Once Upon A Time...

Sarah Elizabeth Pharis
Writer. Artist. Cancer Princess.

You have a choice.
You can face your grief, your fear, your dinosaur like a coward,
or you can face it like a king.

In my case, I face it like a princess.


Once upon a time there was a girl named Sarah Elizabeth. There are many things you probably should know about her, but for the sake of this story, I am only going to tell you the three most important things: 

1. She hated yellow squash. 
2. She loved a boy we’ll call “Un-husband.” 
3. She was a princess

She was not a princess in a pink, sparkly, vomity kind of way, but rather in a more “when life gives you truly horrible lemons you get a tiara” kind of way. She also had long, blond hair, and if Disney has taught us anything, it is that princesses have long blond hair. (Disclaimer: The author in no way condones the use of racist Disney princesses unless they can be used to make a point about long blond hair). 

She wasn’t especially brave, or good, or kind. In fact, most of the time she was a real pain in the ass, but she, however, did love. She loved fiercely and unapologetically. And if there is one quality all princesses must possess, it is love. 

Here are three more things about this princess you need to know: 

1. Instead of a castle, she grew up in an old abandoned hospital. (True story) 
2. She could read minds, commune with fairies, and fly. (Not a true story) 
3. When she was 26 years old, she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer of the eye. Ocular Melanoma. (Tragically true story) 

Now, when princesses are in distress, usually there is a knight, or prince, or clever drifter who saves the day. There is usually a celebration and prizes and a wedding to wrap things up. There is almost always a happy ending. That isn’t exactly what happens in this fairytale. 

There is a prince (her un-husband). There is a celebration (We Heart Sarah). There are even prizes. (You’d be amazed how many people give presents to princesses with cancer). There just won’t be a happy ending. 

You see, at first the Princess didn’t realize anything was wrong. The eye cancer put on quite a show. She would lie in bed at night and watch masses of black squiggly lines and auroral-like lights dance across the ceiling. Several doctors were summoned. 

"It must be whiplash!” cried one. 

“It must be something in the brain!” cried another. 

“Perhaps she is just overly tired and stressed!” surmised a third. 

And so it went for four years. All the while, the cancer was growing bigger, and stronger, and hungrier. Until one day the cancer decided it wasn’t happy in her eye. It had a yen for organ meat. So when it was finished with her eye, it moved on: first to her liver, then to her ovaries, then to her lungs, then to her pancreas and stomach… you get the idea. 

In a lot of ways, the cancer was a hungry bastard of a dinosaur. In other ways it was rather well behaved. Wherever it went it only ate a little bit, and it ate it slowly. 

When it was finally discovered that she was very, very sick, the Princess was sent to see a great and powerful Wizard. Luckily for the Princess, the Wizard lived just one mountain away. There was poking and prodding. There was testing and scanning. There was cutting and slicing. It was a gruesome and tiring experience for the Princess, but if you know anything about fairytales you know that at some point there is going to be something disgusting and awful that happens. 

The Wizard knew he would not be able to save the Princess’s life, but he was determined to try. When the cutting and slicing part was no longer an option, the Wizard began concocting potions. Amazing and potentially life-saving potions. The potions made the Princess poop a lot, and pooping a lot is not something princesses are wont to do. 

After weeks and months and years of all this wizardry and pooping, the Princess was starting to get a little fed up. She, however, had a prince, and a puppy, and friends, and family, and a kingdom (rightly known as “The Queen City”), and so even though she was fed up, she did not give up. 

It is here where our story doesn’t end, but rather, takes a break. The Princess is still very, very sick. The Wizard isn’t sure how to save her. And the Prince, well, the Prince is just a prince. He is nice to look at, helpful in the kitchen, and fun to kiss, but he can’t cure cancer. Our Princess is surrounded with [Love X Infinity]2, and though she only may have a short life, she is confident it will have been a good life; her own (not-quite) fairytale. 

The (Not-Quite) End




The Tumor (or Baby Dinosaur)

Sarah Elizabeth is a writer, artist, and Cancer Princess. She lives in a magical kingdom, on top of a hill, in an old yellow house. She is fluent in Pig Latin and can fly (not really). She chronicles her life as a Cancer Princess at www.loveinfinitysquared.org.


Sarah Elizabeth is also the inspiration and one of the creative talents behind Sarah & The Dinosaur, a play by Ingrid De Sanctis which premiered in the spring of 2012. The play tells the story of a woman living with ocular melanoma, a cancer that has come to her in the form of a dinosaur. Throughout the play, Sarah fights this always lurking and always hungry dinosaur, struggling to make peace with what it means to live with “terminal” cancer. Sarah & The Dinosaur is not your typical cancer play, but rather an unorthodox, funny, heartbreaking, and honest narrative of one woman and her journey with metastatic OM.