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The Cancer Girl
I looked at my water-proof watch as I sat at the swimming pool. I’m a great swimmer, so good, that I ‘tutor’ in swimming. A woman named Ruth called me after seeing my ad on the bulletin board that was right outside pool. She had told me she had a daughter who didn’t know how to swim, and she’d pay me $6 per hour I taught her. She told me her daughter’s name was Lia. After checking with my parents and getting the times we could meet, I had my next lesson awaiting.
Now, I’m here at the pool, and its 5:08, eight minutes after I was supposed to meet her here. I’m assuming the girl’s about four, and as far as I know has no learning disabilities. “I wish I knew what she looked like. So far I’ve only met her mother...” I thought. “Aya!” I heard my name called and looked to the source. There she is! At least, there’s Ruth, and a kid who looked about my age. But where’s Lia? Before I knew it the mother was right in front of me. “Aya, this is Lia.” She said motioning to the girl beside her. Lia was my age, didn’t know how to swim, and was bald. “Um, oh, okay sure.” I sputtered. Have I mentioned I absolutely hate surprises? “Let’s, uh, start.” I said walking over to the lap pool. Lia carefully stepped down the ladder into the pool, and I followed in behind her. She kept a firm grip on the wall until we got to a shallow part where we could easily stand.
“So, Lia, what do you know about swimming?” I asked her. “I really don’t know anything about it.” She said in a carefree way. “Okay,” I said, deciding to revert back to my original lesson plan, “let’s start with the breast stroke. Basically, what your going to do is move your hands in a circle like this,” I said demonstrating with my arms, “and your legs the same way.” I said demonstrating again using both my arms and legs.
By the end of the hour, Lia was decent at the breast stroke, and learning free style. We hadn’t really talked about more then just swimming. After getting changed we walked to a bench to wait for her mom. “So, what made you decide to learn to swim?” I asked her. “Well, I’ve always wanted to, but I never really got the chance.” Lia answered. “I used to live in Maine, but now that we’ve moved here, I like it way better. I hated the cold, and since it’s so war-” she was cut off by Ruth coming over. “Lia! Come on, we’re going to be late for your chemotherapy treatment.” She said, grabbing Lia’s bag and handing me my six dollars. Wait, chemotherapy is used for patients who have cancer. I guess that would explain Lia’s hair. She’s The Cancer Girl. I saw Lia roll her eyes and stand up. “Wait, when do you want to meet next?” I asked. “Don’t worry, I already set it up with your mom.” Ruth explained quickly, practically dragging Lia off to the car.
I now knew that Lia definitely had cancer. When I had gotten home, I’d put in the Google search engine: Lia Rurie. Nothing. Then I put in: Lia Rurie Cancer Maine. I scrolled through the results, and found this article with Lia’s picture in it.
Lia Rurie lies in a hospital bed and writes down everything she wants to do in life, mindlessly answering questions as a chemotherapy drug drips into her body. The twelve-year old has been through this before and wants the two-hour daily treatment to be over so she can go home.
The girl is in seventh-grade and is battling cancer.
Her fight against cancer saps up her energy and has made her lose hair for the first time. Her mother, Ruth Rurie, is extremely tired, too. A single mom, Ruth thanks her parents and close friends for their support, by helping take Lia to chemotherapy appointments.
I wondered if Lia was learning to swim as one of the things she wants to do in life. I wonder if it’s hard having cancer. People probably make snap-judgments of you, just because you don’t have hair. And now that I think about it, I kind of did that too… I couldn’t stop thinking about Lia and having cancer and what it’d be like being a Cancer Girl. Maybe she only had a little bit of cancer, and they caught it early. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Lia wasn’t going to be around here for too long. I know it’s an awful thing to even think, but I couldn’t help it. My brain was working over-time, and it wouldn’t pay any attention to little old me…
On my way too the pool for Lia’s next lesson, I was prepared. I had quarters (to dive for), a lesson planned out (that worked according to her age), and a list of questions I wanted to make sure I asked her (without being rude or chickening out…). “Hi Lia!” I called to her. “Hey Aya, how are you?” she asked. “Fine. Are you ready for your lesson?” “Yep. Are we going to keep learning free-style?” “That’s mostly what I planned on. You had to leave pretty quickly the other day.” I said. (Yes, this was supposed to be my ‘sly’ question to see if she’d say she has cancer. “So, basically, you’re just asking me if it’s true I have cancer?” Dang it. She’s too good. “Yeah, pretty much.” I said sliding into the pool beside her.
