Melinda Marchiano and I share a number of similarities. We are writers who come to understand the world and our own experiences through language. We are dancers who have unearthed a passion that we will pursue for the rest of our lives. We are aspiring pediatric oncologists, eager and excited to pursue medical careers. But unlike Melinda, I’ve only encountered cancer from “the outside of the needles and sickness” (Greer 52).
I met Marchiano by reading her memoir, Grace: A Child’s Intimate Journey through Cancer and Recovery. Marchiano writes her story in journal entries of sorts with interspersed snapshots of milestone memories and powerful quotes. She reflects deeply on her cancer experiences, sharing her thoughts on the diagnostic label of cancer, the paradoxical effects of chemotherapy, and the tensions of mind and body through illness. Her conversational and confessional writing reveals her sense of humor and personality.
Marchiano’s comprehensive memoir seems to capture the essence and nuances of her experience with childhood cancer. Rather than attempt to summarize these, here are just some of many excerpts that were particularly compelling to me:
“[Chemotherapy’s] a sort of ‘chemical feeling,’ like battery acid that races through your veins. I felt terrible, and as I write this now, recalling how sick I was, nausea and dizziness have returned to me. I only now noticed that, feeling so passionate about my writing, I am virtually reexperiencing it. Chemo may eventually leave your body, but it always stays with you” (50).
“I longed for the feeling of dancing, the feeling of freedom, the feeling of the studio air filling my lungs, and the feeling of my heart beating as one with the music. I decided I would work hard. I would do it…I would dance again. The fear of hard work did not exist within me. Becoming accustomed to pain, I now didn’t care one bit how badly anything hurt” (119).
“I noticed that, hey, maybe I did have a story. But if, indeed, I did, I didn’t really think that anyone would want to hear it” (140).
“When I wrote my speech, I questioned how much I should share. Pondering it for quite some time, I decided to lay it all on the line, to give it to them straight. Cancer does exist. My suffering was real, and I needed to acknowledge that” (224).
“Cancer kids need just as much help after treatment as during. We’re like giant walking wounds, with each touch stinging and painful. Only time can make the wound scab over and begin to heal. But during that vulnerable time, we need a Band-aid” (272).
Marchiano now advocates strongly for childhood cancer research. In sharing her story, she has found that “my cancer had a meaning– a purpose. It was doing what I thought it was not capable of doing — giving” (196).