I Want to Live, page 1
Silence again filled the room. Dawn wondered briefly if the two doctors realized that there was a moth flapping against the plate glass window behind them. She studied the insect as it flailed and beat its wings on the clear glass, desperate to touch the sun outside. Poor moth . . .
“This is not a decision for you to make right now, Dawn,” Dr. Sinclair said, breaking the heavy silence. “Go home and think about it. Discuss it. But don’t take too long. We’ll need to proceed as soon as possible if you decide in favor of the procedure.”
“The odds,” Rob said. “What are the odds of the transplant succeeding?”
The two doctors exchanged quick glances. “Without it, Dawn has a twenty percent chance of survival. With it, fifty-fifty.”
To Mark and Jenelle,
Tim and Todd.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Text copyright © 1987 by Lurlene McDaniel
Cover photo and design
by Michael Petty
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.
A division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
241 First Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55401 U.S.A.
Manufactured in the United States of America
elSBN: 978-0-7613-6811-3 (pdf)
elSBN: 978-1-4677-2789-1 (ePub)
elSBN: 978-1-4677-2790-7 (mobi)
THE one thing that Dawn Rochelle remembered most about her fourteenth birthday was that she was still alive. In her diary, she wrote:
Well, I’ve made it for almost a whole year. It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve had leukemia since last April. I wish this hadn’t happened to me. I wish I didn’t have to go to the clinic for my checkup next week. I wish they didn’t have to poke a hole in my back and take my spinal fluid—what if they find cancer cells? I can’t think about it.
Today at school I heard that Jake Macka is moving. I wonder what it would be like to have him kiss me. I wonder if any “normal” boy will ever kiss me.
For my birthday, Mom and Dad gave me a new MP3 player with a cute pink cover. Rob sent a Michigan State mug and light pink sweatsuit. He’s coming home for spring break this Saturday, and I can hardly wait to see him. He says he’s got someone special for us to meet. I’ll bet it’s Darcy, the girl he was dating last Christmas.
Fourteen is all right, more than I thought I’d see when I was so sick in the hospital last year. But how about fifteen? Will I see fifteen?
Dawn looked over her neatly formed words. She had been in remission for almost a whole year. It had been one year since her hospitalization, the pain, the tubes in her chest and mouth, the IV bottles, the chemotherapy, the side effects from all the drugs. It was mostly over with now. These days she went to checkups at the clinic twice a month where she received the medications, but in smaller doses. Her doctor called it “maintenance.” Some of the worst was behind her. But the fear wasn’t—the horrible fear that the leukemia would come back. And that it would kill her, as it had Sandy Chandler, her once and best friend.
Dawn sighed and shut the cover of her diary. I’ll write more in it later, she thought. She’d learned about keeping a diary from Sandy. She often felt that if she died, the diary was something special and personal her parents could keep.
Dawn whirled around to see the smiling face of Rhonda Watson from the school’s cheerleading squad.
“Your mom was out front and said I could come on up. What’s happening?” Rhonda bounced into the room. Her brown hair swirled over her shoulders as she flopped onto the bed.
“Nothing much,” Dawn answered. “What’s happening with you?”
“I brought you a present.” She tossed a brightly wrapped box to Dawn.
“Gee, thanks.” Dawn was surprised. Even though she and Rhonda had been on the cheerleading squad together for two years, she’d never thought of Rhonda as an especially close friend. They’d done their share of hanging around together after football games in the fall, but Rhonda had never gone out of her way during the rest of the school year to be Dawn’s friend. And now, she’d brought a gift. Dawn tore off the paper. Pink tennis socks and a matching headband lay in the tissue. “Gosh, Rhonda. This is great! Thanks.”
“Well, I heard you tell Kim that your brother sent you a pink sweatsuit.” Rhonda fidgeted with the ruffle on the bed pillow. “Is—uh—Rob coming home for spring break?”
