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Amanda knew. She knew even before Dr. Fleishman stepped into the room with her chart in his hand. Before he spoke the words that would forever change her life. She knew. The cancer was back.
She'd always realized that it might return, but she'd been cancer-free for almost eight years. An intellectual understanding of something wasn't the same as an emotional acceptance. Perhaps she'd grown complacent, convinced that after all this time she was cured. As a childhood-cancer survivor, perhaps she'd come to believe she was invincible.
The silence that followed his announcement reminded her of the eerie lack of sound before a storm. Before the thunder and lightning and torrential rain.
"Amanda," Dr. Fleishman said, breaking into her thoughts.
He wanted her attention, but she couldn't give it to him. Instead, she continued to stare at the floor. She didn't look up. She couldn't. Not just then. It would take a few minutes for the news to settle, a few minutes before she could face him.
It was the same with her mother. Joan Jennings sat in the chair next to Amanda's and it seemed as if all the life had drained out of her. Suddenly, after that long, awkward silence, Amanda's mother started to weep.
"I'm so sorry," Dr. Fleishman said softly.
Amanda nodded. Needing to hold on to something, she reached for her mother's hand. "It'll be all right, Mom," she whispered. She didn't know where that encouragement came from because she didn't feel it. Her entire world was about to implode.
"I guess this means I won't be cheerleading at the pep rally, doesn't it?" She tried hard to make a joke of it. She failed miserably; she didn't even sound like herself.
"Not this year," Dr. Fleishman murmured in reply.
She honestly hadn't expected an answer. He seemed so calm about it, but why shouldn't he be? It wasn't his life that was taking a nosedive. Anyway, the cheerleading thing was minor. More importantly, the Junior/Senior Prom was in May. By then her hair would've fallen out and Lance She couldn't do that to him, couldn't embarrass him that way. The dress she loved, and had saved countless months for, would languish in her closet. Maybe she could be buried in it. Funny, the idea of dying didn't immediately upset her. She noticed then that her mother and Dr. Fleishman were carrying on a conversation.
Amanda sat there, half listening while they exchanged questions and answers. When he saw that he finally had Amanda's attention, Dr. Fleishman outlined a treatment schedule.
Amanda tried to take it all in but she couldn't. By the
j time they left the office, her mother had stopped crying. She clutched a wet tissue in her hand, and Amanda was afraid she'd dissolve into heart-wrenching sobs once again. Maybe in public.
"I don't want anyone to know," Amanda insisted as they walked toward the parking complex.
"We're going to do whatever it takes," her mother said with a grim set to her mouth. "I don't care what it costs. I don't care how much the insurance company fights us I'll fight harder."
Her mother hadn't even heard her.
"You weren't listening to me," Amanda said. All her mother could think about was the money and how much
j these treatments were going to cost and struggling with the insurance company. Amanda wanted an iPod and her mother had claimed it wasn't in the budget. But chemo, radiation, a bone-marrow transplant would cost a whole lot more.
"What did you say?" her mother asked. "When?"
"You said I wasn't listening. Tell me what you said."
"Annie," she whispered. "I'll tell Annie." Annie was one of her best friends, and Amanda wouldn't be able to keep this news from her. Besides, when she didn't show up for the pep rally rehearsal, Annie would know something was wrong. So would Laurie, another of her good friends.
" I blame this on that party job," her mother said angrily.
"What?" Amanda stared at her in shocked disbelief. She worked with Annie and her mother on their birthday party business. Almost every weekend, Bethanne organized a number of birthday parties for youngsters, and she paid both Annie and Amanda to help. At first Amanda had tagged along just because. She soon discovered it was a lot of fun; she liked helping kids celebrate their birthdays in a creative way. Annie's mother was really good at this. The money was a bonus, and Amanda had used it to save up for her prom dress.
" Those kids exposed you to all their germs," her mother snapped. " Those birthday parties are breeding grounds for"
"I didn't get cancer at a birthday party."
Amanda could see it already. Her mother was going to smother her. In a misguided effort to protect her from harm, Joan would make everything worse. It'd been bad enough when Amanda was eight and nine. She couldn't even imagine what her mother would be like now. Amanda figured she'd be lucky to step inside a movie theater againthe germs floating around in places like that. And if her mother had anything to say about it, she'd be banned from shopping, too. How ridiculous was that! Amanda sighed heavily. Even if she survived, she'd be doomed to her mother's heavy-handed protection for the rest of her life.
And that remark about the birthday parties! It was as though her mother would feel better if she had someone or something to blame. Amanda didn't understand why. It wouldn't make the cancer magically disappear. And it didn't benefit anyone, except maybe her mom. That kind of thinking would drive Amanda crazy.
Neither spoke on the ride home. The minute she got out of the car, Amanda went straight to her room and shut the door. Once inside the relative privacy of her bedroom, she placed headphones over her ears and immersed herself in music.
Someoneobviously her motherknocked loudly on her door, but Amanda ignored it. She didn't know if Joan came in to check on her, because she kept her eyes closed.
For whatever reason, the cancer was back and Amanda would be the one dealing with it. This wasn't a trig problem she could pass off to Lance in study hall to solve for her. Her parents couldn't help her, either. She was alone, and that was the most frightening thing of all.
Ten minutes later, the phone rang. Even with the music turned up full blast, Amanda could hear it. She ignored that, too. When her mother came into her room, Amanda reluctantly removed the headphones. "What?" she demanded.
Her mother's eyes filled with tears. "That was Annie."
" I don't want to talk right now." She was seventeen and she was dying and if she didn't want to answer the phone she shouldn't have to.
"I called your father.. "
Amanda closed her eyes again. She didn't want to hear it. "Mom, please, give me a few minutes by myself. Just a few minutes." She didn't know why her mother was doing this. A little time alone shouldn't be that much to ask.
"I can't," her mother sobbed. Joan sank onto the edge of the bed, covered her face with both hands and began to cry.
Amanda bit her lower lip and knelt on the carpet at her mother's feet. After a moment she laid her head in her mother's lap. It occurred to her then that this diagnosis wasn't only about her. Her cancer affected everyone in her life.
Slowly Amanda's arms went around her mother's waist and she straightened. Her mother clung to her, burying her face in Amanda's shoulder, still sobbing.
Surprisingly, Amanda shed no tears. The emotion was there, just beneath the surface, pounding, throbbing, pulsing. What shocked Amanda, what threw her completely off guard, was her mother's reaction. This was the second time she'd faced cancer, the second time for her and her parents. You'd think her mom would know how to cope. Or maybe it was the exact opposite; maybe knowing what to expect made it worse.
"I'm going to be fine," Amanda cooed softly.
Amanda had been too young the first time to remember how her mother and father had dealt with everything. Certain memories were strong: the pain, throwing up, losing her hairand her mother at her side. Other memories had faded. The one constant had been her mother's devotion. She'd desperately needed it then and Amanda knew she'd need it now.
"I'm sorry," her mother whispered. "I didn't mean to do this. You need mebut I'm so frightened. I can't bear to see you go through this again."
Amanda gently kissed the top of her mother's head. " It's all right, Mom. It's all right."
"I should be the strong one."
"You are." In the months to come, Amanda would need to lean on her mother's strength. Her mother would be her advocate, her nurse, her coach and her friend.