They were able to return home and lead as normal a life as possible with monitoring tests periodically of course. Then there would be that one child now and then who I didn’t see any longer playing in the activity room. Children knew when their friend had passed away. With tears in their eyes they would tell all the others in the room.
They’d cry, hug and tell each other things their friend did or said that made them laugh. I still am amazed at how strong these children are even knowing they have Cancer. Knowing that some of their friends have gone home and that some couldn’t get better. Today they were having a party in the activity room because Amanda has been in the hospital 1 year.
Where there once had been 17 children, there were now only eight. Surprisingly, I was called aside and asked by one of the nursing assistants to stop by Dr. Montgomery’s office. That seemed a bit unusual to me because if the doctor wanted to see me, she paged me, called me on my cell phone or sent me a letter. None the less I nodded, walked over to Amanda and told her “Momma will be back in a little while.” and off I went.
With each step I took down the hall, I felt this impending doom that what was awaiting me was more “Bad news.” I didn’t want bad news, not now, not ever. I wanted good news. When I reached the Doctor Montgomery’s office, I sat down and waited nervously and impatiently until the receptionist told me I could see the Doctor now. When I entered her office she stood up and smiled and asked me to sit down.
I saw a stack of papers on her desk which made me even more nervous. “I have some forms that I need you to sign Emily, before…” But before she could finish, I burst into tears as I stuttered, “When are the treatments going to make Amanda better? When are they gonna end?” I cried in frustration. That was when Dr. Montgomery stood up and hurriedly made it to the chair I was sitting in.
She knelt down and hugged me tight as we both cried together. “You don’t understand Emily, you didn’t let me finish. I was trying to tell you that Amanda’s Cancer has finally gone into remission! We feel we can send you both home and with a monthly follow up check-up. We hope Amanda’s Cancer will stay in remission.” she told me as we both cried. She lifted up my chin and whispered, “Let’s get these forms signed and tell Amanda the good news Emily.”
Amanda was asleep in her room when Dr. Montgomery and I opened her door. Gently I kissed her forehead and whispered, “Amanda sweetheart, its momma, time to wake up.” She sleepily opened her eyes and smiled up at me and then saw her doctor and waved hi to her. There were tears in her doctor’s eyes and tears in mine too as Amanda looked up at both of us and asked us why we were crying.
As we wiped our eyes, she could see our smiles and became even more confused. “Why are you both crying and smiling?” she asked. I looked at Dr. Montgomery and she looked at me and nodded her head. “Amanda, we’ve made your Cancer go away, hopefully forever and now it’s time to go home.” I told my daughter as I cried and leaned down and hugged her. Amanda was so excited she hugged me even tighter me as she cried and I could feel her trembling. “When can we go home momma?” she asked.
I told her that as soon as we could pack up all her things we could go home. Then I saw her smile turn into sadness and her face turned red as tears flowed down her cheeks like a river. “Momma, I can’t go home. I can’t go without saying goodbye to all my friends!” Amanda said anxiously. Those words practically ripped out my heart. The very next words out of Amanda’s mouth caught me by surprise as well.
“Momma, I can come back and see my friends, tell me I can come back and see them please?” she asked as she looked up at her doctor. I looked back at Dr. Montgomery because I didn’t know the answer. I saw doubt in her eyes and then a smile came across her face. “You’re welcome to drop by the activity room Amanda each month when we do a check up to see how you’re doing!” her doctor told her.
After a few moments Amanda did begin to smile, if only a small smile before she excitedly asked if she could go tell her friends goodbye. Dr. Montgomery shook her head yes and after she got dressed, she went down the hall bursting at the seams with good news. “Before you leave the hospital, my receptionist has a schedule of appointment dates for when we need Amanda to come back for testing that is of course unless you feel she’s having a medical problem.
Then bring her into the emergency room, okay Emily?” Amanda’s doctor asked me. I took a deep breath and said okay. Suddenly, I hugged her with all my heart and soul. It was as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I wished with all my heart that she too could have felt the same joy I now felt about my daughter being able to go home.