Suddenly, Dawn figured out what Rhonda was up to. “He’s too old for you, Rhonda.”
“I’m a very mature fifteen,” Rhonda sniffed, her face flushing.
“Don’t get all huffy. I’m just being honest with you,” she said. “Rob’s twenty-one. Besides, I think he’s bringing home a special girl to meet the family.”
Rhonda’s expression fell. “Oh. Well, it never hurts to ask.” She bounced off the bed and looked around the pink and white room. Her eyes stopped in front of the shelves of teddy bears. “I like your collection.” She went over and picked up Mr. Ruggers. “Boy, he looks like he’s been around forever.”
The bear had been Dawn’s first teddy when she was a baby. One glass eye was missing and his fuzz had been rubbed off in several places. Suddenly, she felt funny about Rhonda touching the raggedy old animal. She took Mr. Ruggers and casually flipped him into a heap on the floor. “Yeah, he was an original from my baby shower. When I was a little kid, he was my favorite. He’s nothin’ but junk now.”
Rhonda stepped over the bear and continued surveying the shelves. “I’ll bet you have the best collection in Ohio.”
“I’ll bet I have the only collection in Ohio. I’ve been thinking about getting rid of them. I’d rather start collecting something more—” She wanted to say “grown-up,” but settled on “meaningful.”
“Don’t do that. My dad used to collect baseball cards when he was a boy, and he said he’d be a rich man today if he’d saved them all. You never can tell what’s going to be valuable.”
If I live that long, Dawn thought. She said, “Would you—uh—like a root beer or something?”
“Sure. I’m dying of thirst. Are you having a birthday party?”
Dying of thirst, Dawn though. What a silly expression. “We’re just having cupcakes tonight. We’re saving the big cake and ice cream bash for when Rob’s home.” Dawn led the way down the stairs to the kitchen.
“You sure he has a girlfriend? I can act older then I am, you know.”
Dawn giggled. “I’ve seen Darcy’s picture. There’s no hope, Rhonda.”
“I’m too young for all the cute guys,” Rhonda complained.
Dawn understood Rhonda’s complaint. “Tell me about it. Who’s interested in a fourteen-year-old with—” She stopped, feeling her cheeks burn. “With no curves and bumps in the right places.” With cancer, her brain said.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Rhonda cast her eyes sideways at Dawn. “Sometimes it seems like Jake Macka’s interested.”
“He’s cute, isn’t he?”
“For a fifteen-year-old,” Rhonda sniffed. “Personally, I prefer older men.”
Dawn sloshed root beer on the table. “I have an uncle in his forties . . .”
Rhonda stuck out her tongue. “I said ‘older,’ not ancient. So what’s with you and Jake?”
“Nothing. He’s been nice to me ever s
“Are you okay now? I mean, since your hair’s grown back and everything, I don’t much think of you as sick.”
No, Rhonda, I’m not okay. I’m in remission. Until I’m cancer-free for five years, I won’t ever be okay. “Yeah, I’m doing all right,” Dawn answered. She watched Rhonda toy with her glass and decided to change the subject. “Are you doing anything special this summer?”
“Hanging around mostly. Mrs. Booth wants me to babysit her kids three mornings a week while she works. How about you?”
“Hanging around, too. I’ll probably go to camp again.”
“That cancer camp? The one you went to last year? Ugh. How can you stand being around all those sick kids?
Rhonda’s questions irritated Dawn. How could she explain that it was more than cancer camp and sick people? Maybe if Rhonda thought cute guys went, she’d act differently.
“It’s fun. I met a cool guy there last year. His name’s Greg, and he’s a senior in high school in Cincinnati. He’s on an important swim team, too. He may be in the Olympics someday. He writes me.” Actually, Greg hadn’t written since Christmas, but she wanted Rhonda to think otherwise.
