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Authors: Lurlene McDaniel

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BOOK: No Time to Cry
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Fourteen

“I
S WHAT Katie told me the truth, Dr. Sinclair? Will I never be able to have a baby?” Dawn sat in her doctor’s office, her hands gripping the arms of her chair. She’d finished her latest round of blood work that afternoon in the outpatient clinic. Then she’d gone directly to his office to ask him the question that burned in her mind.

The doctor studied her with a kind face. His hair was gray at the temples, and the lines around his eyes looked deeper than when she’d first become his patient, almost four years before. “Some of your earlier chemo and radiation protocols will have an effect on the reproduction process,” he said.

She felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. “Then it’s true.”

“More than likely. It’s possible that you will be able to have children, but it still might not be advisable.”

Tears sprang instantly to Dawn’s eyes. She glanced away quickly. She’d never thought much about having children. She’d simply figured it was something she’d do eventually—if she got married. If she lived. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“Frankly, it never came up. We were never attempting to hide it from you, but you were so sick that it hardly seemed important.” He sighed and leaned back in his swivel chair. “Later on, when it becomes necessary, there will be tests you can take to determine your fertility.”

“But to never have a family!” she blurted.

“Dawn, hundreds of couples never have children and still have a very satisfying married life. And there are other options— like adoption, for instance.”

She almost put her hands over her ears. She didn’t want to hear about “options.” In fact, she didn’t even want to discuss it any further. Here she was, not quite sixteen, and already she was being forced to look into a future that was upside-down and backward. Dawn stood up. “It’s later than I thought. My mom will be looking for me.”

“Don’t run off. I think you should talk about this. We have trained professionals on staff who can help you come to terms with it.”

She knew what he was suggesting. She should see one of the hospital’s counselors. Well, she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to face prodding and questioning about her innermost feelings with a stranger. “I’ve got to go.” She left his office as fast as she could.

In the car, Dawn stared gloomily out the window. Her mother interrupted her dark mood. “Rhonda called to say that she passed her driver’s test and wants to go out for pizza tonight. I told her you were getting blood work done and that you’d call her when you got home. Would you like to go with her tonight? She sure sounded eager.”

Dawn had forgotten that this was the day Rhonda was going for her driver’s license. How could she have forgotten? Rhonda had talked about nothing else for days. “I’ll call her, but yes, I’d like to go.”

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Her mother’s voice sounded concerned. “Did everything go all right at the hospital?”

“Everything went fine.”

“But I can tell something’s bothering you.” In spite of tolling herself not to cry, Dawn felt a tear trickle down her cheek. Alarmed, her mother pulled over into a grocery store parking lot and turned off the engine. “What’s wrong? Tell me.”

Haltingly, Dawn revealed what she’d learned. She’d been carrying it around inside of her for weeks, and the discussion with Dr. Sinclair hadn’t helped at all. “I feel like I’ve been robbed,” she told her mother. “As if someone stole something from me, and I can’t get it back.”

Her mother said nothing.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Dawn asked. “You and Daddy knew all along. Why did you keep it a secret? Why didn’t you say something to me?” She couldn’t hide the pain of betrayal in her voice.

“You were thirteen, Dawn, and fighting for your life. It hardly seemed relevant. All that mattered was that you lived. If you’d had a kind of cancer that meant you’d lose an arm or a leg in order to save your life, we’d certainly have agreed. We knew that the medications they were giving you were potent enough to damage or possibly destroy your reproductive system, but at the time, it didn’t matter.”

“Maybe it would have mattered to me!”

“Think back. You were a scared little girl, still collecting teddy bears. How could you have made such a choice at that time?”

Rationally, she knew her mother was right. They’d made the only choice they could. She wasn’t angry with her parents. Or her doctors. She was simply angry over what she hadn’t had any choice about. It was the same kind of anger she’d felt when Sandy had died. And Marlee. Helpless, frustrated anger—anger at life because it just wasn’t fair.

Her mother took a deep breath and touched Dawn’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, honey. I’d give anything if it had been me instead of you.”

“You would have traded places with me?”

“In a heartbeat. You’re my daughter, and I love you very much.”

Dawn felt a softening inside her. She saw that her mother was hurting, and for the first time, she realized how much her illness had affected her whole family. Yet they had survived it. All of them. And for the most part, they were happy. Her parents were together, Rob was getting married, and she was alive. “If some guy ever wants to marry me, what do I tell him?”

“The truth. If he loves you, it won’t matter.”

Dawn couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t matter.

“Listen,” her mother added, “when I was pregnant with Rob, all my doctor could tell me was that the baby was big and had a strong heartbeat. Now, they can tell if it’s a boy or a girl, if there are genetic defects—why, doctors can even operate on a fetus while it’s still in its mother’s womb.

