No One Fights Alone
“No One Fights Alone” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Tatum Morris, Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Florida, USA.
No One Fights Alone
Lane 5 is empty. It's kept for me. That's my usual lane, but I’m not at the pool. I am cheering from above as those below me race for me. The grief they have endured and the tears they have shed release during these one hundred yards of my favorite stroke. I see the gorgeous sunset and feel the cool breeze on my skin. I hear the beep and splashing, but then I only hear silence. Why aren't the spectators cheering? Why aren't the coaches whistling? Why is everyone silent?
This moment brings me back to September 9th, 2016. That day, my mom and I went to the orthopedist because I had pain in my knee. I was convinced that Doctor McGowan would just examine me and give me a brace for the injury. This was not the case. After an MRI and biopsy, I was informed that I, CC, had cancer. My jaw dropped, stomach lurched, and I felt as if I had just had the wind knocked out of me. I sat like a statue as the next years of my life flashed before my eyes. Would I be here for future holidays, birthdays, and graduation? And the question that kept me up at night was: will I ever swim again? Although these answers were all unknown, I promised to fight hard.
It seems like everything has a color. Breast cancer has pink, lymphoma has green, but pediatric cancer? It's yellow! From the day I got diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the color yellow took on a new meaning. My swim team wore yellow bracelets, my mom wore yellow eyeshadow, my sister had yellow nail polish, and my dad was always wearing a yellow shirt. Yellow was no longer the color of the sun in my coloring book; it symbolized the encouragement that kept me going. Since I couldn’t climb up the stairs of my house, my bedroom was moved to the first floor. My swim team surprised me by decorating my new room with motivational quotes and inside jokes. Their endless support made the challenging times bearable. A few weeks later, a local news crew shared my story. They interviewed my parents, my swim coach, and me for the evening news.
Soon enough, I began chemotherapy and my hair started to fall out. Halfway through my chemotherapy, the doctor noticed that the chemo had not worked and that I had new tumors in my lungs, along with my original spot in my knee. This was devastating news, and I did not know how the situation could get any worse. My only option was to get accepted into an immunotherapy trial at Texas Children Hospital in Houston. I flew to Houston and sat in a sterile waiting room just like I had six months ago before I received the life-altering news that I had cancer. My heart raced, and I started to break into a sweat. Would this treatment work and cure me? Sadly, even though I was admitted into this trial, my cancer did not respond, so I was officially out of options.
In the next months, I was fortunate enough to be chosen to be a model in the Pediatric Cancer Foundation “Fashion Funds the Cure” event. I even met Olympic swimmer Caeleb Dressel! This experience made me feel like the old CC I was eight months ago. The exciting feeling of getting dressed up with full make-up made me feel like a pampered princess. And for those who are wondering, yes, wigs are very itchy. Walking down the runway feeling like a superstar was one of the best moments I had had in a while.
In June, just nine months after my diagnosis, breathing became harder and the ambulance became way too familiar. The constant sirens that rang in my ears reminded me of what my life had become. The smell of the hospital overwhelmed me. The white walls closed in. The constant visitors crowded around my hospital bed, making me wonder, "Am I going to die?"
My tumors had grown larger and laid on my trachea, making breathing difficult and painful. My nurses were comforting. Their voices made me feel at home but could not distract me from the fact that...I was dying. I continued to fight for three more long months. I was able to celebrate my fourteenth birthday with my family and friends when they threw me a surprise party. I was so tired, I couldn’t even open my gifts. Heading into my last surgery where I got intubated (so that I could breathe easier), I managed to gather enough of my breath and energy to whisper to my mom, "I've got this mommy."
And those were my final words.
From the day I was diagnosed, to the day of my funeral, the kindness and support my community gave me was a blessing. Their acts of kindness were too many to count. My friends and family constantly wore yellow to cheer me on. Pediatric Cancer Foundation picked me to be a model in their fashion show fundraiser. My teammates decorated my bedroom so that I would remain positive. The nurses stayed past their shift to make sure that I was alright. The EMT’s made me laugh and smile while I was en route to the ER way too many times. My doctors never, ever gave up.
And finally, one simple but powerful act of kindness was when my devoted swim coach dedicated a lane to me during my favorite race. The one-hundred-yard breaststroke.
Then it hit me. Everyone was silent because they are honoring me. Lane 5 is empty. It's kept for me. I finish this race with a personal best: fourteen years, eight days, fifteen hours, and two minutes. As I climb out of the pool, I am no longer suffering. I am in the height of my glory. Because of their kindness, I never fought alone.