Rhonda wrinkled her nose. “Well, I probably wouldn’t like any kind of camp. I’m the indoor type.” She glanced up at the kitchen wall clock. “Good grief. Look at the time. I told Mom I’d be home fifteen minutes ago.”
Dawn forced aside her annoyance, walked Rhonda to the back door, and watched her scurry across the newly greening back yard. The dog next door barked. The air still held a chill, and Dawn hugged her arms to herself and shivered.
What would it be like to return to camp? How many kids would really come back? Would Greg be there? Or Mike, Greg’s friend who’d lost his leg to bone cancer? Sandy wouldn’t.
Sandy. I miss you, Sandy. . .
No, she could never explain to Rhonda that it was comforting to be around kids like herself. To have friends who understand about clinic visits and blood work and chemotherapy and constant nausea from medications. The Rhondas of the regular world would never know what it was like to walk between normal and abnormal. To balance between “well” and “sick.” Or to be a kid who might die before she ever had a chance to live.
FOR Dawn, Saturday morning moved very slowly. She paced back and forth on the carpet. How long did it take Rob to drive from East Lansing anyway?
“Dawn, you’re going to wear out the carpet,” Mrs. Rochelle scolded her daughter gently. “He’ll be here soon enough.” She adjusted her half-framed glasses and continued her needlepoint project.
“I know. Did he say anything to you all about this mystery person he wants us to meet?”
“He said that she lives in Toledo, that he’ll be dropping her off at her home, and then he’ll come here.”
Dawn thought, So I was right. It is Darcy. “Well, when are we supposed to meet her?”
“Rob plans to spend some time with just the four of us. Then she’ll drive here Thursday, and they’ll both stay here with us through the weekend. I thought I’d put her on the sleeper sofa in your father’s den. Anyway, Rob will follow her back, spend a few days with her family, and then they’ll both return to campus in his car.”
“Boy, Rob must like her a lot to hang around home on spring break. Last year he went to Daytona Beach.”
Mrs. Rochelle laid her needlework on the table. “It happens to everyone sooner or later, dear—even your brother.”
Mrs. Rochelle placed her hand over her heart, rolled her eyes, and whispered, “True love.”
Dawn giggled. “Oh, Mom . . .”
The honk of a car horn interrupted Dawn. She ran to the front door. Outside, Rob’s silver-colored, battered old Toyota coasted to the curb. Dawn ran down the front walk and threw herself into her brother’s arms as soon as he got out of the car.
“Hey, Squirt. Watch out or you’ll knock me over.”
Dawn hugged him fiercely. Her cheek pressed against his blue sweater. He smelled faintly of his familiar aftershave. “What took you so long?”
Rob tousled her auburn hair and peered down into her green eyes. “You look super, Squirt.” His voice softened. “I guess I can’t call you that too much longer. You’re turning into a very pretty young lady.”
She blushed and pushed away from him.
“Oh, come on.”
“You doubt the word of a man who’s personally surveyed hundreds of girls? Who’s in a better position to judge how pretty you’re getting?”
Rob scooped Dawn up and tossed her head-first over his broad shoulder. Dawn squealed, dangling head-down over his back.
“Put me down, Rob Rochelle! Right this instant!”
He carried her like a sack of potatoes onto the porch where their mother waited. “Put her down, son,” Dawn heard her mother demand. Dawn’s feet found the wooden flooring.
“I—I’m sorry, Mom, Dawn. For a minute there, I forgot. Did I hurt you?”
Dawn wiped her forehead and felt her bubbling good spirits disappear. She looked from Rob’s stricken face to her mother’s anxious expression. “Stop it,” she demanded from both of them. “Stop acting like I’m going to break or something. I’m perfectly fine, and I hate being treated like a freak!”
“That’s not it at all, honey. . . , ” Mrs. Rochelle began.
“It is, too,” Dawn interrupted. “Can’t I have some fun with my own brother?”
“Of course, but because Rob’s been away at school, he doesn’t understand your condition completely.”
