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Cramping Pains Jolted Through my Belly...
Cramping pains jolted through my belly and up into my chest. I rolled over and pulled my legs up against me tightly, I could feel my hipbones digging into the mattress, and it didn't feel good. I'd lost so much weight that no matter what position I sat or laid in I couldn't get comfortable. Despite the fact that I’m twelve years old, I barely reach sixty-five pounds.
“Kristy’s anorexic, that’s why she’s so skinny.”
“Liz heard her throwing up in the bathroom after lunch,”
“Did you know that the reason Kristy barely eats is because she has an eating disorder.”
The rumors were everywhere, the more popular seventh and eighth grader threw them all over the place until I got too sick to go to school anymore.
“Aren’t you going to eat your lunch?” Maddy used to pester me. Shrugging my shoulders I would look away from her and her knowing looks she was shooting over to her clique of friends who were giggling in the corner. I was always too nauseous from my treatments to eat and nobody except the school nurse knew what was the real cause of my so-called “eating disorder”. I planned to keep it that way too. I was afraid of the way people would treat me if they knew I had a malignant tumor growing inside of me.
“The truth is that kids are scared of what’s happening to you. They don’t know what to make of it.” A social worker at the hospital where I got my treatments explained to me one day when I told her about the rumors and nasty comments.
The truth was I didn’t quite know what to make of it either. The year before I’d been a normal kid who loved sports, hanging out with friends, and video games. Then I got diagnosed with cancer and everything changed.
One morning shortly after I had started my first chemotherapy treatments, I woke up with several clumps of my thick red hair lying on my pillow. I felt like the last piece of myself, of my old life, had fallen out with that hair.
I was angry, angry with myself, at life, at the girls who had teased me, and even angry with my family and my mom.
“Kristy, you need to take your meds,” mom would remind me four times a day.
“Just leave me alone. I’ll take them, you don’t have to keep reminding me all the time,” I’d snap. “I can take care of myself.”
“Do you want me to read you Peter Pan?” Mom would ask me. Some of my pain medications made it so I saw the pages of books as streaky blurs and blobs. I’d been in the middle of reading Peter Pan when I started to have problems seeing clearly. My mom had started to read the rest of it aloud to me.
“Just don’t bother me right now,” I would moan. “I hate you, I bet it’s your genes that gave me cancer. Your genes are killing me.” Mom’s skin lightened to a white pallor. She just stood there for a moment, fidgeting with the hem on the sleeve of
her blouse. Her green eyes that look so much like mine, got really big and wet. I could see her features quiver as she fought to maintain a steady expression, but as soon as she left my room I could hear the choking sound of her sobs pouring out of her. The sobs triggered something deep inside me.
I rolled over on my side and pulled my battered teddy bear with the red ribbon into the concave of where my belly used to be. My own jaw was clenched as tight as my mom’s had been as I tried to fight back the tears heating up my eyes. I couldn’t hold them back. They streamed down my face like a waterfall of pure pain. I stared at the door where my mom had been standing and tried to mentally will her back. When she didn’t come back I felt abandoned and guilty. The summer sun beat down on my body through the large picture window of my room; I squirmed under the heat of it and tried to pull my blankets off my sweaty body, but I was too weak. I needed my mom to help me, and she wanted to be there for me. She wanted to be able to help me because she loved me and felt just as powerless as I did against the tumors. I remember a therapist in the hospital telling me that, but it hadn’t really sunk in until that moment. Ever since that day, I haven’t been as angry anymore.
Most of the time lately, I’ve been too sick to get angry anyway. The doctors stopped the chemotherapy a month ago. They stopped the radiation a week ago. It was all my decision. Even though I’m only twelve, my parents have mostly been letting me make the decisions about my treatment.
“It’s your body, Kristy,” mom had told me when the doctors sat down with me in a little conference room with lime green walls and a bunch of hard backed chairs in a circle around a long table.
“The cancer has metasized and is now not only in your pancreas but in your lungs and liver too,” The doctor kept his tone steady and looked at my chart, not my parents or me, as he spoke.
“What are the options?” I’d asked, sitting up in my wheelchair as straight and tall as I could manage. My voice shook, but only a little. Sometimes I needed to appear stronger then I felt, for my parent’s sake. Sometimes I felt like I was the grown-up and they were the kids. That’s what happens when you go through hell I guess.
“The tumors are inoperable, because of their locations. The chemotherapy hasn’t been helping, and neither has the radiation. We can try some experimental treatments, but they could just make you feel sicker and not even help you in the long run.” The doctor explained. Then he told me about hospice and the idea of spending my last few months at home.
So much ran through my head at once, but in the end I knew I couldn’t take any more painful treatments, I couldn’t take anymore needles and tubes and surgeries. Most of all I wanted to be home where I felt most comfortable and where the people I loved were.
“I want to stop the treatments.” I told the doctor, this time I couldn’t stop my voice from shaking. My mom was tearing up at the corners of her eyes, my dad’s head
was ducked down low and I could see his shoulders shaking. I was the only one who didn’t cry. Instead of crying I released my death grip on the arms of the wheelchair and reached out with both arms. In one hand I squeezed my mom’s hand, and in the other my dad’s. It was funny that I was the one dying and the one doing the reassuring at the same time.
Even now, as I lay in bed, shaking with the horrible cramping pain, even now I don’t cry. I’m too grown up for that. I’ve grown up fast this last year. Sometimes it feels more like I’m eighty then twelve. I guess that’s a good thing though, because who wants to die at twelve?
I hear footsteps outside my door. It’s my mom coming to check on me and make sure that the bag attached to my catheter doesn’t need to be emptied.
“Hey Kristy, are you doing all right?” She asks.
I nod, even though I’m not fine.
“Do you want me to sit with you for a little while?” She asks me.
I nod, because sometimes even grown ups need their moms.
Mom leans in and hugs me, I can smell the strawberries and cream shampoo she uses. She pulls up a chair beside my bed and tells me about her day. I smile and drink up the familiar soothing tones of her voice. My room suddenly feels less suffocating and more comforting. Mom pulls my sky blue comforter up over my body that has betrayed me, pats my shoulder gently and then asks me if I want to hear more Peter Pan.
I nod again. I like the story about the boy who never had to grow up. The truth is no matter what I stoically say about not minding having to feel like I’m eighty, I still wish I could feel twelve. I wish I didn’t have to grow up so fast. It’s scary.
I let myself cry. Mom hugs me again. I guess sometimes even kids who grow up too fast need to cry.