Summer Transitions: A Journey of Family, Cancer, and Books

Sep. 21, 2017 / By

Above, a young man walks along Long Beach’s downtown shore. Photo by Desarae Gomez.

When you get back to school, almost expect the near mythical stories about summer vacation. I’ve heard it all, from visiting the Yosemite National Park to walking on the jungle floor of the Amazon. But what happened to me this summer totally changed my view on what summer can be.

The older members our family have a history of disease, so last year, it was shocking to us when the three words my family dreaded most were heard aloud: “Grandma has cancer.”

When my mom first told me this, I didn’t believe her because my grandma Bobbie walked every day, she read books, and ate healthy. The worst part was that the brain cancer didn’t just affect her body, but her mind as well. At the stage that they caught it, the doctors told us that they couldn’t do anything except to put her in a hospice.

The next couple of months were probably the hardest because it was up to my mom and I to take care of my grandma. The toughest part for me was watching her while my mom was at work.

When you love someone as much as I love my grandma, it’s hard to watch them slowly forget who you are and then leave you. It’s like they’re right in front of you and you can see them, but you can’t feel them. “Put a smile on your face,” my grandma said to me. “Live life happy.” Therefore, that’s what I’ve decided to do.

After grandma Bobbies’ funeral in 2016 my life took a 180 degree turn after I made an extremely personal choice to take all of the wise words she imprinted on me. Instead of living life being sad and angry at the world, I chose to love God and be happy, to treat everyone I know with honor and respect, no matter what.

All that happened over the past year led me to really “step up my game.” This summer, I started to read books, workout more, and then talk to people about what I have learned. I met tons of new people, many who became good friends that I talk to everyday. Reading became a great stress reliever because it captured my mind and made me forget about all the other problems in my life. After reading in the mornings, I would usually go to the gym, which became a sort of sanctuary for me. I made lots of friends whenever I found the time and, now going into this school year, I feel confident and ready to take on whatever issues come my way.

Having a little sister join me in high school has been an eye-opening journey in itself. Although it is a new experience at a familiar place, having my sister around during school has really enhanced my perception about education. She had me try new things that I wouldn’t have done: join a film club and sing ensemble in the school musical. Not to mention the things we talk about on the rides to and from school: it’s all straight comedy. New teachers and new friends have also been a breath of fresh air in the continuous cycle of living life. So that’s what happened in my summer. How about yours?

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Wallace Burney

Wallace Burney is a 16-year-old student attending St. Anthony High School and joined the VoiceWaves program this Fall.