“Yes, I do.” “Does it make it harder, to like, have friends?” “A little bit. No one really talks to me because of my hair, or, because I don’t have any hair.” She said laughing. I laughed along with her. “How many friends do you have?” Okay, so these were not the questions I had planned on asking, but I hadn’t planned on her being so open about it. “I had a lot of friends back home in Maine, but I don’t really know anyone my age here except you.” And as soon as she said that, I had decided. For the rest of the summer, The Cancer Girl was my newest BFF. “Oh. Well, remind me after we finish swimming to grab your phone number, okay?” “Sure!” She said, smiling.
Lia is such an amazing swimmer. She’s only had two lessons, and she’s already as good as me at what she’s learned. She must be part-fish. Or part Olympian swimmer. Or part-fish-part-Olympian-swimmer mix. Usually, I’d be jealous if someone was better then me after only two lessons. But with Lia, it’s just not that big of a deal. I learned a lot about her during that lesson. Her Dad and Mom had been married for five years before they had her, but when she was three, her dad died. I also learned her favorite color was blue, her favorite food was spaghetti, and she always loved to be doing something. Surprisingly, just knowing these few things about her, made me feel like I’d known her forever. This is why I asked my Mom if she could come over for dinner. And I also asked my mom if we could have spaghetti, even though I absolutely despise it.
That night when Lia came over, we really started to get to know each other. She knocked on the door before my mom had even begun cooking. “Hi Lia! We didn’t expect you here so early, dinner’s not done.” I told her, letting her come into the little room where our door is. “Oh, I’m sorry! I must’ve messed up the times.” “Its fine Lia, don’t worry about it.” I told her. “We can stay in my room until my mom’s done cooking.” “Okay.” She said following me as I led the way to my room. Up a flight of stairs, take a right down the hallway and here we are. “This is my bedroom.” I said flinging open the door. Mom hates it when I do that. Oops… I tried to grab the door before it hit the wall, and succeeded in tripping, banging against the door to make it go faster and louder, and not to mention getting a giant bruise on my finger where it got stubbed into the door. Stupid door… “Oops.” I said. Lia probably thought I was insane. But she was laughing. And laughing. And now she was rolling on the floor laughing. And soon so was I. Her laughter was infectious!
After we had both finally calmed down, she looked around my room. The aqua walls, the water bed (yes, that’s right, I said water bed), and the cushy carpet. “How do you like it?” I asked. “It’s so cool! I love the water bed.” She said sitting down on it. “Oh wait, you don’t care if I sit down on it do you?” She asked standing up. “Trust me, Lia, I really don’t care.” “Do you want to see a secret that no one but me knows about?” I asked her. Not that it was really an important secret. But it was true that no one but me knew about it. “What?” She asked eagerly. I opened up my bedroom window that doesn’t have a screen. Right outside it is the roof to the garage. I hopped out and got on the roof. “No way! This is just like in books and movies, a roof right out here.” Lia said.
There was actually more to this roof then met the eye. There was actually a secret little compartment there. I was the only one who knew about it. When you open it up, there is a little tunnel. It leads to a big shed in the middle of nowhere. I found it when I was twelve, and it’s been mine ever since. I cleaned it up, and (as fate would have it) found a little cat later the day. She was scraggly, and sick, and looked like she was pregnant. So I took her in, and kept her at the little shed. I used my allowance to buy her food, and brought water (sometimes milk) from home. But, Lia didn’t need to know that yet. She was nice, but this was my secret, and it was for me.
Over the next month, Lia and I became best friends. She was my best friend, and I was hers. We spent all our time together swimming, talking, and doing everything else two thirteen year old girls could do. We’d ridden our bikes around the whole neighborhood, and never found anything out of the ordinary (we never found my shed either).Then one day we were down at the park, playing with some little kids from the daycare that was right across the street. “Aya. There’s something I want to tell you.” Lia whispered to me. “Okay.” I said and we went to the swings by ourselves, and sat down. Lia sat down and smiled sadly. I know that smile. She gave me the same one when she told me about her dog that died. “Lia, is something wrong?” I asked her. I wasn’t sure what she was going to say, and I was nervous. Was she going to say that she was moving away? “Look, Aya, my doctor just told me something.” Oh my gosh! Her cancer was cured! But why was she sad? She was moving back to Maine to be with her family! Now that she was better. I smiled at her. Somehow my brain had thought all this up, and now I was positive this was what she’d say. “Look. The doctor just told me I only have the rest of the summer to live.” She said. The smile was stuck on my face. I was completely frozen. The rest of the summer? It’s the end of June, that’s only-oh no. Two months. Only two months to live. No, I have to have heard her wrong. But I couldn’t have, I heard her perfectly clear. I didn’t know what to say to her. “What are you going to do?” I asked. Lia laughed. But it wasn’t her real laugh that I always got. It was that fake laugh she saved for my parents when they tried to act cool and make us laugh. “I’m going to wait. And don’t cry, or mention it to my parents. I can’t let them be reminded of this all the time.” I nodded. I was so surprised, if it was me in her place, I wouldn’t be this strong. I’d be sad and crying all the time. It shows how different she and I really are.
