~*~The Miracle Worker~*~
by Hatter of Madness
"Don't make me go to the support group," I said one bleak, cloudy Friday morning.
My mother looked up at me in surprise. "Why not?"
"Because I don't want to go." I folded my arms over my chest. "I have to carry around an oxygen tank and I look like I'm on my deathbed, and the other kids aren't much fun, either. Brock is blind, Alice has thyroid cancer, Skyler has brittle bone disease…"
"Teddy, you have to go to the support group. I paid…" She stopped short, probably because I knew where she was going: I paid good money for that support group. I paid good money for you to fit in. I paid good money so that you can belong.
"The only positive is the therapist," I said as she started to leave. "If it wasn't for Spencer, I would have stopped going." But she was gone, and I stood there with my oxygen tank, wishing for once in my entire life that I could have just been normal.
The support group originally began as a place for cancer children, but soon, anyone with a medical condition could show up. It was a part of the church that my family didn't attend, with children that were in a youth group that I wasn't a part of, in a part of town that didn't make us feel welcome. As he was my age, Spencer wasn't really a therapist, but he volunteered a lot at the children's hospital, and he had put the support group together the year before, and he flirted with everything that moved. I didn't care too much; he was very, very attractive, very easy on the eyes, and didn't even care when Alice had a hacking fit because she had only had one lung, due to some kind of cancer.
When I was very young, I also had been diagnosed with lung cancer. It had gone away and life had continued on like normal, but when I was thirteen, it suddenly sprang back. After being cancer free for almost five years, we thought I had gone into a complete remission, but I definitely hadn't. And unfortunately, unlike the first bought of cancer, this one did not suddenly just disappear. Even after going through radiation therapy and losing all of my blonde hair, the cancer sprang back, and I grew exhausted after the smallest of tasks, being short of breath.
When a cancer kid is short on time, the parents usually pull them out of school for their final days, and that was the case with me, though I managed to live the years since exiting school. I took classes online to ensure that I didn't miss out if, in some bizarre miracle, I finally went into real and true remission. As Spencer was once a student at my older brother PJ's high school, the one I was going to be enrolled in before the Big Bad Cancer returned, they heard about the support group and started forcing me to go. As I quickly found out, the support group was basically just a group therapy session run by Spencer, who was an AP Psychology student and thus this was supposed to be training for when he actually became a real therapist. I suppose he only chose ill teenagers because that was the only thing he could do without a college degree of some sort.
As I sat in the kitchen, angry with my mother and the world, the door opened. "Teddy? Let's go! Your brother is waiting to take you!"
"Why is PJ taking me?" I asked, still peeved that I had to go in the first place.
"One of his old friends from high school is going to be there."
I frowned. "What's his condition?"
"Your brother didn't say. I guess you'll have to find out."
I hopped off the chair I sat in, a little too quickly, since I had to catch my breath soon thereafter. Mom looked concerned, but I grabbed the handle of the cart that I wheeled my oxygen tank around with as though nothing even happened. The tank was important because, basically, my lungs sucked at being lungs. "Bye, Mom," I said, leaving the room quickly. If I had to go to the support group, I might as well not be late.
She didn't say a word to me, just shook her head and walked all the way into the kitchen.
PJ was in the living room fiddling with his car keys when I came out. He looked up upon hearing me, well, breathe. "Ready?" he asked.
"Ready as I'll ever be," I said, struggling to get the cart to move across the floor.
"I don't see why you have to go to these things," he said, "I mean, they sound like they suck pretty bad."
"You're telling me. Well, Mom thinks that it's great for me to see other terminally sick kids so that I can fit in and make some friends, but it's just not fun seeing Skyler in a wheelchair or hearing Alice hack up a lung that she doesn't have or…"
"Hearing you try to breathe?" he asked, holding the door open so that I could pass. It took a great effort to get the cart's wheels over the threshold. No matter how hostile he had just been to me, or ever would be, however, he couldn't hide the look of concern on his face as I struggled to catch my breath after getting out the door. I quickly changed the attention away from me.
"You're a comedian, PJ."
