By Sumer Schindler
Its funny how one views their life. Always pushing things off “until later,” after all, I’ve got all the time in the world. There’s this beautiful, mesmerizing thing we call the future. Its where all our hopes and expectations lie. Its where our dreams are reality because, well, who doesn’t like to believe things will eventually work out perfectly, just as one thinks it should. The future is indeed a marvelous thing. But I’m here to tell you its all a scam. Once upon a time, I thought of the future as all that—perfect, shiny, a wonderful dreamland. Then I was told I only had a few months left to live. And my future? It came crashing down, at least the future I thought I knew. Don’t worry, this is a good story, happy even. But it is raw and exposes the future’s true face as beautifully broken and a merciless reality.
I was seventeen. The perfect age in my opinion. Think about it, ones got the freedom and ability to drive a car but still young enough to not have to start stressing about college quite yet. It’d be junior year, upperclassman but no senioritis. Life was perfect, though I didn’t see it at the time.
It was early October at the first sign of symptoms, but by then it was already too late. I was at my high school’s football game. We were playing our rival team, there were twenty seconds left in the second half with the score tied 21—21, they had the ball, and the stands were going crazy. The coach called a time out, the bleachers were shaking, actually shaking with anticipation. I was sitting with my friends, chattering away, soaking up the atmosphere of being at a football game. The players were back on the field, our rivals were hiking the ball— fifteen seconds—the ball was lobed across the field by one of the best quaterbacks in the conference—ten seconds—an interception! We had the ball! Five seconds—Reed Johnson, one of the fastest on our team (and also the most dreamy), was sprinting down the field —three seconds—he was almost across the endzone—one second—then it all went black.
I was cold, so cold. I couldn’t remember what happened. I was completely disoriented. The cold metal bleachers pressed against my back, cold seeping through my clothes to remind my skin what ice feels like. And it was loud, so loud. People were yelling. Why were they yelling? Slowly my senses came back to me. My vision focused, bright lights in my eyes, concerned faces looking down at me. My best friend—what was her name? Sadie? I think that’s right—was by my side, she was yelling something to someone out of my line of sight. I was out for probably less than a minute. I missed the touchdown that brought our team to victory. Hardly anyone noticed the girl who passed out. They were all jumping around cheering like a bunch of cavemen the first time they made fire. But Sadie noticed, and she was screaming on the top of her lungs for help. My trip to the hospital was blotchy. I remember being carried off the bleachers, off the football field, into an ambulance. I remember some guy telling me to stay awake as I drifted in and out of consciousness. Lights flying past, and a strong smell—chemicals, like in a hospital. But the thing I remember most was thinking this is such a funny dream.
When I woke up, my life was different. The air I breathed was different; the atmosphere of the room, everything was different. Or maybe I just knew my life would never be the same. Little did I know this would be a good thing. I was so wrapped up in my own loss—in my own fear—I couldn’t see past my limited high school present state of mind. It was so lonely. My friends didn’t understand, and how could they? They would get to grow up, fall in love, get married, have kids, work real jobs, and grow old. Only days before, I could only think of how awful it is to get old, and suddenly I couldn’t wish for it more.
I was diagnosed with Glioblastoma or to put it more simply, a cancerous brain tumor. The average survival rate of people with Glioblastoma is ten to twelve months. The symptoms include nausea or vomiting, abnormality walking or weakness on one side of the body, inability to speak or mental confusion, visual impairment, and also headaches, personality changes, seizures, and sleepiness. But these are only the common symptoms, there are countless others to be experienced depending on the specific case. I might not live to see my next birthday, but with these symptoms I might not even want to. Not to mention the symptoms would only increase as the tumor grew. My future had an expiration date. But hey, at least I knew my future would betray me so I could brace myself for death, right?