“Think about it. Dawn. Who knows what kind of technology they’ll have available by the time you’re completely grown and ready to get married and have a baby? Don’t consider childbirth a closed book for you. You’ve got to think positively. You’ve got to think about what you do have, instead of what you don’t.”

Hesitantly, Dawn nodded. She knew her mother was right.

“All right,” she said softly. “I won’t think about it anymore.”

“You have a wonderful future ahead of you. You’re alive. That’s worth everything.”

Her mother started the car, and together they drove the rest of the way home in thoughtful silence.

* * * * *

Hardy High’s soccer season started on a chilly, sunny Friday afternoon in March. Jake Macka scored a hat trick—three goals—and Hardy won four to one. Dawn cheered from the stands, and when the game was over, Jake called her over to the side of the field.

“I’ll wait for you,” Rhonda said, juggling her car keys.

Rhonda’s mother had allowed her to use her car that day so she and Dawn could stay for the game.

Jake was all smiles as Dawn approached. “You played a great game,” she told him.

“Help me celebrate.”

“Me?”

He made a production of looking around. “I don’t see anybody else. You were cheering for me, weren’t you?”

Her heart began to hammer. “How can I help you celebrate?”

“Go to a movie with me tomorrow night.”

Words seemed trapped in her throat. “All right,” she managed.

He grinned. “Ill call you tomorrow.”

She watched him jog off to rejoin his team on the way to the locker room.
Jake had asked her out!

“What’s up?” Rhonda asked, coming up beside her.

“Jake asked me for a date.”

Rhonda’s eyes grew large. “Wow! Lucky you.”

Dawn couldn’t stop smiling. “Yeah. Lucky me.” And in her heart, she meant it.

Fifteen

D
AWN scarcely saw the movie on Saturday night. She only remembered the complete sense of contentment she felt sitting in the dark theater, sharing a jumbo bag of buttered popcorn with Jake. Sometimes their hands brushed as they went for the bag together, and once, during an especially tense part of the movie, he put his arm around her. When the film was over, he took her hand and led her up the aisle and out into the damp, chilly March night. “How about a soda?” he asked. “All that popcorn made me thirsty.”

Since she didn’t want the evening to end, she agreed quickly. He drove her to one of the popular hangouts, and she didn’t mind one bit when heads turned as they entered. From the comer of her eye she saw Sharon, but she was with another guy, so Dawn figured that whatever had been going on between her and Jake was long since over.

Jake showed Dawn to a booth toward the back and slid in beside her. After the waitress took their order, he smiled and asked, “What did you think of the movie?”

“It was good.” She hoped he didn’t ask any details, since she couldn’t remember any. “How’s soccer going?”

“Great. We play twice next week. Will you be there?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.” An awkward silence fell, and she racked her brain for something witty to say. Why did her brain turn to mush every time she was with Jake? He probably thought she was a real dope.

“I guess that big ceremony’s coming up soon.” He broke the strained silence. “The one I read about.”

“Next month—the weekend after Easter. I’m glad Easter comes late this year. It gives me more time.”

“Do you know what you’re going to put in the time capsule yet?”

For a moment, Dawn wasn’t sure she wanted to be discussing this with him. After all, it did have to do with her cancer. But she quickly decided to pretend that the capsule wasn’t connected with cancer at all. She would pretend that it was more just a place for preserving fragments of the past for posterity. “I’ve been thinking hard about it. It’s a big responsibility. What do you think people would want to know about us a hundred years from now?”

“How about a story on Hardy’s great soccer team?” He grinned impishly.

“People may not even play sports in a hundred years. We may all be video-game freaks and never leave the front of our television sets. We’ll all have fat rear ends from sitting all the time and fat thumbs from pressing game buttons.”

He grimaced at her suggestion. “Let’s hope not.”

“Do you have any suggestions? I’m willing to hear them.”

“How about some music?”

“Explain.”

“You could make a CD of today’s top hits. That way kids in the twenty-second century can hear what kids from today thought was cool.”

She liked his idea. “They’ll probably think our stuff is weird. I know when I hear the music my parents liked, I can’t believe it.”

“You should try listening to what your grandparents liked. Talk about weird!”

They laughed together. “I could use some help making the CD,” she said. “Would you help me?”

“Sure.” His brown eyes reminded her of melted pools of dark, rich chocolate. “Do you have a CD burner? Maybe I could come over and bring some blank CDs and music. How about next Saturday?”

“That’s fine with me.” If he’d suggested they start at two in the morning, it would have been fine with her.

