Anna Sharudenko, pictured at right with her mother, wanted to record her journey to becoming a strong and wise teen. Photo courtesy of Anna Sharudenko
As I see the wax begin melting, I deeply inhale the scent. The Shabbat candles become misshapen and silently weep. Yet the flames — I see you there for an eternity. Your luminescent soul, it lights up my bleak heart. Mother, your presence in my soul will never fade.
I open my siddur, glance to the right and you are there. Chazzan begins to chant. The synagogue ceiling’s vividly painted patterns shine down on your face. You turn your head and quietly warn me, with an upset voice, to pay attention and start behaving appropriately. I focus on the prayer; however, a thought suddenly crosses my mind: What if I never hear your voice again?
As I type these lines at 1:24 a.m., due to my insomnia, I have flashbacks and memories flowing through my head. I remember sitting on the third floor of the chemotherapy transfusion center and staring at the people walking outside. I analyzed their style of walking or the clothes they wore. The small details of people’s body language were helping me forget about the nauseous cancer patient, my mother, who was lying on a bed next to me. I simply could not think about her situation.
Her dry lips whispered and she grabbed a pink tray and began vomiting. I ran out of the tiny room we were stuck in and called for a nurse. After the nurse came in, she injected another dose of a medication designed to prevent nausea, a side effect of chemotherapy.
I then left the room with cold hands trembling, locked myself in the restroom and stood in front of the mirror. I wanted to scream and let out all of the built-up torture, sadness, frustration, irritation and hopelessness which had collected in my naïve soul. But I didn’t. That moment made me stronger.
In my fight against cancer, I learned to be determined to succeed in all areas of my life. I learned not to be embarrassed and embrace who I am. I learned to cherish my loved ones sincerely. I learned how to overcome my shyness, my reluctance to speak English and self-consciousness over my Russian accent. I learned how to appreciate myself.
This summer I decided to pour my mind out in a Word document and reflect on my experience. In 10 years these memories will not be fresh, yet my essay will help me remember my life, my mother and who I was. I want to see myself becoming stronger and wiser. Expressing my feelings is a necessity or else I will eventually develop into an emotionless creature trapped in a cage of misery. Even though frustration still occurs in my soul, I must admit that my future seems brighter than it did previously because my mother will be there.
Two things about my past frustrate me the most. The first one is how didn’t I spot cancer in my mother. I assumed that she looked and acted exhausted because she was. Her face changed and became strange and unfamiliar since the cancer’s first occurrence in her body. I did not see it in her. I still consider the fact that I did not notice it very sad. I do not blame myself, yet I experience disgust at my stupidity.
The second and the final thing is that I matured too quickly. Throughout the course of my mother’s treatment, I acted as my mother’s advocate. I often had to translate in discussions with the doctors and also during procedures. I became very determined to find out exactly what had been communicated. I had to be insistent to get them to explain the medical terminology.
My mother’s illness caused me to be absent from my middle school classes often. I lost connections with my friends and developed social anxiety. I was not ready to talk about the horrible events happening in my life. Then a teacher intentionally mentioned my mother’s illness in the classroom. He did not mention any names or focus the students’ attention on me; however, we made eye contact. It felt as if my brain blocked out all of my surroundings and I was listening only to the teacher’s words. He inspired me to open up and be rid of the torturous burden that was taking away my social life.
After long weeks of speechlessness and hearing phrases, such as “Anna, are you okay?” I told many people of the struggles my family and I faced.
Surprisingly, most kids accepted me.
I felt I could breathe in oxygen again after being submerged deep under water.
Today I am a homeschooled, straight-A student. I chose this educational path in order to spend more time with my mother. She is receiving doses of two cancer-fighting medications. One of them, Letrozole, lowers her estrogen level and a side effect is pain in her joints and bones. My family and I are in close consultation with her doctor and she’s feeling better.
This summer I am taking classes to finish high school early; I want to start my law career. I plan to major in psychology, finish law school and pass the bar exam. In that journey for success, I am also hoping to find happiness. I am determined to make my mother proud.
I am extremely thankful to God for providing my family and me with the strength to battle this sickness.