In all the movies, when the protagonist is diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live, they choose one of two things. They choose to either give up and succumb to depression, or the more popular choice, to fight for their life and to live for every moment they have left. Well, I believe there is a third choice. I was going to change the world. Everyone wants to make a difference in this world, at least most claim so, but what stops them? They get so wrapped up in their own lives to truly make a difference in anyone else’s. I wanted everything but to be caught up in my own dying life. I determined that I would not let the cancer control me. I would go to treatments, I would do everything they told me too, but mentally, it would be as though my brain tumor didn’t exist. Was this stupid? Probably. But this was the best way for me to cope. I choose to look at it as I am going to change this world for the better before I’m ripped out of it. My only solace was the bigger picture.
I kept going to school. I kept going to sport games. I kept up on every normal activity I had the energy to do. Only, I had some new habits as well. First off, I spent lots of time in the hospital. Keeping up on treatments meant weekly, sometimes daily visits. Within a month I knew the entire staff in the cancer wing of the hospital personally. On top of that, I began to go to church. (When you’re dying, you think more about life after death.) And honestly, everything began to make so mush more sense. I always thought of Christians as a snooty, stuck up group who snubbed their noses at sinners like homosexuals and pro-abortionists. But they are nothing like that, and I found myself diving in and soaking up everything they had to say. I can’t say that my parents were as on board with the idea as I was, but they weren’t the ones with their lives on the line quite yet. I won’t go into details but I became a believer. It was the biggest change of my life. It was bigger than the Glioblastoma—bigger than me—bigger than this world. And just like that, I suddenly had a purpose. My doomed future, my death sentence was simply that and not the end. I wasn’t scared anymore.
My perspective changed so my actions did too. I started sitting with the more unfortunate kids at lunch. (I had terrible headaches.) I spoke up in classes. (I couldn’t keep food down.) I stopped swearing. (I had my first seizure.) And I tried my best in everything I did (even though I couldn’t do much). Sure I had cancer, but my life was the best it had ever been. The funny thing is I actually lost friends, but gained others. My popularity as a girl dropped, but as a leader it grew. I became the smartest in my class, and my street cred was that of an encourager. My classmates actually forgot I had cancer—the only reminder being my appearance (no hair), and my occasional absence from classes. They believed in me and looked up to me. As a new Christian, this was the perfect opportunity to be a witness of love and hope and praise God for life. I also started keeping a journal, you know, just something to remember me by. And I found out, that I’m actually a pretty decent writer (at least I’d like to think so).
So I had the small things down. But still, how was I going to change the world for better? How was my story going to matter in the grand scheme of it all? This of all thoughts was the hardest to overcome. Time was ticking, ticking, ticking. My time was coming. But my spirit was growing. My body was losing, but thank God my mind didn’t leave me like it did others with the same illness. I began working on fundraising money for different charities which was actually pretty easy. After all, who isn’t willing to give a cancer patient money for a homeless shelter, or money to send food and clothes over to needy children in Africa? My story was shared with everyone I came into contact with, not purposefully, but when people see a bald girl raising money for things other than cancer treatments—they tend to ask questions. Quickly, I was contacted by newspapers, local news channels, and even a magazine, all wanting to know my story and why I spend my last days on this earth living for other people. I simply told them because I want to change the world and I have less time than most. I also used the chance to share my testimony with them and give God the glory for the life I have. At one point, a movie director contacted my parents, asking them if they could make a movie about the story of my life. I thought that was pretty cool, but it was bittersweet since I wouldn’t be around by the time the movie was released.
Nine months. A year ago cancer was the furthest thing from my brain. And yet, nine months I lived with Glioblastoma. Nine months my life was turned upside down, inside out, and shaken for all its worth. Nine months of treatments, hospital food, and a bald head. Nine months of torturous headaches, dizzy spells, and ceaseless vomiting. Nine months of living a way I never thought I’d have to ever live. But nine months of a love so great, and so powerful it far outweighed everything else. Those nine months were the best thing that happened to me. Those nine months, my cancerized future, filled the whole inside me I never even knew was there to begin with, and I couldn’t ask for a better future.
P.S. If you are reading this—yes, I am gone. I can’t stay any longer, my future won’t allow it. Everyone has a time where their clock runs out. Some have more time, some way less, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is what you choose to do with the time you were given. So please, use it wisely. The end of your future may be closer than you think.