She Taught Me to Smile Anyway

CANCER.

So… did I get your attention? Or were you by chance searching for posts tagged with the word? Either way, you’re welcome to read this post, or not if you don’t feel comfortable. But this won’t be about me or someone I know surviving cancer, or an inspirational story related to it. This story won’t have a happy or sad ending, because I don’t even know if it’s ended yet.

There’s this girl I kind of know who has cancer. “Kind of know”? Yeah. The thing is, we live in the same city, and last year (or was it two years ago?) we frequent the same mall, and at the same spot; the bookstore.

How do I know she has cancer? Aside the bald head protected under a crochet cap, she has that sick look. Do you know it? That look when you can just tell.

So, back to this girl. I’ve seen her a couple of times, usually with her parents. Sometimes she’s alone too.  But it’s almost always at the bookstore. And in percentage, she mostly look at the same books I do. But I’m not going to talk about that.

It’s the stares she gets.

I know, I know. I’ve done it too. But after the first three or four times I see her, I could just notice her, go “Oh! It’s her.” and go back to whatever it is I’m doing. One time, I decided to look at the other people. The ones who were staring. Like I did.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to rant about how inconsiderate people are, staring at strangers. I do it a lot. We all do, don’t we? It may be a pastime while waiting for a friend in the toilet, a hobby, or there’s someone who piques your interest; like this girl. I’ve personally never met anyone with cancer, and I’m thankful for it.

These people had different kinds of stares. Some were just curious like I was, a few had crunched eyebrows, maybe they feel uncomfortable seeing her. Others (most, actually) had a sympathetic look towards her. I saw this and shook my head. Personally, unless I’m presenting something or doing a speech, I don’t like it when I get that kind of attention.

That made me realise something; the disease itself isn’t always so bad as how people react to it. In a smaller magnitude, I know the feeling. When I was a kid, whenever I coughed my mom would make a big deal out of it. It’s annoying. I can’t imagine the kind of things she goes through on a daily basis. Sure, it’s a sign of sympathy and love, but it makes life and living that much more uncomfortable when you’ve been stripped away of your health already.

But you know what? One time—I forgot if I was staring at her or not—our eyes met by accident. We both blinked. I stifled a smile, trying to look sorry or at least to make the moment less awkward. She giggled and slightly nodded at me.

And she smiled. At me. Staring at her.

i feel ashamed. At the time, I vaguely remember being in a bit of a pickle myself, though I don’r recall what it was, so it must’ve been solved, muhaha! Still, every now and again I think back to that moment. If I were her, I’d probably sneer at people who look at me, or avert my gaze. But she managed to smile in the face of people who doubt her odds of surviving.

Honestly, I want to stare at her. She’s the kind of beautiful I like. You should see her face light up like a kid when she picks up a potential book she might buy. I like that kind of look on people. It’s like their eyes sparkle and they have this happy glow or something—I can’t describe it, but if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. And as cliché as it sounds, she’s so full of life.

I don’t see her anymore these days. I don’t know whether we just don’t cross paths anymore, or she’s moved away, or too weak to go out these days, or the worst case scenario, already gone. I really hope she’s doing fine. Whenever I see a crochet cap, I think of her, though in instant flashes. She taught me without saying anything that whatever the world throws at you, you just gotta smile anyway.

And it’s okay to be sad. In fact, wallow in your sadness every once in a while—it’s good for you. Just make sure you throw all the sad feelings away in time to enjoy what little—or the lot—that you can.

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