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To the Only Person Who Believed Me When I Said I Was Sick

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Weddings — they’re beautiful to witness. How would I describe a wedding? A wonderful new beginning. The joining together of two paths. Two lives and situations becoming one. This past weekend, I got to go to a wedding. Not just any wedding. The wedding of someone important to me, the wedding of my second grade teacher, Amy, or, as I used to know her, Mrs. Read.

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The wedding was on a whole new level of beauty. Amy looked absolutely stunning. She was wearing a blue dress with her hair pulled back and a diamond headband. As she walked down the aisle, I was the happiest person on the planet.

When I first got sick, nobody believed I was in pain. My leg felt like it was on fire, and I couldn’t eat anything. The doctors offered no help; all they did was tell me I was faking. There was only one person who believed me, and that was Amy. She pulled me aside one day and said, “Karen, is this real?” I looked at her and told her about the pain I felt. I was 8 years old, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the mental capacity to understand what the doctors had been saying, and even if I had, I couldn’t have done anything about it. I was as lost as a sailor with no place to sail.

I remember thinking that Mrs. Read was my angel. I could trust her more than anyone else in the world. I knew I could trust her to show me the way. And she did. She was my advocate, my mentor, my shoulder to cry on. She was all I needed, and all I will ever need to get through pain. As time went on, she helped me find the right doctors, and before I knew it I was moving from Texas to Boston for treatment.

The day before I moved, Mrs. Read and I went to get our nails done together. We got these special towel treatments on our legs that felt so good on my hurting limbs. Then we went out to a craft store and bought these little charms to remind us of each other. We’d never really be apart, and they’d also always bring us luck. I still have mine.

Even after I moved, Mrs. Read never left my side, and like an angel, she was always there for me when I needed her. All I had to do was think of something she said, think of how she helped others believe in me, and I knew I’d be OK. The second time I got sick, she once again was there for my family and me. I couldn’t stop fainting and having seizures. Mrs. Read got on a plane and flew out to help my mom take me to some doctors. I was scared. If this didn’t work, I had no idea how I was going to pull myself together. I had no idea how to make myself better.

I remember the words that came out of the doctor’s mouth. How he told me it wasn’t real and how I yelled at him in an attempt to stand up for myself. I remember how my heart sank and how I felt like I’d been crushed. I remember how I cried. I remember all the tears that came flowing down my face. And I remember Mrs. Read…

She hugged me and said what I’d never expected anyone to say: “Karen, never in my life have I been more proud of you than when you put that doctor in his place.” Once again, she’d given me the gift no one else had been able to give me: hope. The gift of showing me the light, the gift of love, the gift of remembrance that I would never be alone.

After all these years, I found myself at Mrs. Read’s wedding. After all the times she helped lead me to happiness, she’d found her own. And therefore, not only was this a wedding, it was something that meant the world and more to me.

One thing I should earn an Olympic medal in is complaining. All I ever do is complain. And sometimes, I can easily lose sight of what’s truly important in life. Sometimes, I will get so overwhelmed in what’s going on with my health that I lose sight of what really matters to me.

And so, I found myself three days before I was going to have a major brain surgery at Mrs. Read’s wedding. Suddenly all of the negativity I had bottled up inside of me melted away like an ice pop in the summer. It was a beautiful, perfect wedding.

When it was over and everyone began to leave, she hugged me and said what she always says, the perfect thing. She wrapped her arms around me and said, “You’re going to get through this surgery like you always do, with that spunky attitude, and along the way, you’re going to touch and reach everyone that you come in contact with because that is what you do wherever you go. Even those little f*ck yous you throw around — they reach people. And you’re going to change so many people’s lives.”

As she spoke, something inside me switched on, tears filled my eyes and my legs felt like Jell-O. As I fell apart, I was given strength, and I thought, “I’m going to get through this surgery better than any other surgery.” Of course, I was still scared. I was three days away from a doctor cutting into my brain, but I was given the greatest gift a person can be given, I was given a breath of fresh air.


I got on my plane a whole new person, and I cried like a baby the entire ride. Some kind of wall inside of me broke, and I cried a river of expired tears. Sometimes, when you’re sick and you’re just taught to be strong, you begin to forget. You forget that you’re a real person who feels everything that every other human feels. You forget that you can cry. You forget that you’re alive. You forget there’s sadness. You forget there’s anger. You forget that you can let go and you’re allowed to feel. You forget your humanity. These are always things Mrs. Read reminds me of.

As a child, I always thought an angel would be like a fairytale creature, a sort of ghost. I was wrong. I think we each have our own angels. I think we each have that one person who can always turn our worlds upside down. For me, that person is Mrs. Read. I always see her at the right time in my life, and she always pulls me together and sends me off. And this makes me wonder if we each have that potential to reach people. If we’d each open our hearts and be the best person we can be, can anyone be someone’s angel? Do we all contain the potential to help someone find their happy ending?

Originally published: March 27, 2015
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