Later that week when Lia was busy with her family, I decided to go and visit my shed. All the baby kittens had already grown up, and they came here every once in a while, but none were here now. But, wait no! There’s one of them. She was black and had white paws. I called her Boots. And…déjà vu. She’s pregnant too! No wonder she came back. Poor little kitty. I poured out some of the leftover food and started home to get some milk. All the way home I was happy that I had this to myself. I’m pretty sure that I won’t ever tell anyone about it.
The next time I saw Lia I was really surprised. It had only been a week, and she was a lot skinnier then she ever had been before. Her skin was also a more sickly color, like she was just starting to get a really bad flu. I was so worried about her, but I knew she wouldn’t want me freaking out, so I ignored it. “It is so nice out!” she said as she walked up to me. “Yep! Are you excited for later tonight?” “Of course! I’ve never seen a full fireworks display before!” “What if, we watched it on the roof?” I asked her. “That’s an awesome idea!” She said her smile bigger then ever.
We laid out a blanket on the roof and we both sat down. “The fireworks will start,” I said in my best announcer’s voice, “in five, four, three, two, one…” Boom! Yes, I timed it perfectly! “Nice! How’d you do that?” Lia asked. “Luck.” I said, and we both turned to watch the fireworks.
Did you ever wonder how you’d feel if you were dying? It was something I always thought about now. This time I was thinking about it as I walked along the tunnel that led to the shed. I was hoping to see Boots again. Yes! She was sitting there in the shed with a bunch of other tiny kittens. Wait! With a bunch of other tiny kittens?!?! The baby cats! She had them, and by the looks of it, quite a while ago. I haven’t been here for about…a month? Yes, because it’s August 3rd. This of course just reminds me that Lia was dying. After July 4th Lia and I had stayed together all the time. She kept getting skinnier and skinnier, and sicklier, but she never lost sight of what was really important. Knowing Lia has taught me so much. This is why I’ve decided that I’m going to show Lia my shed. It’s not going to be mine any more. I want it to be ours, so it’s something we share even after she’s gone.
“Come on Lia! I promise that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel!” I said leading the way down the tunnel. “Okay…” Lia said. When we finally reached the end and came out, my shed was right there. “This is my secret shed. And I have an even bigger secret inside…” I told her, and pushed open the door. Inside were the kittens and Boots. “Oh my goodness! They’re so cute.” She said, carefully walking in so she didn’t scare them. “Which one do you like best?” I asked her. “I really like them all! But, this one…” she picked up the smallest one that was all by herself. “I want to give her to you.” I said. “Really?” Lia turned around and hugged me. I pulled off my backpack and pulled out a bottle full of milk. “You can feed this to her until she gets bigger. In fact, it’s really good you picked that one. She’s being pushed around by the others and I’m not sure she’s getting enough to eat.” I told Lia. “Actually, I’m not sure my mom will want me bringi-” “You don’t need to worry about it,” I interrupted, “my mom talked to your mom, and she said that it was okay.”
It’s August 6th, and Lia and I spent the day making friendship bracelets- tons of them! I made one for her, she made one for me. We both made our own matching pairs, and she even made a collar for Micky (that’s the name she gave the little cat). After that we were just talking, when Lia started to shut her eyes. “Lia? Are you okay?” I asked her worried. “I feel, um, feel a lit, uh a little, d-i-izzy.” She said and suddenly she fell down. “Lia? Lia? Oh my gosh, Lia!” I said scrambling up and over too her. She was still breathing, but she was unconscious. “Mom! Mom, quick it’s Lia!” I called and then took out my cell phone and dialed nine-one-one.
