Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Tree of life
In early summer 2009 I was diagnosed with cancer. Growing up, I had thought that cancer had a face. It belonged to the old and the gray. I had never met a young person who had fallen severely ill. Foolish as it sounds, when I was really young, I believed ugly diseases such as cancer only overtook those who had lived a long life. I was devastated when my face became a reflection of cancer.
I started the summer off by having a mole removed. Why? Simply because it was big and ugly! A summer of working and hanging out with friends lay ahead. I cannot even pinpoint the exact location I was in when I heard, Hey Lisa, you have cancer. All I know for certain is that I got the news just before my birthday. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but what was once a simple mole removal sparked my battle against melanoma. That summer felt like a haze. I was angry. I couldn’t work. I felt sick all the time. I had to stay out of the sun like a creature of the night. Cancer. The gift of a lifetime.
Usually, I am optimistic. But for the first time, I braced for the worst. I think that is why I initially tried to hide my true feelings. I would not let cancer show its face. But my illness had other plans. On October 26th 2009, my world was again turned on its head: Hello lymph nodes, you have a new friend! Then, within days of my new diagnosis, my brother also unexpectedly welcomed a baby girl into the world. Allison Josie Lunney was a miracle baby. With no visible signs to indicate that her mother was carrying a child, no care was taken to keep her healthy. Born three months premature, Allison was extremely weak and sick. Her outlook was grim.
In the autumn, my mind usually tends to wander. Fall is when one prepares for winter. It is a season for endings: death of summertime greenery, the last harvest of the season, and the preparation for the shorter, darker days to come. I had made the bold decision to put my body through intense treatment, and hoped for the best possible outcome. It was then that my hair, one of my proudest features, began to fall out in chunks, and it felt like my life was falling apart, never to be reconnected. With the addition of Allison’s arrival, instead of happiness, I was consumed by a darker feeling. I feared that she was an omen—I believed her presence foreshadowed my demise. Despite her poor health, I felt that Allison would outlive me and live a full life in my absence. It wasn’t fair! I was supposed to be starting my life, and now it might end prematurely. I was left to watch the ashes of my dreams drift away.
As she began to get better, I resented Allison. She was getting another shot at life; why wasn’t I? But as both Allison and I hung in limbo, a shift occurred. Something took me off guard when I finally held the hand of that beautiful, little girl. I met eyes that mirrored my struggles. My dreams were starting to come back, and I was finally identifying with the future I wanted for myself. Witnessing a helpless baby struggle for life reminded me how precious life is. As long as you have strength to fight, hope is never lost. Allison, my little Allisaurous, was a warrior, battling for her life. It was time I did the same. I prayed for her recovery.
Allison’s health has finally improved. Growing each day, she is breathing proof that the impossible is possible. Her presence renewed my faith in God. Her smile brought clarity, direction, and meaning to my life. Allison demonstrates that if you have the strength to continue fighting, nothing can keep you down. Life is beautiful and precious. You never know how truly special it is until it comes close to being taken away.
Some days the girl staring at me from the mirror is a warrior; she has endured a troubled past, and she hopes for a positive future. Sometimes she is a portrait of a broken spirit. Sometimes, even she can’t figure out who she is. She is somewhere in a limbo between feeling alive and feeling dead. I came to realize that to truly measure a human being by their actions, you need to measure their life from the beginning to the end. I still have a chance to leave my mark on this world.
Out of despair, I have a new seed of hope—a seed planted by the laughter and joy of a tiny baby.
The best Bonsai trees are the ones that have been twisted, bent, and pushed to the limits of their very existence. A straight tree is not as beautiful as one that has gone through those trials. People are the same way. You don’t choose the stresses that you go through, but by doing so you have a grace and beauty that you would not have had otherwise.
LISA LUNNEY is a 24-year-old student in the Professional Writing and Communications Program at Grant Mac Ewan University in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada. She believes words have the power to change lives. She hopes to make the world a better place through sharing her passion for writing.
About the artist
JEFF JOLLY, PA, has worked in the medical field for the last 36 years. His 22 years working as a physician assistant in family practice gave him the opportunity to share every possible human emotion with his patients. Now having quit medicine to sculpt full time, he revisits all of those experiences and emotions as he works the clay with his fingers. His hope is that this work will reach out and touch your soul.