I’m a little girl, about 6. It’s a brisk autumn day, and I’m dressed in my favorite orange sweater, the one with the mismatching pockets that reminds me of Halloween. I look to the woman beside me, and I slip my hand into hers, noticing the difference in size. My mother’s hand envelops mine in a tight embrace, and I feel a sense of security and happiness that I don’t feel anywhere else. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves in front of me, and I giggle as she pretends to chase one, stopping only after it has flown so high we can no longer see it. We continue on our walk, and she points out different animals, scurrying along, preparing for a long, hard winter. She tells me about the different trees surrounding us, and she explains how each one starts out as a tiny little seed. Of course, I don’t believe her. How can something that enormous, so much bigger than even she is, come from something smaller than a penny?

Fast-forward a few years, and I’m now in middle school. I have since learned that trees do in fact grow from seeds, and I have come to terms with the reality that something so big can start out so small. But I just can’t grasp the idea that the unknown entity that has been causing my mother so much agony is even smaller. It’s a minute group of cells, which by some cruel trick of fate, have aggregated within her. How can something as small as this cluster of cells within her head be the sole cause of all of her symptoms? The vertigo, the headaches, the backaches, all because of the tumor.

And her hand, the hand that guided me through my childhood, into my curiosity-driven adolescence, the hand that used to be strong enough to do anything, is now weaker than I could imagine. It is my hand, now, that enshrouds hers. My hand, that softly squeezes hers, hoping to transfer some of my vitality to her.

I learn that I can no longer rely on her for everything. I learn that because of those few cells, the infinitesimally small intruders, my life is now driven by an animalistic need to survive. The need is hers as well as mine. I need her to survive, but in order for her to do so, I must become like those animals from my memory from oh-so-long ago. I must prepare for a long, hard winter. My winter is only symbolic, of course. In reality, it is her recovery, her struggles. And through that winter, I must be there for her; I must support myself so that she no longer needs to.

My transformation is not subtle; it is not smooth. I learn, and I learn fast. I discover the value of autonomy. I realize not to ask others ‘will you help me?’ but to ask ‘how can I help myself?’ But above all, I grow. This experience changed my life, molded me into the person I am today. I have grown as an individual, but more than that, I have been exposed to the true nature of the world, to its volatility. I have seen what a slight change in the natural balance can do, how even the most minute variation can have exponential consequences. And though I am constantly overwhelmed by the ephemerality of life, I have learned to appreciate even the smallest of successes and to try to effect the best outcome from every situation.

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