's the pressure that comes from losing countless friends, family and a legion of other people on this planet to the very disease I was so lucky to slip away from 10 years ago: cancer.

It sounds melodramatic, really. It happened so long ago, and I was just a child.

Yet, those are the exact reasons why it's presence is so fierce and bold; it’s engraved in me. I know no other manner of living.

With each step I take, I am constantly reminded of the fact many people, all too similar to me and with the exact cancer I had, are not here today.

I remember to pause and breathe. “Don’t panic!” I tell myself over and over again. I am here for a reason.

It’s okay that I look like a disheveled troll and have made more mistakes at work today than I can count. I deserve to be here, right?

I am unsure, but it doesn’t really matter because I am.

Don’t get me wrong; I really do love the person I’ve become. Yet, in spite of my self-confidence, the question, "Could someone else have done more than me?" lingers.

With each disappointment and moment of self-reproach, I’m reminded I don’t live for myself or for who I will one day become.

No, I live for something much greater and grander.

My presence on this Earth is echoed with the lives of my friends and the millions of others who are not here to live out their dreams.

The pressure to live for those who are not here today is truly an indescribable feeling.

I’m constantly thinking about the other kids I knew in the hospital and how they seemed to do everything so much more successfully than I ever could.

Many were straight-A students throughout their entire cancer treatments, and I could barely manage a sympathetic, teacher-induced “P” for passing, which quite literally equated to an “F” wrapped up with a pity bow for good measure.

No teacher wants to be the one who failed the dying girl. That would have definitely been bad karma. But those “Ps” will have to suffice.

I can only imagine what many of those other incredible children would have done with their lives if they were still here today.

With approximately 15,780 children diagnosed with cancer every year, I know I am not alone in my ambiguity.

I have no idea why I, little average Abby, am the girl who is here today.

Other than the fact that, scientifically speaking, the chemotherapy worked better on my cancer cells than on other individuals, I am still baffled by my continued existence.

I may not be a religious person, but I do believe there's a much larger purpose and meaning to life that no human could ever feasibly comprehend.

This is why I choose to trust there is a reason, purpose and need for me to be here today. Without this outlook, my mindset would truly be grim.

I am the first to admit that, as far as humans go, I am not even close to an image of perfection. I am a chaotic, flawed anomaly of a creature.

Yet, I do, without a shadow of a doubt, strive to honor the lives of those who are no longer here today.

So, to all the kids at Seattle Children’s Hospital I was privileged enough to know, please know your beautiful essence and effervescing souls are not forgotten.

All my accomplishments are your accomplishments; all my success is your success.

I might be lost at times, but I will, with 100 percent certainty, make something of my life — our life. You are not forgotten.