It was the next day when I went to visit her in the hospital. She had tons of tubes hooked up to her. I was so nervous, because I wasn’t sure if she was okay yet. She looked even worse then before. “Lia?” I asked softly. And then, with her eyes still closed, I heard her say in barely even a whisper, “Aya?” “Yeah, it’s me. How are you feeling?” “I’m fine,” she whispered, “sorry I have to whisper.” “Oh Lia…” I said and a tear trickled down my cheek. She’s lying in a hospital bed, and she’s telling me that she is sorry for whispering. “The doctors said I wouldn’t make it this long.” She confided in me. “Don’t worry Lia, you made it this long, you can keep going.” I told her. Was I lying? I wished, I hoped, I was sure that I must be telling the truth. “You’re going to live.” I told her, but even to me my voice came out wavering and unsure.
“Its okay, Aya.” Lia told me. She was reassuring me. “I’m so sorry,” I said to her, “I’m no good at helping you. I’m so sorry.” I said letting the tears spill down my face. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I wanted to hug Lia, but I was afraid- she looked so fragile. So I pulled up a chair right beside her bed, and I held her hand, and we talked about things deeper then we ever had before. “Where do you think we go after life?” She asked me. “I don’t think, Lia, I know. You’re going to heaven, where you belong, and a whole choir of angels will sing, just for you, because they know what you’ve went through.” She smiled, and I was so happy that I could at least do that for her. Ruth came back in the room, “Aya, you might have to go, Lia really needs to rest.” I stood up and let go of Lia’s hand, but she held on. “Can you please stay Aya? Can you please stay?” I looked up at her mom, holding the tears back. Ruth nodded to me, and I sat back down. “I’ll stay Lia, but you should go to sleep.” I whispered to her. There was a lump at the back of my throat, and the words came out like I was being choked. Lia won’t die. She won’t. She’s the best friend I ever had, and she won’t die, because that doesn’t happen to someone normal like her and me. So, I held Lia’s right hand, and her Mom held her left, and she fell into a peaceful sleep, without pain, and I had to wonder. Do we really want her going through all this pain? Would she be happier just letting go? I didn’t know. I can’t believe how close we became over one summer. It was the best decision I’d ever made. And while I thought about the amazing things about Lia, and all she’d taught me, and our favorite times together, I fell asleep.
I woke up still holding Lia’s hand, and Lia was still asleep. She made it through the night! She made it through the night! She’s going to live after this! Lia’s eyes shot open. “Aya? Aya, I don’t feel well.” I looked around, and Ruth wasn’t here. “Lia, just hold on. You’re going to be fine, okay, Lia? You’ll be fine!” I said frantically. Lia started breathing heavily. Slower, and slower her breaths came to her. I ran out of the room, leaving her alone. Dear God, please don’t let her die, please, god, don’t let her die… I thought, as I was screaming, “Doctor! Ruth! Someone help!” Three nurses came running, one of them asked, “What’s wrong?” “My friend, something’s happening!” I say, pointing to the room. The nurses start rushing over, and I hear one of them mutter, ‘The Cancer Girl’. I’m looking around frantically until I see Ruth quickly walking down the hallway. “Mrs. Rurie! Ruth! Come quick, it’s Lia!” I yell as I start running back down the hall to Lia’s room.
When I get there, the nurses are all briskly running around, and a doctor is telling them what to do. I kneel beside Lia’s bed, and take her hand. Her breaths are coming quicker! No, no, they’re coming too quick. This can’t be happening. Ruth is already holding Lia’s hand crying. Lia looks at her mom and says, “Don’t cry Mom, its okay. Aya told me where I’m going. I’m going to a better place. I love you Mom, please don’t cry.” Then she slowly turns her head and looks at me. “Thank you, so much Aya. You were my friend, no matter how I looked. You were my only friend here, and I promise, I’ll see you some day.” She said and smiled, her real true smile. She looked back at her mom. “I love you, Mom.” “I love you too, Lia.” Ruth replied, the tears streaming down her face. “Lia,” I said to her, “it’s okay to let go. Sometimes you have to let go so you can grab onto something more important. You don’t have to hold on for me, it’s your battle. You decide who wins.” I can’t hold in the tears any longer. They start running down my face, but I don’t mind. “Th-thanks Aya. You really are a great friend. And mom, you’re the best there’s ever been. And, you’re right, it’s my battle. It’s my battle.” She smiled and closed her eyes, and her breath came slower, and slower, until finally, it stopped altogether. The kindest, prettiest, sweetest, most generous girl I’d ever met finally did something for herself. The Cancer Girl was gone.