It made me feel uncomfortable when my parents doted on me hand and foot, but my siblings? PJ wasn't supposed to care about me unless it benefitted him. That made me wonder just how much time I had left. Was I living on borrowed time? Of course, that's what the oxygen canister was: Borrowed time.
My mother was a nurse, but even she didn't know how beneficial the oxygen really would be in the long run. The point was, my lungs were weak. I had been a medical miracle. When the cancer returned after a near cure, doctors found that I had several tumors in my lungs that made it hard for me to breathe. But in some miracle, they shrank. They shrank after my parents pretty much began preparing my funeral. I couldn't help but notice my mom look at a clothes magazine while I was lying in the hospital bed, waiting for some kind of absolution. She wasn't looking at a magazine for women her age, but for teenagers. She was looking for something to bury me in.
I was snapped back to reality when PJ started rummaging through his pocket for the car key. When he found it, I started towards the car with the stupid canister of oxygen. That was the benefit of homeschooling; you didn't have to wheel around your lungs on a cart. Which meant no weird looks.
It was a hassle getting into the car with the tank, but I finally did it, and PJ shut the door behind me. When he got into the driver's seat, we both looked at each other for a second.
"You know why I'm doing this, right?"
I nodded. "So you can see your friend."
He sighed. "No." He paused, adjusting his mirror, then he turned to me and said, "I love you, Teddy. I just don't want anything to happen to me."
I was surprised, but then panicked. Was I dying? Was something wrong? As of late, my family was very fidgety around me, and for the life—or death—of me, I could not figure out why.
PJ started the car. Even though I knew there was a possibility of it coming in the near future, thoughts of my death terrified me. The thought that PJ and my other brother, Gabe, and my younger sister, Charlie, fussing over me was something that scared me. They never typically worried, especially not about each other or me.
We drove to the support group and PJ waited until I was inside before he got out to go see his friend in the parking lot. I walked in, my air dragging behind me, and signed in at the front table, where Skyler was sitting, listening to music with her ear buds.
"Hi, Skyler," I said pleasantly, trying to ignore the bruises and scars on her arms and legs. With brittle bone disease, she broke bones so easily that she was a mess of bruises and scars. When she was fortunate enough to not have a break, they continued to cover her skin. Her wheelchair protected her from some damage, but she said she felt 'confined' in it.
"Hey, Teddy," she said cheerfully, with a fake smile that I knew too well. We support kids could always tell when a smile was forced. With Skyler, it was painfully obvious. Skyler's family was always worried about her, not unlike the way that mine were worried about me.
I walked away without another word, sitting next to my friend Ivy, who had Asperger's and ADHD. You never could tell that Ivy was autistic, though. She definitely could never control what came out of her mouth, though, that much was for sure.
"You like you've just seen something awful," she said before either of us could even greet each other, this statement proving just that she had a big mouth.
"I saw Skyler," I said, glancing over at her as she pushed herself around in her wheelchair.
"I know. Have you seen her shoes? My mom has a pair just like them, and…"
"That's not what I meant." Conversations with Ivy could be awkward; we never really knew what to talk about with one another. How do a person with autism and a person who can hardly breathe talk to one another without it being awkward? "I meant, look at her. She's so…bruised. She doesn't even look…"
"Teddy, just don't stare," Ivy said. I stared at her with a look of confusion on my face. "When you're out in public with your dad, or your mom forces you to spend time with your brothers, and people stare at your oxygen tank, or your cannula?"
I nodded, the embarrassment of those stares fresh in my mind.
"That's probably exactly how Skyler feels when people stare at her. When they stare at her wheelchair, or her casts, or her bruises and scars. When people stare at her leg because it's not straight, or when she stands up because she's so little?"
"Well, I get what you're saying, Ivy, but I'm worried about her."
"Don't worry now. Support group is about to start, so you can worry then."
The truth was that I could worry when the support group started, because of the nature of it. We sat in a circle, talked about our struggles, prayed for those who couldn't make it to the group, prayed for those who we had lost, prayed for each other. We prayed for Brock's sight (even though he'd never get it back), for Ivy's autism (even though it'd just be manageable but not gone), for Skyler's bones (even though they would heal but never not be fragile). We prayed all the time, the only time in my life that I openly prayed.