He drove her home, and at the door, she secretly hoped he would kiss her. He looked as if he might, and her heart thudded in anticipation. But at the last moment, he backed off, said goodnight, and left.

She went to her room and relived every moment of her date as she undressed for bed. Impulsively, she opened her desk drawer and fumbled for her diary. She had two. The first was full of her thoughts and impressions from when she was first diagnosed with cancer. Absently, she thumbed through it, rereading the details of her ordeal, her times at camp, her memories of Sandy, her relapse, and readmission to the hospital for her bone marrow transplant.

She saw the parts Rob had entered on her behalf, when she’d been too sick to write anything. She reread the entries about Marlee and Brent and Marlee’s funeral. It didn’t seem right to put something about Jake and her new life in it. She tossed aside the older diary and opened the newer one.

March 18

It’s strange to write about Jake. Who would have thought that he would ever come back into my life? Even though so much has happened to me in the past years, even though I’ve met so many new guys—Mike, Greg, Brent—Jake is still the one. I don’t know why, but ever since fifth grade, I’ve liked him. It’s the brown eyes, I think. None of the others had brown eyes. Whenever Jake looks at me, I feel like melting. Go figure!

I wonder where Brent fits in all of this? I still care about him. Every time he calls, it’s like we’ve never been apart. We pick up right where we left off the last time. How can that be? How can I like Brent so much and still feel the way I do about Jake?

I guess Katie’s right. Sixteen (almost!) is too young to decide anything about a boy. Now if only I can get the message through to my heart . . .

* * * * *

Dawn woke up Monday morning with a scratchy, raw throat. Her mother insisted she forget about school and spend the day in bed. She didn’t want to. She wanted to go to school to see Jake, but there was no changing her mother’s mind.

By that night, Dawn was running a fever and felt weak and achy all over. She was too sick to even talk to Rhonda when she called. All through the night, Dawn tossed and turned, and by the next morning she had a hacking cough and tightness in her chest that made it difficult to breathe.

She staggered to the bathroom, convinced that a warm shower would make her feel better. But when she shed her nightgown and looked into the mirror, her heart wedged in her throat. A fine red rash covered her arms and torso. She started shaking so violently that she had to grab hold of the sink for support.

Dawn knew what the rash meant. She’d read too many pamphlets and booklets following her transplant. A rash was often the very first sign of bone marrow rejection.

Sixteen

“D
ON’T panic,” Dr. Sinclair told Dawn as he listened to her chest through his stethoscope in the emergency room.

“I am panicking.” Dawn’s voice sounded raspy. She wadded the sheet covering her with her fists. On the other side of the door, her parents and Rob waited for Dr. Sinclair to finish his checkup. She’d seen how scared they looked when she showed them the rash along her arms. They’d left for the hospital immediately, and Dr. Sinclair had met them in the emergency room. “Am I rejecting? Please tell me the truth, Dr. Sinclair.”

“I don’t like what I’m hearing. I want some X-rays, but I’m sure you’ve got pneumonia.” He had avoided answering her question.

“Am I rejecting?”

“It’s too soon to tell.” He straightened. “I’m checking you in.”

Tears swam in her eyes. “I don’t want to be back in the hospital. Everything’s been going so well until now.”

“No choice, Dawn. As you know, the immune suppressants make you more vulnerable to infections. You need to be here for your own safety. I’m going to increase your suppressant medications and start antibiotics and oxygen. I want you here where I can keep a close eye on you.” He gently squeezed her shoulder. “You’ll have to go into isolation, too. I’m sorry. There’s no other alternative. I’ll go tell your family and start the paperwork to move you upstairs.”

She tried to hold back her tears. Breathing was already difficult enough without crying.
Why? Why is this happening to me?
For a while, things had been going so smoothly that he’d almost forgotten about her health. She was doing well in school, she’d had a date with Jake—she suddenly remembered another reason to feel bad—her birthday was coming up. She’d made plans to go take the test for her driver’s license. Now, she’d be spending her birthday in the hospital. And if she was rejecting the bone marrow, there was no hope left for her at all.

* * * * *

The oxygen tent, with its fine mist of oxygen mixed with decongestants, did help Dawn’s breathing. From inside the plastic enclosure, everything outside looked fuzzy to her, as if people were moving around in a fog. IV lines, inserted in the back of her hand, regulated a controlled flow of potent medications into her bloodstream. The pain medication she was taking made her feel spacey, but it did help her deal with the pain left over from her most recent ordeal— a spinal tap, which would tell the doctors whether there was cancer in her system.

