Maggie Prutznal (The Search for Hope)
The Search for Hope
“I really didn’t want to tell you this…I don’t know how to tell you this, but your mother has cancer.” I will never forget those chilling words pouring out of my grandma’s mouth on that bleak November day. I will never forget those words that changed the way I look at life and at love. I will never forget those words that changed me, Maggie Prutznal, forever.
November 12, 2014 was an unusually warm day for November, but the clouds were still grey, and the air bitter. It was two days after my sixteenth birthday, and even though you would think a teenage girl would be gleaming, my life felt dull. I was extremely depressed, but the hardest part for me was the fact that I didn’t fully know why. I just knew things weren’t right. My home didn’t feel warm or loving anymore; it felt like a place where everyone was distant. I felt as if I was living amongst secrets. In the evenings, I could hear my mom crying with her door shut, and I remember my dad avoiding the subject and brushing it off. But I simply couldn’t get all the consuming, negative thoughts out of my head. Before I knew the truth, I leaned over to my best friend during geometry class one day and told her, “I think my mom is dying. I just know she has cancer, Donna.” She replied, “I think you are just overreacting.” Unfortunately, what I told her was not completely wrong.
The day of November 12th, I walked out of my high school, still unable to shake the sadness I was feeling. Then, I saw my grandma waiting to pick me up in her van. That sight sent chills up my spine. Why? My dad picked me up every day, religiously, in his green truck, unless he had somewhere else to go or was working late. This time, I had a feeling that wasn’t the case. I got into the van slowly, reluctantly, and looked at my grandma’s face. She looked drained, sad, and lifeless; she didn’t look like her usual pleasant self. Again, everything was different. In that moment, however, everything came together, while my world was falling apart. I found out my mother had cancer, she had just gone through surgery, and my immediate family was waiting for us at the hospital. All I was hoping for was a normal day—to go home, have a snack, and do my homework. Instead, what I got was a day that I will always remember.
On the drive to the hospital, I was silent. A car ride that takes five minutes felt like an eternity. I sat there in the front seat, holding back my tears and my true thoughts, as I gazed out at the melancholy skies. My head was spinning, and it was a moment in my life where I had no hope left in me. I was thinking, “How am I going to live without my mother? She will never get to see me graduate, go to college, or get married. My life is going to be terrible from this point on.” Finally, though, we made it to the hospital where I thought I was going to have to say my final goodbye. The automatic doors opened at the front entrance of the Punxsutawney Area Hospital. Immediately the “smell” hit me, and I saw my dad standing there. I ran to him and burst into tears. I couldn’t hold them in any longer. The only thing I could hold onto was my daddy as we sobbed together. I never wanted to let him go because I thought that he was going to be all I had left. In an attempt to reassure me, my dad told me that my mom had breast cancer and that they caught it early, but I just couldn’t listen. I felt nothing. Hopelessness was getting in the way. None of the outside world mattered then; I blocked out the sounds of the nurses’ sneakers squeaking, the buzzing of the elevator, and the white noise of the waiting room T.V. The only thing that I cared about was not letting my dad leave me like I thought my mom was going to do. I felt so much shame in my tears that I couldn’t look him in the face. I wanted to be strong, hopeful, and independent, but my entire being felt weak. I thought that I was experiencing the end of life as I knew it.
After much convincing, I eventually stopped crying and sat down on one of the hard, uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room. Everyone was trying to comfort me, but I didn’t want to hear it. For some reason, I was now the one feeling cold and distant. I put on an act, like I always do, but no one’s words were going to change my hopeless attitude…so I thought. A nurse came down the hall and sat down with me and my family. I don’t know why I felt like this woman was an angel because she had scrubs on, but I realized I had to listen this time, and I am glad I did. Her words were the only words that got through to me. She told us that my mom was recovering, and she did so well in surgery. I instantly sat up in my seat to listen more intently because I was so happy to finally have some explanation. I remember my dad telling me earlier that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, they detected it early, and she was going to be fine, but that nurse was the one who provided me with the reassurance I was craving. She looked at me and said with a smile, “Your mom was in the recovery room telling us all about her wonderful family. She was telling us about you and your brothers, and how proud she is of all of you. And, we tried to give your mom painkillers, but she refused. She is a strong woman.” Those words were the only thing that made me smile that day. I felt like that was my mom: strong, and always talking about her kids.
At first, I was very nervous to see my mother after her surgery. My head was pounding from the events of that day, and I thought I would be looking at a stranger going into that room at the end of the hallway. I don’t know why I felt that way; maybe it was because my mom felt like a stranger to me in the months leading up to her surgery. Either way, it was something I had to do. She is my mother. My heart was beating out of my chest as I walked down the hall, avoiding eye contact with everyone I passed. When I reached her room, I took a deep breath and peered in. There she was, alive, with a smile on her face. The look she gave me spoke a thousand words; she looked genuinely joyful and happy, and I knew this was real. I didn’t touch her because I remember thinking she must be so fragile. She told me, “I am doing fine…just a little sore. I had the breast removed where the cancer was, and even though it wasn’t necessary, I wanted to make sure it was all gone.” Everything sounded very convincing, and my hope for her and her future was back to the way it used to be; I felt hopeful once again.
The next day, my mom came home from the hospital, and she looked like the woman I always knew. The day of her surgery, her appearance was obviously pale and tired, but she seemed radiant the following day. I laughed because she had a full face of makeup on when she was discharged. I was so happy to see her with my dad, picking me up at school. I could spot her signature red lipstick from a mile away. I remember thinking, “I got my mom back.”
The weeks following my mom’s surgery, and the weeks before, were some of the hardest of my life. However, I noticed such a dramatic change in myself. I went from feeling hopeless to hopeful practically overnight. Everything was still unresolved; we had to wait for the results to make sure the cancer didn’t spread, hope the healing went well with no complications, etc. But, seeing my mom’s strength gave me all the hope I needed to make it through the rest of that trying time. Her strength continues to inspire me to this day, as I wake up and feel hopeful when I roll out of bed each morning; I believe I can make it through anything, and look forward to a brighter future. Of course, life is constantly unsure. Every day we are faced with new uncertainties, with new challenges, and with new obstacles to overcome. However, the way we approach it makes all the difference. I no longer look at every sad situation with lost hope, but I take on a new perspective. I developed an “everything happens for a reason” attitude that allows me to live a more positive life. Hope is a character strength that is essential to life because hope enables you to feel more fulfilled, and it can be that shining light that, gradually, guides you out of the darkness.