We needn't wait long for support group to start, because soon, Spencer was walking to the front of the room.
And oddly enough, somebody else—somebody that I didn't recognize, even—was with him.
I pointed in the new person's direction. "Who's that?" I asked.
"I don't know," Ivy said, "and frankly I don't care."
"Well, I do," I said, automatically wondering what was wrong with him. Cancer? Turret's? We'd had someone with Turret's once, but he had stopped coming when he realized that he couldn't sit still in the meetings. I had really missed him, actually; he was very easy going and very easy to talk to. I wish I had gotten his number at the very least so we could stay in touch.
Regardless, the new kid was talking to Spencer like they were long lost friends or something, and the new kid had a smile on his face. They were both laughing at something, as though being with a bunch of sick kids was the funniest thing in the world, and the new kid was helping Spencer set out the refreshments that were there every week.
Finally, Spencer started setting up chairs into a circle, with help of the new kid. Upon closer inspection, he was too old to be someone in the group; he looked about Spencer or PJ's age, which was just a little bit higher than the oldest kid in the room, which was Brock.
Once the chairs were in a circle—they based the number to put based on the sign in sheet, leaving an empty space for Skyler—Spencer called us all over so that we could start the support group. As he couldn't see, Brock was led over by Alice; it seemed the two of them were very good friends. Skyler, who was still nursing an arm that had just come out of a cast, was pushed over by Evan, who was hemophiliac. Ivy had guessed once that they'd probably end up dating one another someday, which I wasn't so sure about. I wasn't sure that brittle bones and an inability for blood to clot was a good combination.
We all joined the circle and sat down. We sat next to Spencer, who looked around at us all and smiled. "Welcome back," he greeted. His smile was probably intended to be friendly—warm, almost—but it was rather lukewarm. He, like the rest of his, had his share of forced smiles. "Let's start with our introductions."
Introducing ourselves was never fun, but we had to do it week in and week out. The routine was that Spencer would choose someone at random in the circle and then it would go counterclockwise as we said our name, age, disease, and how we were. Then the actual support group started. That day, he chose Madison to start.
"I'm Madison," she said. "I'm sixteen and have type one diabetes. I'm numb."
Next to him was Brock. "I'm Brock. I'm seventeen. I'm blind. And I'm okay."
And then was Alice. She wheezed the entire time she talked. "My name's Alice. I'm sixteen and have thyroid cancer, and I'm alright."
Next to Alice was Evan. "I'm Evan. I'm eighteen. I'm hemophiliac. I'm making it through."
The empty chair for Skyler was next to him. "I'm Skyler and I'm seventeen. I have osteogenesis imperfect—brittle bone disease." As she said how she was feeling, I couldn't help but notice her rub her once broken arm. "I'm healing."
And the sad figure of Derek was next to her. "I'm Derek," he said. "Seventeen, somehow. I had osteosarcoma—cancer in my bones—and now I don't have a leg. And I'm weak."
Next was my turn. "I'm Teddy," I said. "I'm seventeen. Stage four lung cancer. I'm breathing. Barely."
Nobody ever laughed; this was the same line I gave every week. I guess the truth was that no matter how healthy you were, you couldn't laugh at other people's pain, and that was especially true in a support group.
"I'm Ivy. I will be eighteen in three months, two days, seventeen hours, and…five and a half minutes." I knew that a lot of people with different kinds of autism had fixations on certain things. I met a little girl once with it and she was fixed on coins. The year, the color, the shininess, the president on them. Ivy's fixation was numbers. "I have Asperger's and ADHD. I'm doing fine."
"And I'm Spencer," he finally said. "I'm nineteen. I have feelings. And I'm happy to see all of your familiar faces once again."
The boy sitting next to him spoke, too. "I'm new," he said. I rolled my eyes. Obviously. "I'm Emmett Heglin. I'm also nineteen. I'm a supporter. And I'm glad to be here."
I frowned. The new kid wasn't sick? Wait…wasn't PJ's friend supposed to be here? I knew everyone that was there, save for the new kid…no, Emmett. That was what he had said his name was. Spencer, however, took me out of my thoughts.
