A fragile girl gazes out of her bedroom window dreaming of what it would be like to be someone else, doing the activities other children do such as, skipping rocks, swimming in the pool, or playing a game of kickball with the local kids. Instead, she sits in her bedroom playing with her dolls, alone. The girl has friends but she cannot play with them, she is like a mouse locked in a cage, you see this four-year-old has cancer.
A child with cancer does not live a normal life as other children; in turn she must fight to stay alive, continuously hoping to be awaken in the morning to the smell of life, yet barely having the strength to get out of bed. Often she strives to create new memories that could fill up a lifetime, while taking each breath as if it were her last. She is not bitter just confused therefore willing to accept her fate open armed and still having the will power to survive, smiling in the face of death.
Mandy is my mothers’ niece, and these are the memories of a day in the life of a child with cancer. Mom often called me to ask if I would do the weekly drive to Morgantown, being the loyal daughter, I said yes. I did not mind the drive; furthermore the trip to the hospital was always entertaining and brought the family girls closer together. There was mom, grandma, aunt Joan, Amanda and myself; in short, we were three generation in a car on a two-hour road adventure. The morning was bright and sunny with beams of light blinding me as I drove to mothers’ house.
Mom and I would drive to get Mandy and the rest of the gang. Mandy came running to the door with her enormous brown eyes hiding behind a huge smile on a perfectly rounded face, her complexion now being a ghostly pale of white. The chemotherapy had given her an Ethiopian appearance, losing most of the lovely brown hair and having legs that resembled toothpicks with shoes attached to the bottom. Mandy was diagnosis with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the rip old age of three but continued to smile like an angel that had just received her wings.
Her mother, Aunt Joan was a quiet woman with little education and being a single mother with a sick child was not easy. Everyone could see that she loved her daughter with all of her soul. Grandma was a formidable woman, with gray and white hair, and walked slightly bent over due to osteoporosis; she was the matriarch of her family and made sure that everyone knew this to be true. We would all load up the car to embark on our great adventure. I recall the vivid conversations we shared traveling along the curvy roads. Mom would start with some local gossip and young outspoken Mandy would add her opinion.
Mandy was humorous, for instances, she would tell a story of her stupid little dog as she called him, “Tiger would run around and chase his own tail” she said, “that dumb dog, that dumb dog”. Than drawing in a long breathe and laughing, a deep laugh the kind that comes from the heart, like a songbird singing for the first time. Grandma would talk of the olden days, when the doctor would come to her house when she was ill. She would say, “In my days, doctors came to you, I gave birth to nine children in my bed, in my house, and the doctors came to me.
” Grandma complained a lot about the trip, but she was certain to be with the family at all times. As we talked the two-hour ride made time stand still, prospectively the drive was over before ever starting. The walk was a long weary one up to the front entrance of Ruby Memorial Hospital. As we all piled out of the car, Mandy would say, “it really ain’t that bad” but we all knew differently and so did she. The cancer unit was bright with florescence lights shining every few feet, making the walls seem overly white, with an eerie gray trim around the bottom.
Children were everywhere, sitting in chairs with IV’s running out of their skeleton like arms, for cancer has no prejudice of age especially of the young. Mandy made a lot of new friends in the cancer unit along the way though many are angels now; we dreaded the announcement from one of the nurse’s that a friend died the night before. The nurses were benevolent, remembering every child by name. Debbie, the head nurse would say, “Hi, Mandy how are you today? ” as Mandy would answer “could be better” and then sending her laughter echoing down the long narrow halls, where laughter usually did not exist.
We would walk down the lonely hallway to the dreadful treatment room to face the weekly barrage of doctors, nurses, needles, treatment and pain. The room was cold and damp feeling. There were Walt Disney pictures on the walls that were there to entertain the children, thus hoping to keep what is going to happen next off the child’s mind, but they were wrong, dead wrong. Mandy had been through this ritual numerous times knowing the treatment was the combination of multiple medications plus cranial irradiation and intrathecal chemotherapy. A four year old that could tell anyone the name of all the medication used to help her live.
This was the saddest time for everyone next to the anticipation of what was going to happen, the doctor starting her chemotherapy. Mandy had a tube that was surgically implanted into one of the main arteries, which lead to her heart. The catheter tube ran out of the center of her small weak chest. Joan was given a course of home nursing so that she could administer her ten medications, three times a day, mix and infuse IV medication two times a day, keep her lines flushed, change caps and dressing, while trying to keep her from pulling the catheter out.
The catheter was implanted to save her daughter the pain of the needles thus the medication was shot directly into the catheter going into her little frail heart. Aunt Joan was the only person that stayed with her during chemotherapy and only now I realize that the rest of us could not bear to watch as life was being drained from her meek body. Mandy would finally emerge from that awful room, after several hours, having dark sunken circles, where eyes once sparkled and reflected the gleam of a child’s innocence and enthusiasm.
The chemotherapy was exhausting her like a vampire sucking the blood from his latest victim. I watched as the treatments made her so very feeble, and wondered, how could something that is supposed to help her, make her sick? The chemotherapy was killing good and bad blood cells trying to exterminate only the diseased ones. She could hardly walk so we would rest, waiting for her to regain her breathe after which I observed the wobbling and straying action that resembled a battery operated doll. As we reached the car, she would get sick losing what little breakfast she had eaten that morning.
The ride home was never as enjoyable as the excursion to the hospital. The day that had once started out so carefree was now just a memory. Mandy would sleep most of the way home. She looked so peaceful except where her eyes once were; now only black holes appeared on her innocent face. After reaching Grandma’s house everything seemed familiar. Joan would carry Mandy into the house, where she would lie for several days recuperating from the treatment. Mom and I would kiss her goodbye and head home. The memories of a child with cancer have pain, suffering, love and joy all in the same day.
A child is not deserving of this burdensome life. Innocence is ripped from their souls having to fight death at such an early age. While other children run and play, Mandy would sit in her home, fighting off an ordinary cold that might kill her meanwhile her family prays that the doctors will find a cure, hope is all that they have left. We take for granted our childhood memories, think of all the children that will not live to experience theirs for cancer is an evil spirit that spreads through the body like mold multiplying from the heat extinguishing life as we know it.