"Hazel Grace." His shining blue eyes swim above my face, his sweet voice murmuring in my ear after so long. For a moment I allow myself to escape to this fantasy world of long ago, when everything was perfect and cancer didn't get in the way of anything. I reach out to him in desperation, my heart plummeting into that endless black hole of despair as my fingers grasp at empty air. I force my tired eyes to open and haul myself to a sitting position against my pillows, wiping my damp eyes and catching my breath. My mum sleeps on the bed beside me, her usually stressed face peaceful as she rests.
They never leave me alone now, not even for one minute. I don't blame them. I'd want to be there for my kid in her dying moments too. The BiPap forces my lungs to inflate themselves, sending stabbing pain through my chest and then the rest of my body too. A sickly brown liquid drips down the tube from my side into a container on the floor beside my bed. Cancer fluid, constantly building up in my lungs and drowning me from inside.
The door to my room swung open and my dad stepped in, a mug of coffee clutched in his pale and shaky hands. "Hey sweetheart. Not tired?"
"Stupid question." I mumble through the BiPap mask as I pat the other side of my bed, motioning for him to join me. Despite the pain and the inevitable knowledge that this would all be over soon, I couldn't help but feel that this was a perfect moment. My dad sitting on my right- my drainage tube carefully draped over his legs- and my mum lying asleep on my right. I pull the BiPap from my face, my bony fingers stumbling over the fiddly straps.
"Hazel… what are you doing?" Regardless of how stupid my actions are, he helps me remove the mask and place it on my chest.
"I just… wanted to… smell it…" My lungs ache, my limbs throb immediately from the sudden decrease in available oxygen. I can practically feel the tiny tumours in my lungs branching out their evil tendrils and taking more of me away, destroying me slowly and painfully. The scent of his coffee fills my nose and my body shudders with nostalgia. Black coffee, his smell. Just breathing this in now hurts more than the cancer ever has- the realisation that this could be one of the very last times I smell this.
Because you see, I've had enough. After Augustus died, I was okay for a couple of months. And then I went for a PET scan and the thing I'd been suspecting since Amsterdam was confirmed: the Philanxifor had stopped working. I had two choices- to undergo countless sessions of chemo orto let it take me. Seeing as I didn't particularly fancy spending the next several weeks drugged up to my eyeballs and constantly throwing up, putting on weight and losing my hair and basically just making my death even slower and more painful… I chose to die.
They offered to let me go to a hospice. To die respectfully in a really nice place. My parents were naturally sad about my decision to give up my fight- but hopefully glad that this torture would finally be over, for me and for them. They understood though, my wish to die at home. We stopped the Philanxifor, the chemo and all the other cancer drugs. Just painkillers, my BiPap and the drainage line from now on out.
It doesn't scare me- death. Augustus stared it in the eye- he embraced it- and so shall I. I shall walk into death's open arms and welcome it with a smile. If I am in the minority who die, then my spot amongst the majority who survive is given to someone else. Somebody else gets to live, gets to fight this thing and actually make it out alive at the end of it.
Dad helps me get the mask back on. It isn't until it's fixed securely over my mouth that I realise just how out of breath I get without it- how oxygen starved my body becomes in just a minute or two without being constantly forced to breathe. Mum stirs next to me and opens her eyes wide, flipping over to stare at me and make sure that I'm still here. It takes all my resolve to smile at her reassuringly, to ignore the pain as she wraps her arms around me and pulls me into her body. She smells like sleep and seems unable to stop the sighs and moans that escape her mouth as she traces the outlines of my bones with her fingers.
The hardest part of this isn't the realisation that in a week's time I'll be gone. It's the realisation that wherever I end up, my parents won't be there with me. To stay by my side and hold my hand and let me know that everything will be okay. I was born to die. They were born to live.
When you're dreading something, Time tends to do this really awful thing of speeding up exponentially, so that the closer you get to this thing the faster time seems to pass.
When Doctor Maria told me I'd have about a month left without further treatment, it seemed like a long time. Now that month is almost up, and I've finally learnt the value of time. Mum and Dad constantly sit by my side, holding my hands and reassuring me that it's okay to let go.
But still I hold on. I can't tell if it's something to do with the BiPap constantly forcing oxygen into my lungs or if there's something deep inside me still clinging to that last shred of life. I will it to let go. Augustus wills it to let go, to release me into his waiting arms. He's right there, always just out of sight and always watching me. His icy hand strokes my sweaty forehead as that thing inside me battles it out with my willingness to die.
My dad kisses me gently on the cheek. His tears drip into my skin and his stubble tickles me but I don't mind. My mum clutches my hand in hers and runs her fingers through my hair. Gradually the feelings fade, their voices slowly quieten until I hear nothing at all. And then my lungs start to burn. They ache and fiery tendrils rip my chest apart from the inside. My heart pounds against my chest, getting in as many beats as it can before it has to give up. I struggle to catch a breath but it's not coming- nothing will work. And then I realise that it's finally here.