Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: A Young Man’s Hand-to-Hand Combat for Life

By Samuel Waters

I guess every human being experiences a moment in their life where they feel lost. A time when it feels like there’s no way of going back and that the only option is to move forward, except they can’t find the damn door. A cyclical state-of-being where you dutifully put one foot in front of the other, hoping to encounter an escape route, but find yourself coming back to the same place yet again. I continue to search for that door while sitting in my warm living room here in D.C., burrowed into a few pillows with my faithful poodle nuzzled into my thigh. Over the past 4 months or so, I have exhausted every resource of my being to try to create a way out. Maybe it’s because it’s in the 30s without a hint of sunshine and thick rain clouds keep rolling by the windows, but today feels inevitable. It feels like I am for the first time accepting that death might just be the only door left to me.

It’s always been there. Since I was first diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago, that black door has been in my peripheral vision. It was terrifying at first. I felt like I was always glancing over my shoulder, worried it might drag me in when I wasn’t looking. I hid behind statistics. I was young, the cancer had not spread, I had been diagnosed early, the operation had been done by the top surgeon for the job in the nation. “Just make it through the chemo and radiation and you’ll definitely be part of the 75 percent that survives this disease,” I would tell myself. I envisioned this wheel with a spinning arrow and would always be reassured that three-quarters of the time, the arrow would land on “cured.” But as time went on, I learned to live more in the moment without looking back. Even after relapsing countless times, I adapted and trained myself to keep believing that I was going to the beat the odds no matter what. As long as I kept opening doors. As long as I kept taking the steps, I could keep that dreaded black door in my periphery.

“I’m not weak. I won’t be beaten down. I won’t spend my days in tears. Depression is not an option.”

Subconsciously, I have repeated these words to myself for years. What I am now coming to realize is that depression isn’t always something that can be chosen. For someone like me, the scariest thing in the world is running out of choices. If you put a challenge in front of me, I will gladly accept it. But now it seems that my worst fear has come and I have no choice, and there is no “challenge” or battle laid before me.

Am I being asked to lie down and accept this disease? I used to shove that idea out of my head without a thought and sign whatever consent form a doctor put in front of me. Over five years I have chosen to be treated with 13 different kinds of chemo, received seven separate treatments of radiation and now I am contemplating whether or not to do an experimental immune system trial, which has no data to suggest that it will work for my disease. Do I sign the form again this time? In the desperate hope to find something that works and stay alive, do I put my body through more months of physical suffering?

And that brings up another question, does a longer life equal a happier life? I feel like I am in a coma right now and I am being asked whether or not I want to pull my own plug. Do I trust that good things must still lie ahead for me even if I can’t see them now? Or do I start to listen to the voice that I hear calling me through that black door? And is it actually black? I can’t tell anymore. Now that I look at it, maybe it’s more of a blue. That intense blue that you get in-between the sunset and the night sky for just an instant sometimes. I’ve always liked blue. Maybe what’s on the other side of that door isn’t so bad after all.

And now I’m back. Sitting in my living room. The room smells like dinner and my dog has abandoned me to survey the kitchen for whatever scraps he might be able to forage from my parents. The choice still lies before me but for the (rare) moment I feel content with not deciding anything for the time being. I think I’ll watch a RomCom with the parents tonight.


Samuel Waters is 22 years old and a member of GMHS Class of 2011. He has lived in Falls Church and the D.C. area his entire life. He is in his final year of undergraduate study at Rice University majoring in Vocal Performance at the Shepherd School of Music Opera Program. Currently, he is taking time off from school to live at home with his parents and receive medical care as he continues his long battle with cancer. He will contribute future columns to the FCNP reflecting on his battle.