Ashley lay down on her bed staring at the ceiling, with tears rolling down her cheeks as she recalled how it all began, how her life seemed to have come to an end. It all started two months ago.
She’d been complaining to her mum about seeing blood droplets in her stool and on the toilet seat after use. Her mum had told her that it was nothing since she didn’t experience any pain or discomfort. She was only 14 years old so could she have thought otherwise?
It had happened consistently through February and March. By April she was constantly becoming weak and told her best friend Annie whose mum was a doctor. Annie insisted she should go for a check up at the hospital. She helped her book an appointment with her mum’s hospital.
On the day of the scheduled check up, Annie went with her and after some tests were conducted, Ashley’s mum was called to the hospital. And that was when the nightmare began.
Annie was in the reception lounge when Ashley’s mother hurried inside.
“Mrs Ray, what are you doing here?” She asked startled and surprised to see her.
“The doctor called and told me to come. I didn’t know Ashley was sick. Why didn’t you tell me?” She asked.
“Ashley told you but you didn’t listen”.
A nurse came out then and called them in and they followed her into the office.
“Ashley are you okay? What’s wrong with you baby?” Her mum asked as she went to her side and hugged her.
“You must be her mother. I’m Dr Kester”.
“Margo. Where is Dr Neeley, Annie’s mother?” She asked desperately wanting a familiar face.
“Please sit. I’ve checked Ashley and listened to her symptoms. I’ve done some preliminary blood tests and I’m concerned about her white blood cell count. I want her to go through a CT (computerized tomography) scan then undergo a minor surgery for the biopsy of her coelom and lymph nodes”.
“Doctor, I don’t understand what exactly you are saying or what is wrong with my baby girl”.
“We would be sure after the scan and biopsy”.
Ashley started crying holding on to her mom tightly.
“Mum, please don’t let them hurt me”. She said amidst sobs.
“They won’t baby. I promise you”. Margo said as she hugged her.
Some days later, after the CT scan and the biopsy surgery, Annie and Margo were in Ashley’s hospital ward talking with her when Dr Kester and Annie’s mum walked in.
“Good afternoon ladies. I hope Ashley is doing okay?”. Asked Dr Neeley.
“Hi Mrs Neeley, I’m fine thank you”. Said Ashley.
After exchanging greetings with Ashley’s mum, Annie’s mum excused herself and took Annie with her to give them some privacy.
“I have your results Ashley”. Said Dr Kester quietly.
“What’s wrong with me?” She asked.
“According to the diagnosis, you have coelom cancer”.
Ashley’s mother gasped.
“It develops in the coelom and basically as in all cancers, the cells go crazy and divide at will. This breaks down your immune system and it can spread to other organs. It is already in the mid stage and has affected some organs but it is not yet too late”.
“She never complained of any pain”. Said Margo crying.
“Her symptoms were Classic – blood in the stool, gradual weight loss, light headedness and loss of appetite. The pathology report shows that it has spread but your CT scan showed it hasn’t reached your lymph nodes yet. Unfortunately, your bone marrow has been mildly affected but not drastically so”.
Ashley started crying.
“I’m going to die”. She said as she cried harder.
“I should have known, I should have noticed you were losing weight. What kind of mother I’m I?” Margo kept on ranting oblivious to what Ashley was saying.
“Ashley you are not going to die; not if we start treatment immediately. Margo, don’t beat yourself up, she needs you to be very strong for her now”. Said Dr Kester.
Annie had snuck in during the conversation and she had heard almost everything. She felt sick to her stomach. This was so unfair. She wanted to scream and tell Dr Kester that she had made a mistake. She couldn’t bear the pain and hurt and quietly left the room.
“We could start chemotherapy immediately and carry out some surgeries to change your coelom and bone marrow. I don’t know anything for sure Ashley but we can only hope for the best.” Said Dr Kester.
“I’m moving you to the oncology floor. Chemo patients are given their initial doses here in the hospital to see how you react to the drugs and to determine the best combination. We’ll insert a Port-A-Cath near your collarbone. It is surgically implanted so that your chemo can be administered without having to stick you all the time. The catheters opening will be on the outside”.
Ashley could barely hear all she was saying. Her head was reeling. She still couldn’t take it all in. Why has this happened to her? She was just a child. What had she done to deserve this? She thought silently as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Medications will be inserted every three weeks for six cycles, for a total of eighteen weeks”.
“What about my life? What about school? Why is this happening to me?” Cried Ashley.
“You will be able to return to school once you are on the eighteen weeks program and chemotherapy especially if you respond well to it. The chemo treatments will eventually be over”.
“Will I be cured forever? Will it ever return?”
“I can’t answer that Ashley. We can only hope for the best”. Said Dr Kester as she firmly pressed her hand in a bid to comfort her.
“What if I don’t want treatment? I just want to go home and pretend like this was all a dream and it never happened”.
“Baby you..” Her mother began still crying.
The doctor interrupted her.
“You can refuse treatment, but that would be foolish. With treatment you have hope for recovery, without it you’ll definitely die”.
Now remembering all this, it all seemed like ages ago. She had already received the first cycle of her medication, started chemo, started losing her hair gradually and barfing always but the doctor said she was responding well to treatment unlike any other mid-stage cancer patient they’d treated.
She had lost her dad to cancer and her mother has never really gotten over it. She wouldn’t die of cancer and leave her mom all alone in the world.
Silently she made her mother a promise “I won’t leave you mum, I will fight with everything I have. You won’t be left behind, not again”.
And to God she prayed “God if you are really up there and listening, save me, give me the strength to fight. Don’t fail my mum again”.
And with that she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.