Here lies a meaningful garment that spends its months hiding in my “other shirts” drawer. This relic is long past its prime, but we will never part. As if it is trying to check on me and refuel a certain strength I often need, we cross paths every once in a while and I am reminded of my years as a teenage brain cancer patient.
I was 12 years old during my first bout with brain cancer. After recovering for a year, I joined the cross-country team at my high school. At the end of my freshman year, my cancer had returned, much more fierce and deadly. My team rallied around me and created an incredible support system where the whole high school, and a lot of the town, knew my name and my fighting cross-country nickname, Johnny Hotpants. The entire team even changed their jerseys and had my new initials, JHP, sewed onto their shoulders.
I acquired this shirt during a race in the year before my second cancer. It used to be white, and the colors were loud. On the back was a short parable about the strength of those who run side-by-side. When I had cancer and was sent across the country to be treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, this was the only shirt I brought with me from cross-country. I wore it often on my weeks of testing before chemo started. I was only allowed a few shirts during my long stay in the sterile confines of my room during a month of high-dose chemo. This shirt stayed with me when I went to Memphis, and made the daily trip to St. Jude Children’s Hospital for most of two months of radiation treatment. I wore this shirt as I ran throughout the rest of high school.
Throughout the many years since those days, this shirt stays with me. Its sleeves are gone, its grandeur is faded and stained with years of emotion and long distance running. It reminds me of nothing but tough times, but it also brings back memories of a great learning experience. It reminds me of what the team did for me, and how some people back in my home town still call me Hotpants. It reminds me of the strength I gained and the unbreakable bonds I developed. This shirt has a priceless sentimental value, and I will never let it go!