Winning Entry in the 2000 Bernice L. 

Author: Shannon Perkins
Thornton Academy, Saco, Maine
Teacher: Mrs. Sally Cody

(NOTE: On the cover sheet the author offered the following disclaimer: "I never had cancer or went through chemotherapy.")

I remember the first time I had chemotherapy I thought I was going to die. But I didn’t; luckily I guess or so everyone else, who didn’t have to go through it, told me. I didn’t know anyone else who had gone through it and I think that the part that hurt the most was not being able to connect with someone else. So there I was waiting for the doctor to inject me with some poison in hopes to choke and kill off the cancerous cells much the way Hercules did the Nemean Lion by blocking off one end of the cave and beating it till it got tired. But the cancer isn’t the Lion. The cancer is Eurystheus and just as I will have to go back for more chemotherapy, Hercules had to keep going back to Eurystheus until Eurystheus said Hercules was done.

Hercules’ second labor was to kill the Hydra. It often felt like the cancer was growing back faster than the Hydra’s heads. There was nothing I could do but keep going back for chemo and just try to outlast the cancer cells the same way Hercules had ran the Hind of Ceryneia to exhaustion and capture it. He took one more step toward finishing the labors even though he didn’t really know how many labors he would perform, but it was a step in the right direction. Chemo was the same way. I didn’t know how many times I would have to go but I knew each tie I went it was a step in the right direction.

Hercules’ Labor of capturing the boar alive was like trying to stay alive myself. I would be freezing and tired like I had been running through snow and then I would be fine again. Many people often reacted to me the way Eurystheus had acted upon seeing the boar. They were scared and stayed away until I had left. My hairless head and pasty, white skin were too much for them to handle. I was weak from the chemotherapy. The injections were killing the bad cells and the good cells just like the Horses of Diomedes would eat whoever Diomedes could lure into their stables. Then his horses ate him which luckily the poison hadn’t done to my white cells. At least not all of my white cells were gone but I did feel weak and knew I was very susceptible to becoming sick.

People kept sending me get well soon cards and flowers and stuffed bears. My parents would take the flowers once they started to shed so the room wouldn’t become like the Augean stables, filled to the knees with petals instead of poop, and so no one would have to reroute a river through my room to clean it out. For some reason the nurses would only let me listen to opera music, which to me was worse than the sound of the Stymphalian birds. I begged my parents to bring me my cds and cd player and they did and I was glad because I could finally listen to Beck again.

I continued to struggle through the chemo sessions. It felt like I had gone to hell and back like Hercules had to do to get Cerberus. I was being denied the passage of my teenage years the way Charon and hades had tried to deny Hercules from getting to Cerberus but Hercules succeeded and I knew that I would too even if I had to go to hell and back. It seemed that the cancer was much stronger than myself and it probably was just as Geryon was stronger than everyone on Earth. But Hercules was able to defeat him, his herdsman, and his dog Orthrus and even the goddess Hera who tried to help Geryon. I knew that I could defeat the cancer and I knew it would take every ounce of mental and physical strength I had.

I hated staying in the hospital always wearing those disgusting Johnnies they gave me. I wanted to wear real clothes even if it was a tux with a girdle. I would have worn the girdle Hercules had stolen from the Amazon Queen on the tux just as long as I didn’t have to wear the Johnnies. The nurses would come in and force me to put them on. To me they were like the Cretan Bull. They could go wherever they wanted to but I had to stay in bed, not that I had much strength to go anywhere, they made me listen to that opera music, and would wake me up to check on me which I really hated.

Finally the last chemo session was over and my cancer was forced into submission. I still had no hair but I was overjoyed to be able to say that I didn’t have to go back as I’m sure Hercules was happy to finish his last labor of getting the golden apples from the Hesperides and finally be able to rest and actually feel energized after.



A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology: Michael Stapleton,

Bell Publishing Co. NY

This webpage was prepared by Professor Thomas J. Sienkewicz. If you have any questions, you can contact him at

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