Pediatric CancerDepression & Cancer

Twists and Turns Down Memory Lane

Cain Schmitz was diagnosed with leukemia when he was young; in this article he tries to recall painful details from that time, which adds to his anxiety and PTSD. This heartfelt article chronicles the emotional landscape of persevering through cancer.
April 2022 Vol 8 No 2
Cain Schmitz
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I can remember the night I was diagnosed. Well, not exactly. I remember the color of the hospital room walls. I remember how I laid in the bed, where the doctor stood, and where my parents sat, and I remember that at least one of them was crying, although I can’t remember which one.

I was young when I was diagnosed with cancer. I think the diagnosis was acute lymphocytic leukemia, often abbreviated as ALL, although I cannot be certain.

I asked my mother why I can’t remember more. She said the doctors used medicine to make me forget. I think it was valium.


But I remember details. I remember the hospital room where they stuck needles into my small bones. I remember the play area, and I remember the art room. I remember the old woman who helped me paint. I remember where I got my blood drawn. I remember riding my tricycle around the hospital.

I don’t remember what happened, but I remember the pain. I have a scar on my chest, where they would always stick needles into me. It hurt, it hurt, and even today when I speak of the room with the needles in my bones, it hurts.

Pain Blurring the Past

Memories of pain wreck my body, from my arms to my back to my chest. I remember it. At least my body does.

I remember a woman. When I was talking to my mother about a name that lingers on my lips, a name that still exists in my mind but without a face, she said, “We knew someone by that name.”

And it all came rushing back to me. Mina—beautiful Mina with the brain tumor. I remember her house. I remember her food. I remember her children.

She didn’t make it.

I remember the taste of a medicine I received. Disgusting. I always spit it out. Until one day my mother told me, “You’ll die if you don’t swallow this.” I don’t remember that day, but apparently it stuck with me, because I took every drop of my medicine after that, and I didn’t die.

I know I was sick, but I don’t remember feeling sick. I know there were emergency trips to the hospital a few times a month. I know I spent my nights vomiting. I know there were times I was taking so many drugs that I couldn’t tell you where I was. I don’t remember this.

I miss Mina. Even when I was little, I remember thinking, “I hope you live.” She didn’t. But I did.

So many children were lost. Like the final plague, they were swiped away in the night. I am the oldest son in my family. I should have been taken more than the other children. I wasn’t. I was spared. Why? For what purpose? Lamb’s blood on the door. Dumb luck. Or God’s decision. Or medicine doing its job. I don’t know.

Shadows of Guilt

I’m suicidal now, isn’t that ironic? All that fighting to live those many years ago, and now I fight to die. My mother thinks there’s a direct correlation. She thinks, and so do my therapists, the PTSD is affecting me now. Trading one sickness for another. But I don’t know. I really don’t know.

I was never happy to be alive, not even when I was young. I remember being not sad, but not happy either. Not relieved to have survived cancer. Not proud. I think at first there was numbness. Then, guilt. So much terrible guilt. I shouldn’t have survived. Why did I have to survive? For my mother’s sake, perhaps. I can survive on that thought. I have lived for my mother, and for my father, and my brother.

But why didn’t Mina get to live for her husband and her children? Those poor children. We ate on paper plates in their basement. Their railings were made of beautiful, dark, polished wood. Details. I remember these details.

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Last modified: April 19, 2022

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