"Okay, who has something they've been struggling with?"
Two hands went up: Derek and Madison.
"Derek, you start."
Derek lowered his hand slowly, then said, "I'm always fighting with my parents because of my leg…or, well, lack of. It's my last year of high school, so I want to do school sports because I think it'd be therapy and because I want to participate at school, you know, but my parents want me to sit at home. Doing nothing. All the time."
"Have you tried getting your parents to reason with you?" Spencer asked. "Maybe find some kind of compromise?"
Derek shook his head 'no'. "They think they're right all the time. They don't want me to risk anything."
"Does anyone have a possible solution for Derek?"
I was bored with this routine. If I told them I've been struggling with breathing, then no one could come up with a possible solution. In fact, I had tried it once. Nobody had any suggestions for me. But Brock had a suggestion for Derek.
"Could you possibly tell your parents what you told us?"
"And what did they say?"
"They said that it's dangerous."
Skyler spoke up next. "Aren't there Olympic athletes with prosthetics?" she asked. It was no secret in the support group that Derek had a prosthetic leg. He never wore shorts because of it; he was embarrassed of it. He said that it was 'his little secret'; the rest of the world didn't need to know about his struggle with osteosarcoma.
"I guess," he said back.
"Maybe what you need," Spencer said, "is to just present them with why you want to do sports. Tell us, Derek. Why do you want to do sports, and what sports do you want to do?"
"I want to run," he said. "And because it'd be better than sitting around on the couch, doing nothing."
"That is a legitimate reason. I think that cross country would be your thing. You can run at your own pace, and I'd take Skyler's suggestion. There have been Olympians and other athletes with prosthetics. Not many, mind you, but there have been some. Maybe you could research them and then talk to your parents about it."
He nodded, and somehow I knew he wouldn't be talking to his parents.
"Okay, Madison. Your struggles."
She took a deep breath before talking. "I went to the doctor the other day," she started. "My A1c has gone up from 8.7 to 9.3 in the past six months." An A1c, for those not in the know, is a diabetic thing. It is a measurement of an average of blood sugars over the course of three months. A non-diabetic A1c should be around 6, and as low as 4.5 with it still being normal. 9.3 was not a good place to be, diabetic or not.
"Why is it so high?" Spencer asked.
Madison shrugged. "I just haven't cared. But the thing is, my parents get really upset with me when it gets high. They didn't even like the 8.7 I used to have. And my doctor is threatening to take my OmniPod away if it gets to 10." Again, an explanation: An OmniPod is an insulin pump, which is an alternative to taking shots in diabetics. Of course, taking six shots a day just sounds riveting, so a pump is a great substitute. Some doctors make their patients stop using pumps when their sugars are too high, as a way of teaching them a lesson, I guess. Madison's doctor, as we had learned, had used this method often. "I don't want her to take my pump."
"Does anyone have any suggestions for Madison?" Spencer asked.
"Why don't you care?" Ivy asked.
"I'm going to deal with this for the rest of my life, but it just sucks, so why should I care?"
"Because," Emmett said, then turned to Spencer. "I hope you don't mind my input?"
"Not at all, Emmett. You have the floor," Spencer assured.
"Because…Madison, right?" She nodded. "Not taking care of yourself with diabetes can lead to really, really bad consequences. You should start caring about your sugar. And besides, won't you feel proud of yourself when your A1c is lower?"
"I guess, yeah. But that doesn't motivate me to try any harder."
"Maybe if you read stories of other people suffering from complications of diabetes…?" Alice asked, then began to wheeze.
"You could go blind," Brock offered, a very dismal move on his part.
The rest of the support group went on monotonously. I had nothing to contribute, as per usual. No, that was a lie. If I actually wanted to participate, I would have something to contribute, and I would every week. But I never spoke up, so I never did.
"Before we start our prayers," Spencer said at the usual time for us to do so, "I'd like to introduce you all to Emmett. As you may remember from our introductions, he's a 'supporter'. He's not a member of the support group, but he's a friend of mine and he's going to help me run this group. He's a great guy and he really wants to help out here."
