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To My Chronically Ill Sister Who Didn't Graduate With Honors

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My dear sister, I can’t believe your high school days have finally come to an end. I’m sure you’re relieved, as I was when I graduated last year.

But I know there’s something eating at you. I could see it on your face this morning as I watched you from the bleachers of our high school gym. You were on the floor with 50 of your peers for an honors ceremony, and while you were commended for your community service and given a scholarship, when it came time to announce the honor graduates, your face went completely blank.

Your emotionless expression fooled everyone else, but you can’t fool me. Underneath your cool exterior, your heart was broken. You worked really hard. You deserved all the praise in the world. But at the end of the day — this day — there was no honor cord to hang around your neck.

Weeks earlier, you came home in tears and you told me the news. And while you laid on your bed sobbing, you said to me, “Sis, it isn’t fair! I worked harder than all of them. They don’t know. They don’t understand.”

And you’re absolutely right. Nobody knows. You look like a perfectly healthy, absolutely beautiful 18-year-old girl. You look fine.

No one can see the scars on your toes, on your calves, or on your back. No one can see that all the vertebrae in your lumbar and sacral spine are herniated (your surgeon said that your bones looked like you were 80 years old). No one knows that an implanted device is attached to your spinal cord that blocks pain signals from going to your brain, and that your iPod isn’t actually an iPod, but a stimulator control. No one knows you own a wheelchair and a walker, or that the days you can walk at all are numbered. Your connective tissue is too loose, too stretchy, and as a result, your body is crumbling.

As far as chronic illness goes, you wear your shield better than many. Spoonies wish they could tackle life as gracefully as you do.

But I need you to know something, and it’s important.

No one knows about your pain, but I don’t think anyone in that room had to do nearly as much as you did in order to stay alive. During your time in high school, you’ve had numerous surgeries, countless hospital visits, hundreds of hours of physical therapy, and more medications than I can recall, and you still stayed in school. Quitting was never an option for you. You have endured so much, and now you’re at the end of the road.

Adversity is a better teacher than prosperity could ever be, and although you’ve spent the same amount of time within these four walls as your peers have, you have gained an education they cannot even begin to fathom.

So no, you didn’t graduate with honors, but if you ask me, you have earned the highest of honors. If effort was factored into your GPA, you would be the valedictorian. I am so proud of you, because I believe many others in your position would have given up long ago. I love you more than could ever be quantified, and my honor on this day is being able to call myself your sister. Congratulations, and happy graduation!

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 14, 2016
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