Even after I had picked up the appointment schedule for Amanda, I didn’t hurry to take Amanda out of the activity room. She had grown so close to all of these children and them to her. It wouldn’t be easy to go in that room and tell Amanda it was time to go. Every one of those children wanted to and deserved to go back home too but couldn’t. I hoped some would get better in time and I feared that some would never make it through their illness and treatments.
A body can only fight Cancer so long and fight against radiation, chemo and drugs meant to kill Cancer. Eventually by the third time Amanda glanced at the door and saw me waiting, she knew she had to brush her final tears away, share those last hugs, and say goodbye to her friend’s. When she came through that door I really expected her to cry all the way out of the hospital at least, but she had grown up fast in that hospital in that first year of battling her Cancer.
Now, hand in hand we were headed home. One of the first things I did when we got back home was to take a picture of Amanda. Those next 12 months I was told by Dr. Montgomery would be critical for monitoring Amanda and whether the 17 treatments of Chemotherapy and drugs would keep her Cancer tumor in remission or if it would return. As hopeful of success as I was, I was also warned that in some cases if a child’s Cancer comes back, it does so aggressively.
So each month we returned to the hospital and did x-rays, blood work and cat scans to monitor Amanda’s Cancer. Amanda was now ten and in fourth grade doing her best to lead a normal life. Yet even as I tried to start our lives over with the hopes of never hearing the word Cancer again, it was a topic Amanda brought up each month.
She had made many friends at the Cancer hospital and with each monthly visit Amanda made sure she could stop and see the children on the floor she for so long was a patient of. Only three children were there now that Amanda knew back then. Tabitha, Sherry and Sally. The other faces of those who were fighting for their lives were all new to her.
Tina her best friend was no longer there. She had been released as well. How wonderful it was to see Amanda’s smile brighten the eyes of those who still battled Cancer with their very lives. After that first year of monitoring, we were placed on a quarterly schedule. Things were looking good. For anyone who has Cancer in remission, the longer you go without hearing bad news the greater the chance of survival.
That “Bad news” came to us just after Amanda turned eleven. She knew something was wrong with her knee again. At first she hid it from me, I guess hoping she was wrong or that maybe I wouldn’t notice, but I did. It was a time of tears without an end as she pulled up her pajama leg and showed me the bulge growing on the side of her knee once more. We went back to the emergency room and they did x-rays, a bone scan, blood work and then came the waiting.
Within 48 hours I got the call from Dr. Montgomery’s secretary that we were scheduled to come in at 11 a.m. on the 23rd. Between the two of us, I think I was more frightened. I think Amanda’s mind was distracted by the thought of visiting old friends and new one’s at the children’s floor she once stayed at for so long. Finally Dr. Montgomery welcomed us in and I already knew my worst fears by the concern on her face.
“Sometimes Emily and Amanda, in spite of all we do to destroy Cancer it can return later. I once saw Cancer return on a little boy almost eight years after he left this hospital. I’ve reviewed the x-rays, blood work and bone scans of Amanda’s right leg. Her tumor has grown into now what we call an aggressive Cancer phase. It’s spread into the nerve tissue and is spreading to other parts of her body.” she told us.
All I could do was hug my daughter and cry as Amanda hugged me back and asked me not to cry. “It doesn’t mean that we can’t slow its spread or get it back into remission Amanda. It just means we have a lot of work ahead of us. I have the admission papers for you to fill out like you did before Emily and we’ll get Amanda admitted the doctor said.”
Amanda’s only question asked in the most excited tone possible was, “Will I get to go back to the same floor as I was on before?” Amanda’s voice was so comical, we couldn’t help but laugh all together as Dr. Montgomery nodded and said “Yes you can Amanda.” When all the paper work was completed, we took Amanda up to her floor.
She was speechless when she opened the door and saw “Tina” her best friend. Her Cancer was no longer in remission either. This time though, she looked like her Cancer had worsened. But in spite of her pain, her eyes still lit up when she saw my daughter. In all, there were nine children on this wing of the children’s Cancer ward.
