I remember that cold winter morning when my sister and I played in the courtyard that was in front of our house. Snowflakes fell from the white plain sky and formed white piles of silky smooth cotton on the red concrete ground. The whole courtyard was a white canvas with several random colored shapes in every corner; the air was still, everything was mute; all you could hear were the silent breathes of my sister and I. Mariam’s wavy black hair swayed delicately over her shoulders, her pale face welcomed an innocent smile and her dark almond shaped eyes lit up at the sight of me. I smiled, but it gradually faded when I witnessed her face turning more and more paler; her hands reached for her tummy, she crouched and started vomiting. Everything after that happened so fast; we got in an ambulance, waited in a cold plain hospital room for hours until we got the news: My sister was diagnosed with leukemia. From that point onwards, my life changed forever; I came to a conclusion that life is too short and sometimes unfair; however, we had to deal with what we had and sail right through it with no fear; that fear must be overcome with hope.
Mariam and I grew up in a classy household in Italy. Both of our parents were strict when it came to eating ‘blossoming’ Italian vegetables.
“Eat your vegetables so that you’d grow up healthy and beautiful!” my parents would say at the same time.
Mariam never really listened to my parents; she had a stubborn mind of an eighty year-old man who also did not want to eat his vegetables because he’s convinced that it might kill him. She would always say that the sight of vegetables and fruits would ‘repulse’ her. To me, this was very bizarre because our families are very big eaters and we eat literally every single thing. My parents and I thought that Mariam probably came from a different species because her eating habits were so different from ours.
“When I was 6 months pregnant with Mariam, I knew that I felt something inhumane was growing inside of me.” Mom would say jokingly; of course, Mariam would take it seriously and would leave her plate on the table and would either not eat at all or she would just give me her food because I was so fat at the time that I literally ate anything I found in front of me that was eatable.
Mariam’s eating habits were unhealthy, and I knew that, but it would have never occurred to me that it would cause her to get anemia and that would result her blood cells to new replicate and cause her to get leukemia.
When we went to the hospital, the color of Mariam’s face was so pale that it might have been suitable to be camouflaged against the hospital walls. We waited patiently until a doctor came in and asked to speak to my parents far away from Mariam and I. The doctor’s face was restrained of course, so I was not able to predict what we were expecting. Moments later, I noticed that my mom’s face went into deep shock: her eyes were wide open as if she has seen a ghost, her feet were glued to the floor and both of her hands covered her mouth as if she was restraining a scream. I had conflicted feelings; I did not know what we were expecting, but I knew that it was something bad. I looked at Mariam who was fast asleep on my lap. She looked so peaceful, so innocent and I knew what was coming for her wasn’t going to be good. It was going to cause her pain, a lot of pain.
A couple of months passed, a dozen of pounds gained and lots of hair were shed. Chemotherapy was the hardest stage in Mariam’s existence; every three days she had to take an inch thick needle that was a couple of inches long in her lower back. The needle contained a high dose of chemo; it would sting and quiver all over her body, giving a burning sensation throughout every single inch of her limbs. The sensation was, as Mariam told me before: “It’s indescribable; it feels as if ever limb in your body is getting burned by gasoline; you can’t stop the burn, you just have to wait until you completely burn to ashes, and you would have to miserably wait for your body to recover naturally.” It was true, because every single time Mariam would get that dose, all you could hear were her piercing screams that came out of the last room in the hospital’s cold corridor.
“Make it stop! Please make it stop! It burns, please!” she would scream at the top of her lungs. I never knew how to restrain myself to the sound of her voice. My parents and I would cry in agony while waiting for Mariam’s torture to finish in the waiting room. We wished that we could do something to heal her, shield her from all the pain she was going through and tell her that everything was going to be okay, and that God will heal her because of our non-stop prayers.
A couple of minutes later, Mariam’s scream fades and we hear the doors open; Mariam was crouched in the arms of a well-built male attendant that was taking care of her. Even though he was a very attractive attendant, I left my fantasies aside and I went back to reality. I looked at Mariam’s face, and I realized that she fell asleep from all the pain she’s gone through. Mom and dad went to help the attendant to carry Mariam back to her room.
Mom lived with Mariam for two years in the hospital; she would pray all the time, asking God to heal her and not take her away from us. Mariam wasn’t the only one in pain, but mom went through a lot of pain too; she witnessed her daughter getting tortured and she can’t do anything about it; she was helpless. During the course of these two years, mom never gave up on hope; nobody did. We had faith in God that He’ll heal her and that she will get better. In fact, because of all of our prayers, after those two painful years, Mariam’s hemoglobin started to rise, her hair started to grow, she was able to come back home and finally go back to school a couple of months later. Our prayers were answered.
Spring of 2008 came and Mariam and I went to play Frisbee in our colorful courtyard. Mariam’s cheeks were as red as the blossoming roses, and her long thick hair shined under the calm rays of the sun. She was running, laughing and her smile never left her face; she was finally healthy. She was overwhelmed with joy because she was finally back outdoors after a very long time. Two springs ago, I didn’t even notice that the sun existed, that there were changes in seasons. To me, everything was cold because I was feeling like I was losing someone special; but that did not make me give up on hope. I learned through experience that God works in mysterious ways, He tests our faith and how well we would deal with things in the worst kinds situations. Thankfully, we have passed His tests through that experience. Our fears were flourished with hope because we knew that God wanted to teach us something: life is too short. One day you have plans set out, and suddenly the day later, everything changes. However, behind the entire trauma, the cries and all the pain, something good will come out of it and no matter what happens, we have to have faith and hope to overcome any fear. This experience has impacted my family’s life, and without it, we would not be who we are today.