Dear Mom and Dad,

When I first heard about this essay, I asked for ideas about what to write. You suggested that I write about my struggle with Brain Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation. Or how I reinvented the way I live my life, and how I have been living an adventure that I never would have thought possible before this experience. How tough I was. How happy I am. “Write about something uplifting,” you told me. It is true, my story is uplifting, but that is not what I have needed to tell you. That is what you have seen from the outside, and it is not what I have felt. It is not what I try to forget, but keeps reoccurring. The “uplifting story” is not what has been haunting me.

What you do not know is that when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I swore to myself that I would get through each day with a smile on my face because I did not want to burden you. Perhaps my story is a success because of this promise. But perhaps it is also why I feel so alone, like I am fighting a battle by myself, and why too often I find myself in tears, trying to comprehend all that I have gone through. So, Mom, Dad, this is what would like to tell you.

You know: I was diagnosed on December 4, 2009, and had surgery on December 23, 2009 after returning home from college for Winter Break. What you do not know is that I would spend my days looking at the clock mounted across the small room from my bed. Unable to read the exact time, I would picture my friends, beginning their first day of school, going to swim practice, working out, doing homework and studying for tests. It killed me inside to know that they were going about their usual lives while I was in a hospital room, wishing I was someone else. I felt as though the world kept spinning and I was getting left behind.

You know: I was in the hospital for a long time. What you do not know is how it feels to be in the hospital all day, watching the clock tick by, and waiting to get out of that place. I was frustrated beyond words by my inability to speak, to break the deafening silence. Things such as standing up, that had once taken no thought, now required my full attention.

You know: I had a very difficult time speaking after the operation. That often an affirmation or declination was all I could muster. But what you do not know is that my language of tears was derived from more than just pure frustration. It was a way to communicate.

You know: I have carried on with my life, pushing toward the future without looking back. But what you do not know is that I do not look back because it is too painful. I do not look at pictures of myself because I am jealous of the guy with the dread locks, who had no idea what was coming. I am jealous of the guy who could run, who could swim, who could be athletic, who could walk a straight line. When I look at pictures from before I had surgery, I want to go back but I cannot, so I choose to move forward.

You know: I went through this experience with a smile on my face. What you don’t know is how tiring it was to force that smile as a means of protection — protecting myself from falling apart, and protecting you from worrying.

You know: I played catch in the backyard recently. It was huge for me to accomplish something that I had been working on with steadfast hope and determination for over a year, and I rejoiced; I still rejoice. But what I did not tell you was that it was not cold hands that drove me inside, but the frustration caused by my inability to catch the ball. It felt like all of my accomplishments leaked out of the wound and disappeared. I had to tighten my jaw and tilt my head up as I finished in order to hold back my tears.

You know: people say I’m “courageous and brave.” What you do not know is that I disagree with these words. If I am courageous, then courage doesn’t exist. If I am brave, then the word bravery means to live with fear. The tumor I had was a childhood tumor meaning that the people who deal with similar situations are usually half my age.

You know, and what still remains true: if I were to live my life over again, I would keep everything the same. My time in the hospital gave me time to think about how I live my life. My inability to speak gave me insight to what I consider most important. My time away from school helped me learn who my true friends are. The pain is a reminder that I am alive ­- that I should plan for a long future but jump on every opportunity knowing that all of my time is a gift. My time recovering gave me a new mindset for conquering the impossible. Although I have not had fun, I am happy, and I am thankful.