All of a sudden all the old memories of watching Amanda suffer flooded my mind. Only this time I knew it was worse. Aggressive forms of Cancer are so difficult to fight. The dosages and frequency of the Chemo treatments were harder on Amanda’s body and it showed. Three months later, Tina passed away in her sleep and it crushed Amanda. They had become so close. I remember Amanda telling me that Tina had said over and over to her, “I don’t want you to suffer like me Amanda!”
Three days later they moved Amanda into the intensive care ward and I knew without being told that Amanda was dying. She had put up such a long and brave fight. She had become far stronger then I was or could have been and she faced her Cancer without fear. One evening I remember Amanda asking me, “When I pass away momma will I get to see Tina again?”
I wasn’t prepared for that question and I placed her hand inside both of mine. “I don’t know Amanda, momma doesn’t know, but I hope that you will.” I said in tears. I stepped out of her room to use the bathroom and as I was returning, I saw one of the nurses about to go in with some medicine for Amanda. Before she pulled the door open, she hesitated and asked me how Amanda was?
Our conversation lasted only a minute, maybe two before she pulled the door open. To our disbelief, we saw the spirit of Tina beside Amanda’s bed and they were holding each other’s hands. A colored drawing lay on top of Amanda’s bed sheet. When Tina and Amanda heard the door open, they both looked in our direction. With tears in their eyes, Tina waved her hand goodbye to us and vanished.
The nurse dropped the tray she had been holding. “Momma, momma did you see her, did you see Tina? She came back to tell me goodbye and to tell me that she didn’t want me to suffer the way she did with Cancer momma!” Amanda said with tears in her eyes and held it up for the nurse and I to see. It was a drawing of a hospital room with two small figures with smiles and the names “Tina and Amanda, best friends.”
All I could do was lean down and hug my daughter at that moment. As the nurse returned with a mop to clean up the medicine she spilled on the floor, Amanda asked me a question. “Momma, do you believe in ghosts?” I kissed her forehead as I whispered as tears flowed down my cheeks, “I do now sweetheart, I do now.” Then Amanda told me the most unbelievable thing a child could tell me.
“Momma, Tina told me that she didn’t want me to suffer the way she did before she died and she touched my knee momma, she touched my knee. She told me not to be afraid and that I’d never have to come back to this hospital again. Momma I know what she meant.” Amanda told me excitedly and with her left hand she slowly pulled back her blanket and bed sheet showing me her knee.
I felt my knees buckle from under me as the nurse helped keep me from falling to the floor. The tumor that had grown so rapidly on Amanda’s knee was totally gone. It looked as if the tumor had never been there. “Tina took my tumor away momma. She didn’t want me to die!” Amanda said as she burst into tears as we hugged each other. That afternoon a myriad of tests and x-rays were taken and it was a miracle.
There wasn’t a trace of Cancer in Amanda’s body. Dr. Montgomery had no scientific explanation for the absence of Cancer. On her desk sat the colored drawing Tina’s spirit had given Amanda in intensive care. The drawing was signed by Tina and the date was March 14, 2007. As Dr. Montgomery held the drawing with trembling hands and tear filled eyes, she did her best to tell me that it was indeed Tina’s handwriting and that she had passed away on March 11, 2007. She said it was impossible for Amanda’s Cancer tumor to be gone, yet it was.
She handed me the drawing to give to Amanda. “I know Tina meant for Amanda to have this drawing. I’ve never been one to witness miracles Emily and I would’ve given anything to see what you and the nurse have seen. I’m releasing Amanda and as a precaution scheduling a quarterly examination.” Amanda’s doctor told me. Amanda’s Cancer tumor never did return nor did she ever see the spirit of Tina again, though she wanted too.
She wanted so much to tell her thank you for saving her life. They were and will always be “Best friends.” A photo taken of Tina wearing her mother’s feathered hat in front of the hospital almost a year after her hair had grown back sits besides Amanda’s bed to this very day. It was taken a year before Tina passed away.
©2007 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)