The only visitors allowed were her immediate family, and they had to wear masks and green paper gowns and head coverings. Germs—any kind of germs—were her enemies. Because Katie was a nurse, and because Rob had called her from the emergency room, she and Rob came in together. Dawn reached out for Rob. He took her hand and held it tightly. “You’re going to lick this thing,” he said. His voice was upbeat, but she saw genuine fear in his eyes.

“Dr. Sinclair said my bone marrow needs a little extra help. He said that the pneumonia is taxing it to the max, but I know it’s going to hang in there for me.” She wanted to assure him that he wasn’t responsible for what was happening to her. The bone marrow—his marrow—wasn’t at fault for her troubles.

“It had better hang in there. But if you need more, just say the word.”

“Katie, I’m sorry we can’t go shopping for bridesmaid dresses this weekend, the way we planned,” said Dawn.

“That’s not important. All that matters is you getting well.” Katie’s blue eyes looked serious above her mask. “I’ve asked my supervisor to assign me to your case, and I’m going to move some things into the nurses’ quarters so I can be close by.”

Knowing that Katie was going to take care of her made Dawn feel secure. “Just like you did before,” she said. “Will you call Rhonda for me? Will you tell her I’ll call just as soon as I can?”

“Of course, I will. Is there anyone else?”

She thought of Jake and Brent. As much as she hated Jake knowing, she realized Rhonda would tell him. As for Brent, she didn’t want him called yet. There was nothing he could do but worry. “I’ll tell my other friends,” she told Rob and Katie. “I don’t want them to freak out over this. I’m sure it’s only a temporary setback.”

“Whatever you want,” Katie said.

What Dawn wanted was to be well, to be back home, to have this nightmare behind her.

“You get some rest,” Rob added. “Just concentrate all your strength on recovering. You’ve come too far to be sidelined now.”

Over the next week, Dawn practiced the imaging techniques she’d been taught. She imagined the pneumonia virus being tracked down by her white blood cells—her non-leukemic white blood cells—and zapped into oblivion. Focusing on the destruction of the virus
did
make her feel better emotionally.

Cards began to arrive for her, several from Rhonda and girls in her classes, and one from Jake. He’d even scribbled a note inside. It read: “
We won both matches, but I only scored one goal. See what happens when you’re not in the stands for me to impress? Get well, Jake
.” She traced his signature with her fingertips and wished with all her heart that things could be different, that she could be normal and healthy.

At the end of the week, Dr. Sinclair took down the oxygen tent but insisted she remain in isolation. In her condition, she was still too vulnerable to ordinary germs, and her bone marrow needed all the help it could get. Katie saw to it that she got a phone in her room. It had to be specially sterilized, but Dawn loved being able to connect with the outside world again. She called Rhonda.

“When can I come see you?” her friend asked.

“Dr. Sinclair says that I can have outside visitors anytime, but they’ll have to garb up.”

“You mean dress in those funny little paper outfits?”

“Yes. I know they’re hardly a fashion statement.”

“I’m glad you still have your sense of humor.” Rhonda went on to fill Dawn in on all the latest from school, but all the news only depressed her. She felt like a runner who’d been yanked out of a race and now had to play catch-up. Life was passing her by, and there was nothing she could do about it. A wave of self-pity swept through her, and after Rhonda hung up, she had a long cry. She was tired, so very tired, of standing on the outside, looking in.

When the phone rang later that night, she was still feeling low. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone, but she answered it because she couldn’t think of any other way to make it stop ringing. Her caller was Brent.

“I called your house to say hi, and your mom told me how to reach you. Why didn’t you let me know what was going on?” His voice sounded hurt, and she was sorry.

“I wanted to tell you myself. Once I was better.”

“Are you better?”

“I think so. But I sure don’t look so hot.” Her face and lower limbs were retaining fluid, so she looked plump and puffy.

“You getting out soon?”

“Dr. Sinclair won’t say. I hope so. I’m so far behind in school and all.”

“You sound really down.”

“I am.” There was no use hiding the truth from Brent. If anyone understood, he did. “I’m just sick of the whole mess.”

“Now, you’re not giving up, are you?”

“No,” she said, but without much conviction.

“’Cause one of the reasons I called was to tell you that the committee in charge of that dedication ceremony has invited my whole family to come.”

Dawn’s grip tightened on the receiver. Up until that moment, she’d forgotten all about the upcoming ceremony.

“You’re all coming?”

“I didn’t think Daddy would want to at first. He’s always held a grudge against the doctors and the hospital for not making Sandy well. But he surprised me and said he wanted all of us to go.” She heard him pause. “So, I reckon the bottom line is that you have to get well and get out of the hospital, Dawn. We’re all coming to that ceremony, and we want to hear your speech.”

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