"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world,
the master calls the butterfly."
I had always thought I had a younger brother; it was like I had these silly memories that didn't add up at all. According to what my mother had told me when I was five years old; he had never existed. It was all quite hazy, apparently you’re not meant to remember things from early childhood, something about your brain being underdeveloped. That was the excuse my mother had used when I started asking whereabouts my brother had disappeared to. But I have a distinct memory of a little baby boy with sparse brown hair and the largest bluest eyes. I remember sitting on my old brown sofa with him while my mother worked in her little study. Laughing with him as we swung higher and higher on the old red park swings, bringing my knees in and pushing them straight out again to gain more height. My dress was billowing up and everyone was probably getting a look at my pants, but I didn't care, at this moment I was completely free. He was gone though, my baby brother, the apparent figment of my overactive imagination had just disappeared. I hadn't seen him since.
I was roused from my daydream by my Oncologist speaking to me in a slightly worried tone, the tone that scared me more than the old horror movies I used to watch with Gracie at the weekends.
I fixed my eyes on him as he spoke again, “Renata, are you feeling okay?” He asked; his cold voice worried yet still strong sounding.
I struggled for breath as I came up with my quick reply, “Fine.” My hoarse voice still sounded strange to my own ears even after almost a year. I turned onto my side to stare at the bright white walls of my hospital room, hoping he would take the hint and leave me alone again. The wall wasn't blank, there was a poster that depicted a thyroid though I had always thought that it resembled a pink butterfly, there was a butterfly trying to destroy my from the inside, it’s just fighting for survival.
Doctor Peterson just kept on speaking though; it was one of the main things that I hated about the man. He said he understood everything, but he understood the medical version, all the facts. My Onco had been studying Cancer for years but he still didn't understand what was going on in my head. The constant mental struggle that came with an illness, I could die during my next surgery or I could live for five more years’ cancer free only to have it come back again.
I have familial medullary thyroid cancer and I’m not really very optimistic about. My father had had the same disease before he died of it when I was almost two years old, no one had ever told me anything about my father. My mother had said nothing before she decided I wasn't wanted anymore and deposited me in the foster system. With no information on why she had decided that her daughter wasn't worth the effort, and no addresses or phone numbers. She hadn't even come to visit me since I entered the hospital. My horrible mother could be dead for all I know, that was another thing that scared me, I still loved her even if she hadn't loved me back.
Although hadn't particularly disliked the foster system, I hadn't liked the stereotype that surrounded being in care. That we were all going to end up in prison, if anything went wrong in her large friend group at school they would blame it on the care kid. But I had had seven other brothers and sisters who all loved me unconditionally, people come and go in the system and sometimes it’s really difficult to just let them leave, especially when everyone else has contact with their parents apart from you.
Unfortunately no one had bothered to tell me that I may have a hereditary disease; somewhere inside me was a mutated gene that I didn't know about. If I had known then it could have all probably been prevented early on, I should have been getting regular tests and monitored for signs of MTC. But how, at that ignorant time, should I have known that a sore throat is really cancer.
Sarah, my foster mother, had first noticed the swelling at the base of my throat, I had a sore throat and was struggling to breathe but with so many children all leeching for attention she didn't really think it could be all that serious. Looking into my family’s medical history was something that I had done myself and after showing her the long list of cases going back on my father’s side she had finally taken me to see a doctor. I didn't resent Sarah for this; I know that Gracie did but it wasn't her fault, looking after eight kids who aren't your own can be hard, especially when five of them are moody, hormonal teenagers.
When I was first diagnosed, I sunk into depression and I’m not sure I ever truly recovered from that. It was hard to get out of, I wasn't terminal but I was so scared of following in my father’s footsteps. I have a type of thyroid cancer where the prognosis is not quite as good as other types. My bedside was littered with cards, but I hated the get well soon cards because no one really knows if they will get well soon, or even ever again. I haven’t seen anyone from my foster home since I entered the large dreaded hospital doorway. They have tried to get in but I won’t let them visit me, nurses sometimes deliver cards to me. Not even my best friend Gracie has been let in to see me, I can’t let any of them see me like this. Stuck in a hospital bed day after day, waiting for an operation that might not even work.
You see, I had a biopsy that showed that the cancer had spread to my right lung and is growing quickly. I have to have an operation to have that removed but also a radical neck dissection to remove lymph nodes from where the cancer also spread to my neck. The lungs definitely take priority and that’s another thing that scares me, lungs are pretty essential.
Sometimes I wish that my brother was still with me, the brother who does exist and is not a figment of my imagination.