I still remember the day my boyfriend told me he was Superman.
I was lying on the floor of my high school bedroom, my phone clutched in my hand. We were talking about his upcoming varsity soccer game; the opposing team played rough, and he played goalie. I asked him if he was worried about getting injured, and he laughed. “I’m indestructible,” he said. He didn’t sound like he was joking.
“Indestructible? But what if you broke something?”
I plunged further. “And what if you got sick? Like, really sick?”
“I could fight it off. I’m strong, I’m healthy. No disease is going to get me!”
For a moment, I couldn’t speak. He definitely wasn’t joking, I could tell. He really believed that, at seventeen, he was Superman. And he believed it despite the fact that his girlfriend had been living with cancer for the past three years. Did he think I was somehow weaker than he? Did he think my body just wasn’t strong enough to fight off disease? If he was Superman, and I had a debilitating illness, then what was I?
It was that moment that I realized why I was different, not just from my boyfriend, but from all my peers. It wasn’t just that I missed school for treatments, that I was an expert at blood draws, that a vital part of my body had been removed. I was different because other seventeen-year-olds thought, in the ignorance of youth, that they would live forever. And I knew they were wrong.
For a long time, all I had wanted was to be normal again; to fit in with my friends who had no bigger worries than passing a test or finding a dress for Homecoming. But once I realized this vital difference between me and them, I no longer wanted it quite so much. I understood something they didn’t, and their ignorance, though blissful, would not be as helpful to them as my knowledge.
I learned at a young age that life was short. I knew there was no sense in wasting time, and it was important to figure out how I could live my best, happiest, most fulfilling life. I understood that I needed to love with my whole heart, focus on my passions, get rid of poisonous people and unnecessary things, not in the future, but right now. As a result, I think I got more of a head start on my adult life than my peers did. Maybe I never got the chance to feel indestructible. Maybe it would have been fun, for a short while, to be the Supergirl to my Superman. But the perspective I got from my cancer experience became its own superpower.
I’ll take that superpower over invincibility any day.
Did you feel indestructible in your youth? Has that changed with your cancer diagnosis or illness?