"Pleased to meet you," he said to everyone happily. No one said anything.
"Okay, let's pray," Spencer said. We all bowed our heads, with the exception of Brock, and closed our eyes. "Dear God, please protect the members we have lost. Please watch over the families of Lola, Nina, Brooke, Matheus, and Raymond. Please protect them in the kingdom You have created for them." A sob was heard from Skyler; she was very close to Brooke. Ivy never responded at this part of the evening, the one time she could stop talking and sit still. She and Raymond had once dated.
"Our Father in Heaven, we pray that you watch over those of us who were unable to make it tonight. We pray that you protect Lindsay, Troy, and Nicole, and that they will be well enough to join us next week. We pray that whatever they are suffering, that You will guide them and protect them. We pray for their health, and pray that you will protect their families.
"But Father, we pray that You protect those of us who were well enough to make it tonight. We pray that You heal us, that You watch over us and our families, and that You help us achieve peace. We pray for Madison's pancreas, Brock's eyes, Alice and Teddy's lungs, Evan's blood, Skyler and Derek's bones, and Ivy's mind. We pray that you protect them and help them through this time, and we pray that we may meet again next week. We pray that You allow Emmett to be accepted here and welcomed, and that we will remain close in the coming weeks, months, and years. Amen."
We all repeated, "Amen," before getting up to get refreshments. I sat as everyone else puttered around; Emmett remained sitting too.
"Do you want me to get you something?" Ivy said, finally regaining her voice.
"No," I said. "I'll get it when I'm leaving."
And away she went.
Emmett moved closer to me. "You're Teddy, right?" he asked.
I nodded. "Emmett, right?" And he nodded.
"Don't you want to get something?" he asked, gesturing over to the refreshments.
I shook my head. "With my lungs, it'd be better to wait. The crowd wouldn't be good for me."
He stared at me, making me feel a little uncomfortable. "Teddy, I don't mean to pry," he said in a gentle voice, "but how is your home life? Is everything okay at home?"
Is everything okay at home? Was anything ever okay at home, with everyone looking at me like I had two weeks to live and Mom and Dad fighting about my medical bills all the time and with them still trying to look after my brothers and sister and me trying to go to school online in peace with all the craziness going on around me? Was that ever okay? But instead of answering truthfully, I shrugged to him. "I guess, yeah. I mean, nothing is too terrible."
He didn't believe me, and it showed. "Do you want to talk to someone?" he asked.
"You mean like a therapist?" His silence answered. "I don't need a therapist. I need a miracle worker."
"Well, I go to the same college that Spencer does. We're roommates, actually. And we're both studying psychology. I thought it might do us both good to have someone to, you know…talk to about what's going on with us. With your cancer, I thought you'd need a friend."
My head was swimming. "You want to be my friend?" He nodded. But why? Would anyone want to be friends with a girl whose lungs sucked at being lungs and who was probably dying and whose parents hovered over her like birds and who went to school online for fear of something happening to her and…well, who wanted to be friends with someone with stage four cancer?
But something felt right with Emmett. Something felt very calming and relaxing sitting next to him, so I said, "Okay, sure. We can be friends." And later, when he helped walk me out to PJ's car and waved good-bye, I felt the same emotions. I felt like he was the best human being I had met in a long time and somebody that understood me and didn't judge, and was patient with me for having to take, quite literally, a breather.
And that was how the crazy ride started.
CRAPPY ENDINGS WOOOOO. Okay this was way longer than I was originally anticipating and it's only the first chapter. I've been working on this for DAYS. This is semi based off of the beginning of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, in case you haven't yet noticed. Please don't leave mean reviews commenting on how I portrayed the different illnesses incorrectly. With only about two exceptions, I know someone who has each of the diseases mentioned (and I have one myself, though I'll leave it out there to guess what it is. If you've seen some of my reviews, you'll know). In fact, with Skyler's case of brittle bone disease, I have two friends with the disease. I mainly wanted to say that because I know I didn't show Ivy in a very positive light, but she's pretty much based verbatim off of one of my friends with Asperger's. So…yeah. Please review because it makes me happy and yeah.
- Hatter of Madness