“No one understands,” Dawn snapped.
Rob reached out and put his big arms around his sister and mother. “Hey, is this any kind of welcome-home celebration? Don’t you two start yelling at each other because I tossed Dawn around like a little kid. It’s my fault.” He squeezed Dawn tightly. “Mom’s right. But it has nothing to do with your medical problems. You’re growing up, and I shouldn’t treat you like a kid.”
But Dawn knew that wasn’t exactly true. Everything was different because she had cancer. “Forget it. You’re home, and tonight’s my special birthday party. We saved the cake just for you.”
“Just for me? Do I have to share?”
“You bet, buster,” Mrs. Rochelle added, opening the front door and leading the way into the house. “These hips of mine have been begging for this cake for days. You wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would you?”
Rob laughed. “Mom, you still have the shape of a movie star.” He and Dawn exchanged mischievous glances before adding in unison, “Miss Piggy’s!”
“Ha-ha. Very funny.”
The awkward feeling Dawn had had on the porch faded away. Sometimes the Rochelle family could forget the reality of cancer and be a normal family. Anyone looking on right now would never know the truth. Dawn snuggled close to Rob and smiled adoringly into his sparkling blue eyes.
Later that night, after supper and cake and ice cream, Dawn perched on the swing on her front porch, watching the sky turn from pale pink to deep lavender to midnight blue. The front door swung open. Rob came out and sat down so hard that the old wooden swing groaned and squeaked. “One of us weighs too much,” he noted, casting a sidelong glance at Dawn.
“It can’t be me,” Dawn countered.
“You had two giant pieces of cake. Why I’ve seen two-hundred-pound football players eat less.”
“Sometimes sweet things taste extra good to me. It’s because of my chemotherapy, I think.” She wished she could have bitten her tongue. The last thing she wanted to talk about with Rob was her illness.
“Mom says you go for your checkup at the clinic on Wednesday. Would it be okay if I went with you?”
Dawn was surprised at his request. She turned in the swing to see him, pulling her feet onto the seat and resting her back against the wooden side arm. “Why? It’s a long, boring day and all you’ll have to do is sit and wait.
Lamplight from the living room spilled onto his shoulders and caused highlights to glimmer off the top of his brown hair. “It’s something I’ve never done. Mom or Dad always go, and because I’ve been away at school, I don’t feel like I’ve been much support to any of you.”
“That’s not true. You write and call me all the time, and you visited me in the hospital.”
“Don’t you want me to take you?”
Dawn clasped her knees to her chest. “Sometimes . . . after the treatment . . . well, I get sort of sick . . .”
He turned his face toward her and the lamplight shone on his rugged features. His eyes looked tender. “Do you think I’ve never seen anyone throw up before?”
Dawn became flustered. She didn’t want to be sick in front of Rob. “They’re going to do my spinal tap, too.”
“Tell me exactly what they do to you.”
“I go into the clinic for chemo twice a month. First, they take blood samples for white-blood-cell, hemoglobin, and platelet counts. Once a month they do a spinal. Once every six weeks they do a bone marrow aspiration.”
“Well, they stick a needle into my hip bone and draw out some of my bone marrow to see if the chemotherapy is still working.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes. Just a little,” she added hastily when she saw his jaw tighten. “But so far, my marrow’s looking good, and that means I’m still in remission. I don’t mind.”
They swung in silence for a while, watching the evening stars twinkle like tiny Christmas tree lights. “You seem to know a lot about your illness,” Rob said.
“I want to know everything I can about it. Mom and Dad made a pact with me when I was first diagnosed. ‘No secrets.’ They promised to share everything the doctors told them. In fact, Dr. Sinclair—he’s the main specialist on my case—said he’d always be honest with me about every single aspect of my treatment. It isn’t half as scary when you know what’s happening to you. Or what to expect to happen.”
“I don’t blame you, Sis. I’d want to know the truth if it were me.”
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